Tear Gas

It is so much easier to be a regular customer in a place where haggling is common custom. I am not a good haggler. In shops we visit for the first time I end up paying ten dollars for a jar of local chocolate spread.

Even in the shops we go to more often I pay 30 Shekels for a bottle of Grape syrup. A week later my husband pays 30 Shekels for a bottle of Grape syrup, twenty bananas and four eggplants. 

After the first two weeks our bakery sold us his Pita’s for 70% of the price he asked the weeks before. Winking, he said it was a discount. But obviously the price hasn’t gone up since then.

So by now we have a couple of shops we visit regularly in East Jerusalem. One of them is one of the few places that sells alcohol. So when we run out of beer on a Saturday, when all the shops on the Jewish side are closed, we tend to visit this shop. 

Saturday was hot and had brought on a whole new set of worries and thoughts. We longed for a cool beer in our little Ginah, our back yard. So we loaded the youngest in the stroller, and marched our little troopers off to Nablus Road.

We like Nablus Road a lot. It has been under construction since we moved here. It is a dusty mess. But it miraculously is also cleaner than most other streets in East. It leads via the Garden Tomb to Damascus Gate. Two sights we love to visit when friends or relatives come over.

My husband was paying for our groceries, one of the kids by his side. I was waiting outside with our youngest ones, when a man collapsed on the street in front of the shop. A tall, strong man, in his late twenties. People tried to help him up, but he kept on falling down.

The man was dragged into the shop. And then, dragged further into the shop until he was out of my sight. I didn’t think much of it. I concluded the holy month of Ramadan had been too hard on him. It was so hot and the poor guy had probably not been eating and drinking enough for the past month.

Then, another man collapsed, a few meters from the shop. An older man this time. By now I was thinking it must happen a lot, these last few days of Ramadan. And I started to feel lucky I was able to witness this cultural phenomenon.

Suddenly things changed. A man without a voice but eyes filled with terror and anxiety was gesturing wildly while looking at me and the kids. He tried to move us in the direction of Damascus gate. His throat covered with some kind of medical cover, unable to speak, but with immense power in his eyes. 

I did not want to leave. My husband was still in the shop, and so was one of my kids. I wanted to stay together as a family, but our silent helper was very persistent. Women and children first. I started to walk in the direction of the Old City. Cursing myself for not having made more clear arrangements with my husband in case something might happen. Something like this.

Young boys, not much older than my ten year old son, were bumping into me. Walking quickly in the opposite direction. Picking up rocks and stones. Preparing themselves.

My husband rushed out of the shop, joined us. We practically ran home, now understanding the severity of the situation. The men I saw collapse hadn’t fainted because of thirst and hunger. They were in severe pain because they had gotten tear gas in their eyes.

Damascus Gate is a favorite hot spot when it comes to clashes. We always check the security updates wherever we go. These days we also tend to approach Damascus Gate with great apprehension. But this happening didn’t even make it to the security updates. 

It made me realize how suddenly situations can change. How poorly prepared I am. How lucky we were that things didn’t blow up while we were there. All seven of us.

It made me fear going back there anytime soon. And that, in itself, is frightening.

It’s scary to fear for one of my favorite places in town.

 

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