It doesn’t matter where anyone builds their diplomatic palaces. Jerusalem still speaks Arabic. I’ve heard her.
Hundreds of restaurants offer falafel, hummus, shawarma, pomegranate juice, and knafeh. Believe me. I’ve tried them all. But there aren’t any delis. No corned beef sandwiches on rye. No bagel shops. No lox. Don’t get me wrong. All those things are delicious. They’re just not there. Because Jerusalem eats rice and yogurt with every meal. She uses bread as a spoon. She checks her teeth for leftover tabbouli. She’s an Arab.
Certain aromas waft through the air. Cumin. Coriander. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Turmeric. Sumac. Allspice. Those spices don’t come from Poland and Brooklyn. Her women push their herbs in her markets. Thyme. Sage. Basil. Mint. Lots of mint. Those herbs don’t come from Russia and Miami Beach. I’ve hung out with her. She drinks coffee that’s almost too strong for human consumption. She eats parsley-infused meats. She sweats garlic like the rest of us. She’s an Arab.
It’s easy to get confused in her alleyways. They meander every which way, twisting and turning, each corner bringing a new little journey. But if you ask for directions from one part of the Old city to another, her children will just tell you, “Just go straight.” Jerusalem is still an Arab. I promise you.
Look in her closets. She collects ornately embroidered gowns.
Visit her weddings. She “changes the light bulb” when she dances.
Go out to dinner with her. She fights over the bill.
Talk to her for more than five minutes. She asks you if you’re married. And if you’re not… Well, then prepare yourself for a much longer, and quite uncomfortable, conversation.
She wears a keffiyeh. Sometimes it’s because she’s protesting. And sometimes it’s just to keep warm.
When she has some time for herself to listen to some music, she sings along with Fairouz, Abdel Halim, and Um Kalthum.
Jerusalem’s been Arab for 1400 years. Crusader campaigns tried to change her. It didn’t work. Israeli colonization, settlement, and profanity have tried to change her. They’ve failed terribly. Some stuttering speech about an embassy won’t succeed either.
She’s been through decades of foreign occupation, more than once. She has suffered the attempted theft of her heritage. She has watched the dispossession, expulsion, and looting of her children’s lives, homes, and histories. She has even endured the propaganda that she still solely belongs to someone who doesn’t remotely understand the beautiful creature she has grown into today. Yet, despite these attempts to defeat her, Jerusalem still speaks Arabic. With a Palestinian accent.
She’s one of us. Don’t worry. She can handle this.