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A Syrian in Jerusalem – Tablet Magazine

A Syrian in Jerusalem – Tablet Magazine

Tel Aviv Airport, Saturday, Might 11, 2019—“What’s your origin?” the Israeli custom officer asks whereas analyzing me intently. My Canadian passport, still briskly new, states that info clearly, but he didn’t hassle studying it.

“I was born in Damascus, Syria,” I respond, calmly. He pauses, as if he can’t hear me. He seems to be up and asks me to repeat myself.

“I was born in Damascus, Syria.”

The customs officer apologizes, insisting that he didn’t hear me properly. He peers at me by way of the window.

“I used to be born in Damascus. Syria.” I say again, this time loudly, and silence falls behind me and my fiancé, Matthew. The opposite passengers have to be cursing their luck; they picked the incorrect line.

The officer takes away my passport and asks me to go to the safety waiting room.


It’s 1998 and winter is cold in Damascus. My fingers are freezing despite the fact that I’m sporting the pink wool gloves my father bought me final week. I needed the pink gloves, but he instructed me that pink is a women’ shade and introduced me with blue ones as an alternative—darkish just like the skies of Damascus after a snowstorm. We lastly settled on the purple gloves as a impartial, genderless shade.

The street to high school is downhill. I stroll it every single day with my pal Iyad. We hold palms typically once we cross busy streets; it’s a habit we discovered in our childhood that we’ll overlook as we grow older, but for at present, we are holding palms. He is sporting dark blue wool gloves.

We talk about the nationalism class we had yesterday. The instructor, an older lady we nicknamed Mrs. Storms because of her mood swings, insisted that the Zionist enemy occupying Palestine have to be eradicated. “The only approach to defeat them is to consider in Hafez al-Assad, our eternally leader, who continues his stand towards the Zionist enemy since he was elected within the 1970s.”

We consider Mrs. Storms, especially as she talks concerning the superb events that led to Syria profitable the October 1973 conflict towards Israel. Iyad tells me that we should always all the time worry the Zionist enemy because they’re monsters. “They kidnap Palestinian youngsters and lock them in barrels,” he explains. I’m distracted, wanting deeply in his brown eyes and wishing that I might kiss him. “They drain them of their blood and make blood pies they eat on Saturdays.” I jolt out of my fantasy, scared. I squeeze his hand tighter.

That night time, as an alternative of the standard moist goals about Iyad, I have a nightmare by which monsters with sharp tooth are forcing me down a barrel and draining my blood for pies.


(Photograph courtesy Ahmad Danny Ramadan)

Jerusalem, Sunday, Might 12—“You’re avoiding the question,” the journalist sitting across from me says. He is coated in sweat; the climate in Jerusalem knows no mercy. He asks me for the third time to state my political view on the present Israeli affairs.

“I am quite essential of the State of Israel, and its violations of human rights particularly in terms of Palestinians and unlawful migrants,” I repeat, “however I’m not driving a much greater horse once I’m coming from Syria, with its personal regime’s violations of human rights towards its own individuals.”

He was still unpleased. “This can be a polite reply,” he states, disenchanted.

“That is the answer I’ve for you,” I insist. “I’m a author here—coming to speak about my e-book, not the Israeli-Syrian pressure.”

“You’re the first Syrian person who I interviewed in my life; you owe me solutions about Syria,” he asserts. Sweat is constructing alone brow now. This interview began as a fluff piece about my writing and was 60 Minutes.

“How are you going to still love Syria in any case it did to you? How are you going to not just admit that Israel is best?” he asks, making sure his recording gadget continues to be working.

I’m genuinely not sure find out how to reply this query. I consider within the complicated narrative of our geographical location, and I consider in the complicated experience of my life. Syria is an insane mom; she gave me start and nurtured me, and she or he abused me as a toddler and slammed the door in my face. The package deal of affection and hate I’ve for her is combined inside me. The complexity of my relationship to this mom taught me one thing: Issues are by no means black-and-white; every part is a shade of grey. The worst thing we will do is simplify our hate for one another, I actually consider that—it makes it simpler for us to overlook how complicated the human expertise isn’t just for others, but in addition for ourselves.

But simply enough, I hate this journalist. I take a look at him in disdain and I determine to answer all of his future questions with yes or no solutions.


