School on The Mount of Olives

School on The Mount of Olives

20 May 2015

Searching for Meaning

The party hat and the helmet

While the Muezzin’s call to prayer resounds from the various minarets and the view from Ibrahim’s House of Peace roof terrace extends, via the West Bank checkpoint, as far as the Dead Sea, I need to take time to allow all the day’s events to sink in.

Today, I had intended to portray the Palestinians’ normal everyday life, but in some bizarre way or other things all went completely differently.

I knew about the “issues” of the past weeks. A few weeks before, a 16-year-old boy had been shot dead at the checkpoint. This morning, two young soldiers had been wounded after being driven into by a car that had been “just around the corner”. The Palestinian was shot dead immediately on the spot.

For hours a helicopter circled above the Mount of Olives. The road to Ibrahim’s guest house was blocked off with huge square concrete blocks. All around there were young people throwing stones.

I tried to ignore it. Somewhere or other there just had to be some sort of everyday life going on in this neighbourhood. I decided to go and pay a visit to the little school around the corner. Private School Mountain of Olives, then, was to be the place where I would find that normal everyday life. On the way, I looked inside through a barred window to where the little children were sitting working and in the inner court yard I saw a colourful scene. A woman was gesticulating wildly with her arms; one was obviously not allowed to simply walk in. I gesticulated back and she came towards me. I soon realised that this female concierge was deaf and I made it clear that I realised this. In a fraction of a second she coaxed me along to the staffroom.

Before I knew it, I was enjoying a delicious cup of Arabic coffee while five ladies were bestowing friendly smiles upon me. One of them was sitting behind a stack of work. There then came the Palestinian women’s inevitable reaction, no, no photos please. It hadn’t been my intention to come out with it so soon, but this scene was so endearing and therefore so inviting. “Are you aware that half the world’s population can make an impact and that means you … Women empowerment.” It was as if I’d said something magical! Go ahead then, the ladies indicated.

The “Principal” was a dignified woman of 53. Her elderly mother acted as receptionist. While the telephone continued to ring unremittingly, the Principal showed me a photo on her smartphone. It was the man who had been murdered that morning; he was our bus driver. She looked at me inquiringly. So I wanted to take photos of the everyday life at school? Well, I was most welcome to. Class by class I was introduced to the children and their teachers. One class was having a party, because it was the of one the pupils’ birthdays; as evidenced by the party hats.

School was already over and after it had been arranged that I would come back the next day, I went back through the gate once more. A couple of young guys pushed past me and one of them had his face covered up; a grim spectacle. There had apparently been a clash with IDF soldiers somewhere in the area.

For me there was no option but to go in the direction they had just come from. Immediately around the corner I was faced with a dozen soldiers behind the concrete blocks. The purpose of these blocks was clear. From behind a concrete block, a soldier was pointing his sten gun at me. I aimed my camera at him. “Do you know this is a very dangerous place? And you are not wearing a helmet!”. I looked round over my shoulder and saw that the Principal and some of the teachers were leading a group of pupils past the concrete blocks, because the bus wasn’t able to reach the school gate owing to the obstacles. While pointing at them, I said: “It is also very dangerous for these young schoolchildren; and that little child is only wearing a birthday party “helmet”.

On Ibrahim’s roof terrace, it came to me that all this was for them maybe “normal everyday life”. School’s out on the Mount of Olives.

And now the church bells toll.