[East Jerusalem. December 2016.]
I’m seated at my usual table in the Educational Bookshop, in their little café section upstairs, with a pile of books and a chocolate milkshake. It’s December and the shop is adorned with Christmas decorations.
Just a short while ago, two women – one younger and one older, perhaps mother and daughter – asked if they could use the extra chair from my table. They sat down and began conversing with an older Arab man in a suit at the next table. The young woman, possibly European judging by her accent, mentioned that she had studied criminal law (or something of that sort) and spoke with him about the conflict and how, at any given moment, it feels like it will never end. They talked for a while about an organization in the West Bank that works with Palestinian ex-prisoners. The older woman looked on and attempted to participate in the conversation every now and then.
“I’m getting married soon,” the young woman says presently. The older man asks if her fiancé is Palestinian and, upon learning that he is Israeli-Hungarian, enquires if he is Jewish.
It’s strange how questions about ethnicity and religion are tossed about so commonly and effortlessly here, as is the need to ask them in the first place. It’s one of the first things I’m always asked: “Are you Christian?”, “Are you Jewish?”
They are soon interrupted by another older man whom the two women seem to have been waiting for, and the three of them prepare to leave. The older woman appears to be impatiently shepherding the rest out of the bookshop.
As they head down the stairs, the older man calls out to the Arab gentleman upstairs, something about staying in touch. “We don’t want to lose you!” he jokes.
“I will be here,” the Arab man responds. “Somewhere in this world.”
I finish my milkshake and get ready to leave. I’m meeting a friend at Damascus Gate.
Two people at a nearby table suddenly exclaim in American-accented English, “And she’s Muslim!” “Really? She’s Muslim?” Of course, nobody knows the context of their conversation, but it is bizarre nonetheless; it is the kind of moment where a bunch of strangers all sit in silence because they have all heard the same thing, and they all know that it is a strange thing that they have heard.
I pick up the copy of Baddawi that I have been reading and head downstairs to the cashier.