Letters from Gaza (13) ...Seeing the Dome of the Rock

13 August 2008

Even though the Gaza-Jerusalem trip only takes about two hours, for me and for many other Palestinians in Gaza , it seems to last forever – a window of time suddenly opened to let in fresh air. It‘s a sensation I may never again have the chance to experience.

For some people things come so easily, while others can only dream dreams that do not come true so easily – this was the case with me. While searching for the reason I had not applied for a permit to leave Gaza before, a direct answer eludes me. All I can say is that life in Gaza sometimes suffocates you to the extent that it drains all the feelings of being alive, all the feelings of tasting and experiencing any source of joy, so why try…… I wonder.

In Jerusalem , I met my colleagues, whom I had never seen before, and whom I knew only through phone calls and email. They took me on a quick tour around. I was so overwhelmed with excitement and anxiety, I refused to take a break or to rest. Eight months pregnant, it was amazing that I did not feel the same feeling of fatigue I feel in Gaza . It’s as if the air outside the borders of Gaza is fresh and energizing, providing you with endless power.

We drove around East Jerusalem . I was surprised when I got out of the car and turned around to a breathtaking view of Jerusalem . The experience was so hard on me that I suddenly broke down in tears. I felt that I had finally found my inner peace.

There, in front of my eyes, stood an endlessly beautiful landscape with trees and out beyond, there it was – old yet new, honorable and humble – an impressive and beautiful edifice: the Dome of the Rock. “Am I dreaming?” I ask myself. For the first time I could see this holy place with my own eyes, not merely through the accounts and photos of others.

The holiness of the Dome of the Rock overwhelmed me, capturing my body and soul and leaving me weak and vulnerable. The mosque enraptured me, with all its mystery and secrets – a wonder to the world in its architecture and design.

The golden dome glittered in the sunlight, as if to challenge all of the attacks against it and to summon visitors.

It is so strange, this feeling that captures you, paralyses you whenever your eyes behold something so holy, ancient and majestic. Hypnotized by the holiness of the place, I wanted to watch it endlessly. I felt so attached to it, and I didn’t want to leave it.

I wanted to fly over the mosque, to see every corner, to touch every stone, to listen to every whisper from the walls, the alleyways and the stones. But I know that I would need a lifetime to come to understand the mystery of this holy place.

My heart beat so hard, as I was terrified that this would be my first and last time here. I felt as though I had to record every single tiny detail.

But at the same time, I could barely contain my feelings of excitement for Friday, when I would be able to go and pray at the Dome of the Rock, my precious place.

Najwa Sheikh
Gaza, August 2008
Najwa Sheikh Ahmed is a Palestine refugee, who lives in Nuseirat camp with her husband and three children. These are her personal stories.