East Jerusalem 21 July 2008
Some might think that I am overreacting about the short trip out of Gaza to a place only two hours away. But I would say to them that for me and so many other Palestinians in Gaza, it is not just a short trip, but rather a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The trip was a window that opened suddenly to allow in the fresh air and joy of life, and one that I may never experience again.
Life is never fair. For some people things are so easy and available, while for others, they are only a dream. I cannot find an answer if you ask me why I didn’t apply for permission to leave Gaza earlier. All I can say that the life in Gaza is suffocating to the extent that it drains all the feelings of being alive, all the feelings of tasting and experiencing any source of joy, so why try?
After I reached the office in Jerusalem where I finally met with my colleagues whom I had never seen before, only known through the phone, they decided to take me on a quick tour around the city. I felt so overwhelmed with excitement and anxiety, I refused to take a break or to rest even though I am eight months pregnant. But I did not have the same feeling of tiredness as I used to have in Gaza. It is as if the air outside the borders of Gaza is a healthy fresh air that energizes me and provides me with an endless power.
We took the car and went around in East Jerusalem. To my surprise, I found myself standing on the Mount of Olives, where in front of my eyes was an endless scene of beautiful landscape. Past the trees and buildings, there it stood. So old and so new, so honorable and humble, an impressive and beautiful edifice. The Dome of the Rock. I had to ask myself, am I dreaming? Is this all true? How difficult it was for me to get here, to see for the first time this holy place in reality and not through photos or stories of those who had visited it before.
The experience meant so much to me that I suddenly broke into tears. I felt that I finally found my inner peace. The holiness of the place affected my entire being, it captured my body and soul. I felt so weak and unable to resist, I was crying like a baby who finally found what he had lost a long time ago. The mosque was there standing in front of my eyes, with all its holiness, mystery and secrets, something unique, and a wonder to the world in its carvings, design, and architecture.
The golden coverings of the dome glittered as if to fend off all of the attacks against it while calling people to pray and pay it close attention. The glittering of the dome’s exterior was so bright that I could not look straight at it. It was so beautiful, I wanted to watch and never stopped, hypnotized by its holiness. I felt such an attraction to the place that I never wanted to leave or see anything else. My heart was pounding, terrified by the idea that this will be my first and last time to see it, and that I have to record every single tiny detail so as not to forget it. I was so scared to miss something that I shouldn’t. It is indescribable the feeling that captured me, I was paralyzed to see such a holy, old, majestic, and mysterious thing.
I wanted to fly over the place to see every corner, to touch every stone, to listen to every whisper that the walls, alleyways and stones can tell or say. But I know that I would need ages to understand the mystery of such a holy place.
It was only a quick tour of the city. But I cannot keep in the feelings of excitement that will crush me until I have to return to Gaza soon. But until then, I go and pray at the Dome of the Rock, my precious place.
Najwa Sheikh is a Palestinian refugee from al-Majdal located just north of the Gaza Strip. Shiekh has lived in refugee camps in Gaza her entire life. She is married with three children.