mardi 13 septembre 2011

Life in Jerusalem (1st episode)

After having written on specific topics and after already over a month in Jerusalem (or J’lem for those in the know), time has come to talk about general aspects of the daily life here. So I live in dorms, the Kfar Hastudentim (the students’ village), in the HaGiv’a HaTsarfatit neighborhood. It literally means the French hill in Hebrew, though the actual origin is a mistranslation: during the First World War, the British general who occupied this position in North-eastern Jerusalem (then outside the city) was Gen. French. When, after the war, the hill was given a name, the family name was translated into Arabic (and then into Hebrew), giving way to some misinterpretation. Anyway, juridically speaking the neighborhood’s name is Givat Shapira (from the first head of the Israeli intelligence services), though I’ve never heard someone using this name. Don’t worry to get lost if you come around: for simplicity matters the municipality put the two names on official signs at the entrance of the neighborhood. The neighborhood was built after the reunification of the city at the occasion of the 6-day war to reconnect the western part of the city and the Mount Scopus (Har HaTsofim "Mount Lookout"), which hosted the famous Hebrew University from the 20’s to 1948 when it became an Israeli enclave in the middle of the Jordanian territory, hence being unable to host anything apart from a military outpost linked by helicopter. After 1967, a good part of the university (mainly the humanities and social sciences departments) was moved back to its historical location, where it is today.

I know, I said “general aspects of the daily life”. But History is 1) so interesting 2) unavoidable, especially here for both points. As HaGiv’a HaTsarfatit is quite far from downtown (and from my office), the bus is pretty much of an obligation here. Waiting at any bus station around the Kfar will make you realize something: there is discrimination in Jerusalem. But probably not of the kind you expect. You have two main bus companies: the regular national one, Egged, and the Arab one. As most Arab inhabitants of Jerusalem work downtown or in Jewish neighborhoods (say more or less West of the city), many take the same line as I do every day (HaGiv’a HaTsarfatit is surrounded by Arab neighborhoods: Issawya, Sheikh Jarra, Shuaffat. You can actually hear three or four muezzin at the Muslim’s prayer time). This makes my bus quite cosmopolitan as, next to students and veiled women you have religioust-zionists, haredim, seculars… And I have to say that, even though the traffic is chaotic, I’ve never noticed the slightest problem between different communities. I wouldn’t say everyone is friend in a brave new world, but we help and talk to each other. So what about discrimination? Well, you’d rather have a look at the Arab bus line: the stations are common, but, except if someone already in the bus wants to get out or if an Arab inhabitant is waiting to get in, the bus will just not stop for a Jew. And if, for the aforementioned reasons, the driver does stop, no way you get into it. Judenrein, like in the good old nazi Germany. Not that I would like to depress any peace lover but, the same way, you’re strongly advised not to wear a kippa (or more generally look like a Jew) if you get into those Arab neighborhoods I was talking about. Not that you’d automatically get lynched (the streetcar goes through Shuaffat every day without problem) but it happens regularly that someone gets hurt by people who think he is “a Mossad agent” (which would be quite funny if it was true as it would make the Mossad the worst intelligence agency in the world. Except if we take into account my French pride: OSS 117 :) )

Once you (at last!) get off the bus, you’re in front of the central bus station (HaTakhana HaMerkazit). If you enter the building, you’re checked by more or less searching/efficient guards (which can be dramatic when you’re in a hurry and it is rush time…). Inside, apart from the bus departures to other Israeli cities, the station consists in a several-stories building that is a sort of mini mall where you can find everything from all kinds of restaurants through a library to a hairdresser. In and around the takhana is the place we get falafel/pizza/bagel… most of lunches, as many places are quit cheap (I usually eat (quite well) for 2 to 4 euros). Last but not least, the un-missable sherut (collective taxi) drivers, who wait for people to get in to fill the vehicle and so shout approximately 50 times per minute “Tel-Aviv, Tel-Aviv, Tel-Aviv, Tel-Aviv, Tel-Aviv… !!” I guess that would turn me crazy if I was at the security hearing him all day…

To be followed!

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