Hidden Treasures: A Dance in Jerusalem

Joel Carillet's picture



In the past eight years, I've had the privilege of making several trips to Israel and the West Bank.  In 2003 I also worked there for five months.  It is a troubled land, and the trouble is deeper and more complicated than many people understand.  It is found not only in the way violence is used but also in how the law is used, how strength is used, and how words are used.  And in reading the paper or watching the news, one sees only a glimpse of what is actually going on.


Joel Carillet

Israeli border police posted at a Jerusalem intersection


For example, who knew that Palestinians might dance slowly to Whitney Houston's “I Will Always Love You,” only a half mile from and several hours after a suicide bombing?  This is a small and peripheral story, but it is not an insignificant story.


Traveling to Jerusalem from Egypt takes most of a day, and it was evening when I arrived at the city's central bus station.  I walked along Jaffa Street bound for my favorite hostel outside Damascus Gate, which was run by Palestinians and where a bed cost the equivalent of $4.50 per night.


Fifteen minutes into my walk I came upon a scene I knew I'd find because I had heard about it over the radio while on the bus to Jerusalem.  It was a shattered storefront, the latest scene of a suicide bombing.  The attack had happened earlier in the day, and the charred smell of the blast still hung in the air.  Walking past the blown-out windows was like walking through a thick cloud -- the conflict felt tangible to the skin.


A block or two further down the street, I picked up a tuna bagel.  Soon I was at the hostel and resting in the lobby with a few others, one of whom -- a European -- was present at the site when the bombing occurred but escaped uninjured.  As one so often does in this part of the world, we all drank hot tea, and enjoyed one another's company while listening to a radio tuned to an Israeli station.


As we drank, Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" began to play and the music and words wove themselves into this atmosphere of violence and hopelessness.   The two Palestinian men who operated the hostel stood up and began to slow dance together.  It was meant jokingly, yet there was clearly a measure of sincerity and yearning in this joke.  As the song moved from beginning to end, the meaning of a love that will be for "always" touched us all deeply.  I thought of the woman who hours earlier blew herself up just down the street, of those who were hurt in the explosion, and most of all of the HATE that has more impact on lives and spirits than most bombs do.   All this to the backdrop of the song.  If you remember Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World (This Could Be)" in the movie Good Morning Vietnam -- it is played as violent war images appear on screen -- you have a sense of what I'm talking about.


Just as I had felt something tangible and heavy as I walked past the damaged shop earlier, now I felt the tangibility of hope, the bodily craving for something beautiful and tender.   And based on the silent expressions of everyone else -- we were all watching the two men dance -- I was not alone in this.


Jerusalem could be a hard place, home to anger, rage, and tears.  But thankfully, it could also be a place where odd couples dance -- and where in watching, one yearned for a world where people truly loved one another.  


Joel Carillet

A lemon tree in a Palestinian village in the West Bank


Joel Carillet, chief editor of wanderingeducators.com, is a freelance writer and photographer based in Tennessee. He is the author of 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia. To learn more about him, visit www.joelcarillet.com.  







Comments (1)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    11 years 4 months ago

    Joel - so poignant - your travels (and you sharing them with us) are so important to intercultural learning. thank you!


    Jessie Voigts

    Publisher, wanderingeducators.com

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