“I live on the Mount of Olives” is a sentence upon which pronouncing, I take a deep breath, expecting the wave of questions to hit me straight away.
Sometimes I get tired of answering those questions since they also require swimming upstream. It feels like I have to break a number of preconceived notions and ideas in a very limited time. I don’t do any extreme sports but it does feel like an adrenaline rush sometimes.
Again, not living here itself but only telling people about it.
“Where do you mean? Near the cemetery?”
Many don’t know, but Mount of Olives besides being famous for the old Jewish cemetery has also a huge number of monasteries and churches and is also a big Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Living in East Jerusalem if you are a nice, little Jewish girl who made Aliyah a while ago, still hasn’t got married to a nice Jewish boy, and doesn’t look like an ideological settler, can only provoke more of the following reactions from strangers:
“Oh, are you married to an Arab?”
Me: No, I just rented an apartment. Legally speaking, it is considered Israel and as Israeli, I am allowed to live here. Practically, it’s very hard to find a small apartment in East Jerusalem, so I have to share it with flatmates, sometimes with my sister, Airbnb or Couchsurfing, or other guests.
“It’s very cheap there, right?” Here I see people relieved that they found the explanation for my not ordinary case.
Me: Not really! If I have to count the arnona, not that cheap at all. Only the arnona is 1200nis a month!
“A Month?! Are you sure?” I have to admit I enjoy this part, because I love to complain.
Me: Yes, unfortunately. I just received a letter from the court since I haven’t paid it in the last two years.
“How long do you live there? They know you are Jewish?”
This is the breaking point that goes against all Israeli logic. This little Jewish girl with Israeli ID lives in East Jerusalem for a number of years; her neighbors know it, treat her well and she is even still alive. As a friend once told me while we witnessed a gang fight near Damascus gate: “So you live among them.”
But I usually like to go back to complaining about my arnona.
Yeah, those are the average arnona fees in East Jerusalem. My neighbors say it’s the strategy of the government to kick out all Arabs from East Jerusalem because if they don’t pay the high arnona fees, they will confiscate their houses.
But then there is me, and I don’t own anything here, I only pay my rent in cash every month to my Arab landlord. So I figured, what will they do to me then, if I don’t pay my arnona?!
What should I pay it for anyway? For the overfilled garbage bins all around me?!
One day my aunt from Petah Tiqva comes to visit and she is a new driver. Apparently, they don’t teach at the driving license course how to drive in East Jerusalem. Where to know this from, how to drive on narrow busy junctions without traffic lights? How to park when there are not enough parking lots and how to make that lifesaving eye contact between pedestrians and drivers on streets without sidewalks?
“So why do you live there then?”
Now I know, I complained enough. It’s time to make people envy! Another adrenaline rush of mine…
Me: First of all, you can’t tell me you are a hummus enthusiast but you are afraid to come and try the hummus from my neighbor’s falafel shop! I get positive reviews from my Airbnb guests thanks to this hummus.
“Come on, you can’t live there just because of the hummus.”
I hate bringing this so early to people, but I’m vegan, so I can!
From here on I start adapting my answers to the public. If they are observant Jews, practical spharadim, I say how close I am to the Kotel and to walk back home after selichot took me only 20 minutes. I lie. Climbing that savage hill up never took me less than half an hour.
If they are from the spiritual Ashkenazim type, I throw something sort of, how special it is to live where Mashiah is meant to show up first.
But I enjoy the most teasing secular Israelis when I tell them how everything is open on Shabbat and it’s not Bat Yam, it’s Jerusalem! There are even buses!
“OMG! YOU TAKE THE ARAB BUS?!”
Hey, wait, don’t get me wrong! I am not trying to make fun of you, them, me. Perhaps more of me. But my genuine wish is to make fun of all of us, that’s the reality we live in and contribute to together every day. It’s tragic but funny at the same time.
I used to be that Israeli who never stepped foot in East Jerusalem because I was told it’s dangerous and I am not welcome there. Why would I go somewhere I don’t feel welcome? Until I felt welcome, by my new local friends, who made me feel safe and normal. The feeling of normal is so unique here. One day in a normal conversation with a local friend in the university, I again complained too much about me looking for a new place to live with rents being too high in Jerusalem. She told me: “Why don’t you look for something in East Jerusalem?”
So I thought to myself: “Interesting. Indeed. Why don’t I?”
Little I knew of how intense I would have to deal with this question and how expensive the arnona there is.