We don’t have a parking permit for Musrara, the area where we live. So we park our car in Palestinian East Jerusalem. It’s not that far away, but it’s the other side of the world.

Before we left the Netherlands, a Jewish friend of ours jokingly said it it doesn’t smell that good in East, while in the Jewish West side of Jerusalem, it smells like roses.

And it turned out to be true that the Eastern side is often a whole lot messier than the Western side of town. Walking to the parking lot, we hurry over dusty roads, messy alleys and heaps of garbage. But it is also a colorful area, with many wonderful shops. It is an area where we have encountered helpfulness and kindness over and over again. It might be disorganized, but is friendly.

On our walk to the parking lot today, the smell of East gradually became worse. And then, unbearable.  At first I thought we were passing a garbage container with the remains of deceased animals in it. But we never seemed to really pass that container. Street after street people hurried to where they had to go. Covering their noses. The friendliness vanished into stinky air.

The shop owner of the favorite shop of the girls was holding a fragrant herb under his nose. He offered us a whiff. Until now his long and awkward beard had taken me aback a bit. Now the stench was so awful that we gratefully accepted his offer. All seven of us. The shop full of tiaras, perfumes and glittery shoes seemed to be breathing out the foul smell when we continued to the car.

The dust on cars had little spots on it, as if it had rained just a bit. But it hadn’t. Most of the cars in the parking lot, just like all the street we had just passed, had been sprayed. Sprayed with what I learned later was one of the innovative weapons of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Sprayed with Skunk.

Skunk. That’s right. Like the animal that sprays a foul smelling odor on you when you threaten it. Apparently the IDF was scared enough last Thursday  to spray Skunk on many streets, shops and undoubtedly people in East Jerusalem. Streets and shops and people that will not get rid of the smell easily. The nauseating, horrible smell of an allegedly harmless liquid developed for crowd control.

Developed to scare people away. Resulting in empty restaurants, empty markets, empty shops. For who can eat or think about food when you smell something so putrid? And who would want to go fun shopping when all you want to do is leave?

I am a newbie to riots and clashes and crowd control. What do I know about how to tame the masses when they turn against you? But I do know that making life barely possible for days after the clash is humiliating and hurtful. It is as if I would put a child on a naughty chair for days in a row after the child has done something just once. I couldn’t help but wondering what was wrong with the good old water canon, the smoke bomb or maybe even tear gas.

The Jasmin bush in our street is blooming. Even just passing it the smell is lovely. Before we went back to East this afternoon, we all picked a couple of flowers to take along. And one extra. For the bearded shop owner.




Bomb-bombs and marbles

Yesterday night I was trying to study for my final Hebrew exam after a month long intensive summer course. I totally felt thirteen again, unwilling and unmotivated, easily distracted and doing anything but trying hard.

Granted, there were some real distractions. It started with the all too familiar sound of helicopters. During the day, this is something I am getting used to. At night, it usually means trouble.Sirens followed, and then numerous loud bangs and shots. It lasted several hours. Nothing new? Well, it felt like a whole new thing maybe just because I was doing something different: studying.

And to top it off, I started to hear drums and chanting.

I can hear you: drums and chanting in her head. You think I am going crazy. While going crazy is a not entirely remote possibility, there really were drums and chanting. I promise. The crazy part? I thought the noise was coming closer. I started to think angry crowds of people were approaching, fed up with the war, fed up with their lives.

Thank goodness I was wrong. It was just another group of neighbors getting ready for the weekend, albeit a bit early. When I decided to put my books away after midnight, they were still having fun. Loud fun.

This morning, only two people out of a class of fifteen showed up for the exam. The rest had gotten stuck not so far from their house at the other side of town. Checkpoints and barriers had made their walk to school impossible. Half the city had been shut down because of last night’s riots.

My children cheered.

With most of my class not present, there was enough reason for their happiness. The kids had been invited to the end of course-party. Students had prepared a play and some songs. The best part for the kids was that there would be snacks afterwards.

Mommy! My oldest daughter exclaimed. Now that there are not so many people, can we have a second round of bomb-bombs? Because, you know, in France people eat bon-bons, but here people eat Bomb-Bombs…

Back home, candy was on my red list of rarely handed out items. Here, sugar is one of the common pleasures in a child’s life. And like alcohol numbs the nerves for the adults, candy does the trick for the kids. So while I was setting up a whatsapp group with newly found drinking buddies, the kids stuffed their cheeks with sweets.

When we walked home after the party, we ran into the most progressive neighbor in the entire neighborhood. Since the last time I saw her she had aged beyond her years. Every wrinkle in her face carved in it by sorrow and pain. She holds out her hand and opens it. In it, four marbles nestle themselves comfortably in her soft skin.

“These I took home. I found them at the end of our street. Among the many stones and bricks still lying there”. She leaves it at that. But I understand what she is saying. The look on her face is so deeply sad, I want to hug her fragile body. She is referring to the riots last night. Coming ever so close to where we live. Riots with the Israeli’s shooting and the Palestinians throwing stones. And now, with marbles. Quite a hefty thing to run into when shot at you with a catapult, I assume.

A woman my age feeling like a teenager, anxiety over the sound of drums, children renaming candy and an innocent toy turned into a dangerous weapon. If it weren’t here, it might feel like a theme park.