It was July 1967.
We had been almost forced to return to the UK in March 1966. Not physically, unless the need for urgent surgery for our middle son, which required him being admitted to the famous Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, was a reason. We did not envisage that the whole family would leave. However we also were also in a financial crisis.
Not long after our return, the The Six day war broke out and resulted in a dramatic and outstanding victory for the Israelis. Our son Anthony had made a good recovery so both my mother and I volunteered to help out at the Jewish Agency offices in Rex House in London. We were processing young people who wanted to go to Israel. There were hundreds.
In July, I persuaded my mother and two of her sisters to come on an all inclusive (package) tour with me, taking my youngest son Micah who was 5 years old along too.
We were told in advance that we would stay overnight in East Jerusalem.
The tour comprised primarily nuns and other Christian visitors.
As the bus crossed from West Jerusalem through what had been the Mandelbaum Gate, my heart leapt to my boots. I could not breathe. There had been a moment before as we drove through Rehavia and I passed nearby the house in which my very close friends the Dushkins lived that I wanted to cry.
We arrived at a Hotel and as I got off the bus, I said to the driver, “I am shaking all over.” He replied “I still do.” Once settled in our rooms I went to the desk and asked to use the phone explaining that I wished to call West Jerusalem .
The clerk at the desk was dour. I heard my dear Alex Dushkin’s voice and through my tears said “I am here, in East Jerusalem. Are you OK?” He was pleased to hear me and answered in the affirmative and we planned to meet in a few days.
A very unhappy looking white coated young man showed us up to our rooms. I saw that a cot bed had been put up for my son. My mother who was in the hotel business opened her bed and said “Look at the pillow it hasn’t been changed” There were grease marks on the underside, a normal one night person would not have noticed that. We called room service and the sour faced young man arrived and reluctantly changed it.
We soon went to bed for the night. Next day on the tour, the guide told us that the Israel Government tourist board was making efforts to facilitate tours to the Old City in order to help the economy of the Palestinians living there.
Today, I couldn’t help thinking about that time and comparing the present reality. The sad thing is that although tourism is of great advantage to all the population, the groups that visit the Old City are kept in tow by their guides who only let them buy from specific stores where it’s obvious that they get a cut. The Jerusalem Arab traders told me this and are desolate about it.
By the same rule it is a magic place to be in. No one is left unmoved and it doesn’t matter how many times I go there, as the vehicle in which I am travelling ascends Shaar Hagai, I get a lump in my throat.
I truly hope that the Jerusalem residents themselves will find a way to live in true harmony. There is no doubt that a fabric exists on many levels.
That they alone will prove, and so convince the politicians, that true coexistence is possible as long as equal rights and respect prevail.
God Bless all who live in this most unique place in the whole world. The centre and heart of the three monotheistic faiths.