A few days ago, as I was on my way to Jerusalem back from Ramallah, I drove by the Qalandia military checkpoint. Just before reaching the checkpoint, the car starts jolting and shaking with the multiple holes that are characteristic of this old and neglected road. The jolts increase as the car gets closer to the military checkpoint area and the asphalt vanishes gradually. Once you go through with the inspection you find yourself on an empty and eerie road that runs alongside the high and ugly cement Wall; a road that you have to take in search for the way back to Jerusalem! Driving several minutes down the road, I reached what was previously the main entrance to Bir Nabala. Twenty metres away one sees a small sign, the shape of an arrow covered by a tape that is torn by the wind. The remaining letters on the sign allow you to gather that the arrow points in the direction of Jerusalem. The sign practically leads you on to a narrow, twisted side road, parts of which are unpaved.
Each time I pass that road, I ask myself the same questions over and over again. Is it possible that the main road between these two intertwined cities turns into another marginal, narrow, and twisted detour? What’s the purpose or significance of such marginalization? How can we remain silent while faced with something like this? What can one do to avoid becoming marginalized like everything else around us? And how can one even avoid losing, with time, one’s humanity as we get used, day in and day out, to secondary roads, and the idea that our life in our city does not deserve to fall outside the margin of neglect or the undesired?
This last question carries within it the crux of the problem that we all suffer from in Jerusalem; the problem that my late father, Faisal Al-Husseini, has so keenly struggled for intellectually through dialogue and even through peaceful protests to overcome. His aim was to maintain the pluralistic, open, and just nature of the city; this nature that impart its true significance and value as a city of peace, a holy place, and a model of coexistence, acceptance of the other, and respect for his convictions and beliefs.
Five years ago I crossed the Qalandia checkpoint walking behind the coffin of my father that led the way for thousands behind it, people who wanted to walk with him to Jerusalem for the last time. On that day, the streets were neither empty nor deserted, and neither were we forced to take a side road. The occupation soldiers had only to move away from the street to allow the funeral procession, and the thousands of people walking behind it, to pass. That day, and for the first time in my life, I felt that Jerusalem was free. Although this feeling lasted for a few hours only, as checkpoints were put in their place again, yet this funeral march embodied the spirit that Al-Husseini worked so hard to plant in the hearts of Jerusalemites, in the hearts of all those who love the city. The spirit of a free and open city, a spirit that resists all the occupation’s attempts to impose one tone and one character over the city, transferring all other characters and tones into weak and poor minority communities, forcing them to look for an alternative homeland.
Al-Husseini used to believe that a strong Arab Jerusalemite community was a primary guarantee and safeguard for Jerusalem to remain the city for all. He felt as if he were racing with time. On one side, the Israeli occupation’s policies forced Palestinians outside the borders of Jerusalem, since that was their only outlet for expansion, construction, and work. On the other, the occupation’s measures of depriving Palestinians who lived outside Jerusalem’s municipal borders of their right to reside in the city led to a reverse reaction. The scene was chaotic at best; the victim ultimately being the city of Jerusalem. Al-Husseini spared no effort, up until the last minute of his life, to change this chaotic situation. This was possible only through working simultaneously on two fronts and without any delay. First there was a need to de-accelerate and obstruct the implementation of the occupation’s measures that targeted the presence of Palestinians in Jerusalem, by providing legal support and defence individually and collectively, as well as providing moral support to the people by being present with them on the ground as they faced an order to demolish a house or confiscate a piece of land, in addition to opening the Orient House as a safe haven and a moral refuge for them.
Secondly, the provision of services needed to accommodate the needs of Jerusalemites returning to reside within the municipal borders of their city, through the renovation of old houses, building new residential units, providing additional classrooms and schools to accommodate their children, providing free medical care, particularly for those who were deprived of their medical rights under the pretext of having lived outside Jerusalem.
In trying to achieve all of this, Al-Husseini was in a race with time as he faced the plans and measures of a highly resourceful country, and thus he launched his famous “Buy Time in Jerusalem” project. The project is basically a funding mechanism that invites every keen individual with concern over the fate of Jerusalem to provide financial support to the institutions that work on preserving the Arab Jerusalemite Christian and Moslem communities, thus enabling these institutions to sustain their activities of building schools, providing medical services, renovating buildings, and providing the necessary care and services for the young people to keep them in their city, thus preserving Jerusalem itself.
Today, and despite a mindset of separation and isolation, closures, denial of the other and the undermining of his human value that prevails in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories, we, in Jerusalem in general and within the Foundation that carries the name of Faisal Al-Husseini in particular, continue to carry the same values that he has fought for, working on implementing the plans that he had prepared to maintain the civilized Arab nature of the city and preserve the hope for peace in the city of peace. Our slogan is “Buy Time in Jerusalem,” as we call on all those who love this city to participate with us in developing its schools, supporting its hospitals, and giving hope to the young generations that constitute its future. Our prayer echoes his words:
Oh God the chest is replete with bitterness… do not turn that into spite.
Oh God the heart is replete with pain… do not turn that into vengeance.
Oh God the spirit is replete with fear… do not turn that into hatred.
Oh God grant us conviction, mercy and tolerance in our ranks and not
make us war against ourselves.
We work so that the smile that Al-Husseini was so well known for in Jerusalem may inspire its children in times of despair, reviving hope in their hearts and for Jerusalem to survive.
Submitted by Abdelqader Al-Husseini, the son of the late Faisal Al-Husseini and Chairperson of the Faisal Husseini Foundation www.fhf-pal.org.