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Encounter in Jerusalem



It is early evening in Ram, a neighborhood in the outskirts of Jerusalem. The workers are on their way home to their families. The queue is long. I am sitting in my Audi, in the diplomats’ queue. I am alone, there’s no queue, but I’m waiting.

She stands twenty meters in front of me. Military clothing, with an AK4 over her shoulder. I watch her. Her movements, her face, her youth. A year or so older than my youngest daughter. I see her but she does not see me. She does not see the workers. She only sees her colleague, a boy in the same age as her. The boy is dressed in military clothes and an AK4 hanging nonchalantly over his shoulder.

A boy and a girl by a gate. But nobody gives them a coin for their troubles. No beautiful words, no looks of praise.

A boy and a girl about to become adults. They were just teenagers. Now they are playing power games. A boy and a girl who for a while forget where they are. Forget that they are at a checkpoint. Forget that they are maintaining apartheid, that they are separating Palestinians from Palestinians.

Instead they begin to flirt. Touch each other, nudge each other and turn their backs to reality. Point towards the queue of workers, say something, laugh. Meanwhile, the queue becomes longer and longer.

I don’t know what they are saying. See that the Palestinian workers are becoming annoyed. It is Thursday evening. After a long work week they want to return home for the weekend. They have nothing to do standing in this queue.

The workers see how the checkpoint for a while becomes a meeting point between a girl and a boy. Two young people with their origin in Ethiopia. We see how the young people play theater. The theater of reality. A theater without a script, with Palestinian workers as extras. I get to be the audience. I watch the blending of war and peace, love and fear. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s fear.

I open my car window. I hear Eric Clapton’s music from a small radio on a cement bloc. ”I don’t want to be lonely tonight?”

After a bit over a half hour, the girl with the AK4 approaches my car. Laughing. The last thing he said must have been funny, maybe something beautiful.

I ask her how she is doing. She freezes and asks me why I’m asking her that. I smile confidently as I say that I’m just asking how she is doing.

She repeats why I am posing such a strange question.

”Well,” I say, ”I actually wanted to ask you if you are happy or sad. It is as if I know you. It is as if I’ve seen you before. I have lived in Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa. Have been sitting here and watching you for a long time. I am wondering who you are?”

”Why do you ask that?” she wonders.

”Maybe because we are both strangers here,” I say. ”I am from Sweden, have lived in Ethiopia but do not speak Amharic or Arabic and you are from Ethiopia but haven’t learnt how to speak Hebrew. We are two strangers who meet at a loathsome checkpoint a bit outside Jerusalem. I am just wondering how you are doing.”

Mats Svensson, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine.  He can be reached at



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