It’s 2005 and it’s scorching in Dahab, slightly town on the beaches of the Purple Sea. My boyfriend at the time, an Italian man with brown hair and pores and skin that glows underneath the sun, introduces me to his Israeli pal visiting for the weekend. We spend the evening smoking joints and consuming wine while chatting concerning the world and I understand, for the primary time in my life, that Syria did not win the October 1973 warfare. My pals—most of them are American or European—make fun of me and I explain that I grew up with that being taught in faculties as a historical reality. Everyone goes to bed, and I spend the night time researching the historical occasions of the strain between Syria and Israel and I understand that al-Assad used the narrative of “The Zionist Enemy” to create a boogeyman for the Syrian individuals, to persuade us that he was the only one who might shield us from that monster. I connect the dots and understand that Iyad was solely recounting a scene from The Mummy when he advised me the story of the blood pies. That’s the day I study concerning the anti-Jewish riots in Syria. Mrs. Storms by no means taught us anything about that.


Jerusalem, Thursday, Might 16—“I keep in mind crying my eyes out once I came upon that it’s a boy,” a lady in the little bar we’re at with my fiancé says to me. I can inform that she has tears in her eyes as she speaks. She downs the remaining purple wine in her glass and smiles at me. Behind her face I see feelings that I couldn’t perceive. She already advised me of her joy that she lastly acquired pregnant after making an attempt for months, she informed me of the various trials her and her husband went by way of for that pregnancy to achieve success.

“You cried of happiness, I assume?” I question. I can picture her in her hospital mattress when the docs revealed to her that her youngster is a boy. Both of the mother and father determined to not know the gender of the kid until the delivery day. She sniffles and looks across the two of us, the lights dimming, and the breeze engulfing us with a chill. “No,” she states. “I cried as a result of I knew he will find yourself going to the army as a fighter.”

She seems to be round her again. “The Israeli Protection Forces are creating monsters of our youngsters,” she whispers. “The propaganda is intense, and I don’t know. We don’t know if we will increase our baby strongly enough to teach him on the world around him. We don’t know if we will prepare for the years he’ll spend within the military, carrying weapons and wielding energy within the face of the other.”

She appears round her another time. The lights at the bar are at the dimmest they could possibly be. Someway, I feel like the two of us are lastly alone in the bar. “We grew up studying concerning the other,” she continues, “the Arabs who need to kill us and eradicate us and push us to the sea. It took us years to provide you with our own truths, and I’m scared.”

After which she adds with a sigh: “I’m scared he’ll hate you even before he is aware of you.”


It’s 1947 and I am not yet born. Syria has gained independence from the French less than a yr in the past, and nationalist voices are taking hold. The country is drawn on the map like a misshapen triangle. The final time Syria was independently dominated was in the seventh century, before the Islamic armies coming from the Persian Gulf colonized this land we now call Syria. This new concept of what it means to be Syrian is growing, and the United Nations voting in favor of partitioning Palestine leads to persecution of the Jewish minority in Syria. Anti-Jewish riots in Aleppo and Damascus erupt. Out of the blue a minority that has been a part of these communities for 2,000 years turns into the enemy. Seventy-five individuals are murdered, Jewish houses and businesses set ablaze. In 1947, 10,000 Jewish individuals stay in Aleppo. By 2012, not a single Jewish individual lived in the entire country of Syria.


It’s 2015 and it is raining in Vancouver. It seeps into my clothes and my bones regardless of what number of layers I placed on. My ft are all the time freezing and moist. I open my e-mail to finally receive the outcomes of my 23andMe check. I scan the odds. I knew most of this stuff: I’ve Assyrian blood in me, carried in my genes since 600 BCE, I’m 25% Kurdish from my mother’s aspect, and I have some Italian blood that my family tree can’t explain. Proper there, I knew that I’ve all the time belonged to that part of the world, and I started to comprehend that the Arabs have been colonizers themselves, bringing the Islamic faith, the Arabic language and erasing the Assyrian id over lots of of years. I feel delight in my history as an Assyrian, a history I never discovered about in high school. Two years later I might be in Paris, visiting the Louvre, and I will discover myself in a special exhibit of Assyrian heritage. My boyfriend will take an image of me next to one of many Assyrian statues and he will say that the statue and I share the identical eye bridge and nostril. I gained’t let him see, however I will probably be so moved, I will cry.


