“Burj Al LuqLuq is the largest play and sports facility for young people in East Jerusalem. In 2007 the Israeli authorities served demolition orders on six of the centre's buildings.” (Wikipedia)
The name, Burj Al-Luqluq, has an allure for being foreign to American ears, and the translation, “Tower of the Stork,” sounds like a fairy-tale. The actual place is indeed unique and its story not unlike a fairy tale – the scary kind.
My friend, Deena,(not her real name) took me to see Burj Al-Luqluq because she is on its Board of Directors and helped to create it in 1991. When I walked through its gate, I felt I had stepped into another world. Here I was, inside the Old City of East Jerusalem, an ancient, crowded, bustling place, yet what I saw was an acre of largely open space holding basketball courts and soccer fields filled with adolescent teams of boys or girls dressed in sport shorts and T’s, a playground next to a low building that housed a kindergarten where well-dressed kids were enjoying the colorful boxes, toys and decorations that you would expect in an American kindergarten, another building that turned out to be a library, and in the background, the golden dome of Haram al-Sharif (the Dome of the Rock) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Where was I?
I was on valuable real estate, snatched from the clutches of Israeli settlers back in 1991 and made into a community center for one of the poorest neighborhoods inside the Old City walls. If Deena and her friends had not acted quickly to establish Burj Al-Luqluq, it would have become an apartment complex for Israeli settlers, who would have built upon the open space, not only excluding Palestinians from living there, but paving it over.
Instead, an oasis, but with a dragon at the gate. Last November 20, the dragon, in the form of the Israel army, entered the gate in full military gear, and burst into the kindergarten, sending the forty children fleeing into the corners in terror. After turning over the colorful boxes, spilling crayons and paints, and dumping children’s books and teachers papers on the floor, the soldiers turned towards the library and computer room to see what else they could destroy, whom else they might terrify.
Deena asked if I would write to you to tell you what happened. That was chapter one of the fairy tale. For chapter two I did some research and learned that the army invasion might have been prompted by a desire to punish Burj for sponsoring a sporting event which memorialized the Palestinian man who had recently killed a baby Israeli girl and injured 8 others by driving his car into a light-rail station in Jerusalem. The man, Ibrahim Al-Akari, was shot dead at the scene, so we will never know his motives, but let us assume the worst – that he was a terrorist who wanted to kill some Israelis.
How then, could Burj Al-Luqluq, a haven for kindergartners, be honoring a terrorist? (And wouldn’t they deserve to be punished for doing so, you might think?) The idea to honor Al-Akari, as a martyr not a terrorist, came from the teenagers who were participating in the sporting event. These teenagers live in overcrowded apartments, with unemployed fathers and incarcerated brothers. They see no future for themselves so they drop out of school. They are often barred from praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in their own neighborhood because they are labeled terrorists for being young men. In the end, they are brittle and angry. And so they did this non-violent thing that was like spitting in the eyes of Israel – they honored the terrorist whom they thought of as a martyr, a martyr to the cause of freedom from the Israeli army of occupation.
* * *
My words cannot convey the thickness of the air in the West Bank after the bombing and destruction of Gaza and the daily killings of individuals in the West Bank, which U.S. media doesn’t report. It’s like Ferguson and all the young Black men or children in America who are shot dead and we don’t hear about them.
Fairy tales can have a dark message, and this one does not yet have an ending. The next chapter will be repairing Burj Al-Luqluq and helping the children deal with the trauma they just experienced, while the dragon lurks at the gate.