Friday, 26 February 2010

Evictions in Jerusalem

Recently I have had to travel to Jerusalem several times. Strangely I have not visited many of the churches or shrines, preferring to wander through the narrow lanes of the old city or the bustling streets of East Jerusalem, getting a feel of the place. The old city is fascinating, with every twist and turn revealing spice shops or jewellers – or, to my consternation, groups of soldiers with their loaded rifles. This is more evident in the Moslem quarter of the city and near the Damascus Gate.

I suppose they are a normal occurrence for most people, but to me it was a stark reminder of the tensions within the city and also that the old city is occupied territory. Saying that, I also noticed that some of the houses are now occupied by religious Jews, with the Israeli flags provocatively hanging outside. This seems to be a determined strategy, as many Palestinians are being evicted from their homes and the religious Jews move in. A major flashpoint is the area of East Jerusalem called Sheikh Jarrah, where several families have had to move out of their homes, to be replaced by extremists. One family have lived in their house since the early 1950s, after they had been expelled in 1948 from their original house. Now they seem to be being expelled again!

The one slightly positive thing is that many Jews have joined the protests against such actions.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Ulpan - my Hebrew lessons

The place where I go for my Hebrew lessons is also a centre for the neighbourhood, and last week I was invited to join a group of elderly people, who meet every day for tea and talk.

A group of handicapped children from a local school had come to act out how to prepare for the Shabbat meal. Many of the elderly people were obviously quite poor and came from the Sephardic community, Jews from Arab countries like Morocco or Yemen or Iraq, who often ended up in poorer jobs and were subtly discriminated against by the Ashkenazi (European) Jews.

Fortunately this situation has changed over the years, but there still seems to be a distinction between the various groups. Now there is another group, the Jews from the old Soviet Union, over a million of whom emigrated to Israel in the 1990s.

Half of my Ulpan class comprises of Russians who have never quite mastered Hebrew. Others come from Argentina, Hungary and France, along with a couple of Brits. Most are older than me and l have been in the country for far longer.