It’s 2019 and the curtains are closed. I don’t know what the climate is like outdoors, nevertheless it modifications six alternative ways all through the day in Vancouver’s spring season. I announce on Fb that I can be visiting Israel for the Worldwide Writers Pageant in Jerusalem and I immediately start receiving comments from buddies. Most are celebratory, however a few them voice disappointment. The strain between Syria and Israel jumped to new ranges when President Donald Trump tweeted his intention earlier in March to acknowledge Israeli management over the Golan Heights, a territory that Israel wrestled from Syria in the Six-Day Warfare in 1967. Others accuse Israel of so-called pinkwashing, or vocally supporting the LGBTQ+ group to scrub away alleged state human rights violations towards Palestinians. One individual I like texts asking me, as a fellow artist, to boycott Israel.

Once I acquired the invitation to visit Israel over a yr ago, I considered all of these accusations. Earlier than that, when my Israeli publisher asked me if I might be desirous about publishing a Hebrew translation of The Clothesline Swing, I requested myself these similar questions, too. I decided again then, as I’m deciding now, that the history of pressure between Arabs and Israelis is extra difficult than right now’s headlines or yesterday’s wars. Our historical past is a posh story with a number of viewpoints, and multiple narratives. All sides continues to write down their very own narrative, profitable wars on historical past papers and creating enemies of other individuals we by no means met. My relationship as a Syrian with Israel is narrated by means of propaganda and media headlines. I’ve never met somebody like me visiting a spot like this. I’m operating this course without any tips aside from my values.

I do not need to be part of the herd mentality of rejecting the opposite. I would like to be able to see the extra complicated—albeit incomplete—picture of what it really means to hold all of these identities, and to carry such privileges, while visiting such a posh place.

Right here is the factor: The straightforward act of me flying with my fiancé to Israel for every week is extra difficult than just how simplified all of these narratives are. It’s larger than all of these little and enormous stories I share, it’s the sum of all of these elements. It’s additionally an expertise that I’m the primary individual to ever go through—to my information, no less than—as the primary Syrian Canadian writer to visit Israel and one of the few Damascus-born individuals to ever have the chance to visit trendy Jerusalem.


Tel Aviv, Sunday, Might 19—I reach my hand over a man’s head. “Excuse my reach,” I say in English, making an attempt to fetch a ebook on the shelf over his seat in a bookshop café.

He doesn’t acknowledge me.

I repeat the same thing in Arabic, and verify to see if he is sporting headphones. I don’t need to attain over his head without permission. He nonetheless is gazing, virtually aimlessly, at his laptop display. I can inform he isn’t acknowledging my presence. “Which guide would you like?” the bookshop owner, an Arab Israeli sitting in the corner, stands up and grabs the e-book I’m pointing at. He asks the man sitting down in Arabic to move a bit, and the person strikes smiling. The man then turns to me and provides me a unclean look. I take into consideration asking him why he is antagonistic toward me. I feel better of it, and walk back to my desk, and hand the ebook—an English translation of Azazeel by Yousef Zaydan—to my companion. I needed my fiancé to learn a guide I learn once I was a lot youthful, in Arabic.

I sit down, glancing on the man once in a while, assembly his accusing eyes.

“We heard about your go to,” the bookshop owner says to me as I pay for the 13 books—12 of that are in Arabic—and for our tea. “We examine you within the newspaper.” He glances with me towards the person within the nook. I smile and we trade some pleasant chitchat about how costly it’s for me to cargo books in Arabic from the Middle East to Canada, and the way meaningful it is for me to browse a bookstore with Arabic books.

“You shouldn’t have come right here,” the man underneath the shelf says, beneath his breath as I start leaving the bookstore. I take a look at him, and I don’t remark. I don’t know why I really feel the best way I really feel, but I stroll out of the store feeling someway ashamed, as if I committed a criminal offense with out intention. I stroll shortly away from the bookstore, squeezing Matthew’s hand.


It’s Tuesday early morning and I’m strolling the previous metropolis of Jerusalem. Matthew and I keep away from the tough sunrays filling the previous streets. We stand by the Dome of the Rock, and I discover myself unlayering the town around me. Each stone has its personal narrative. I feel that in my bones. I feel it within the best way I layer my very own identities. My body is one but there are so many layers inside it: my Syrian-ness, my Canadian-ness, and my queerness to call a couple of. This metropolis is a dwelling physique within itself and its coronary heart is beating. I can hear it. It is beating. I can feel it.


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