Anne George continues her wanders through Jerusalem


The enormous fridge in my tiny kitchen continued to fascinate me, and not, I hasten to explain, merely because of its ever-changing contents. Why was it so battered? There were deeply gauged scratches, now bright red with rust, and some major dents on all sides. I couldn’t understand how it could have possibly been so mistreated. Auntie continued to appear most evenings for a post-supper chat, which was gradually becoming more detailed and conducted in English rather than French as Auntie became more confident. Finally, I asked her why the fridge looked as if it had taken part in a battle.

The reason was just that. Auntie started to describe the fear and terror of the 6-Day War of 1967 to me. As a teenager at the time, totally uninterested in world news, I had to confess to her that I knew nothing of what had happened. Auntie’s face became sombre as she explained that, as the fighting came closer and closer to the Old City, the inhabitants retreated into their ancient, fortress-like dwellings. I knew how thick the walls were in Uncle’s house. They were as thick as both my outstretched arms, as I had measured them myself by spread-eagling my body along the length of the passageway between my room and their living-room when I first moved in. Auntie explained that the whole of Uncle’s extended family came to stay in the house, and the big, heavy metal doors were shut and barred. For extra protection they had moved the fridge in front of the doors inside the house. They all stayed inside for 3 days and only ventured out when everything had gone completely quiet. The Israeli paratroopers and the Jordanian army had fought not only in the narrow streets of the Old City but also on its rooftops, and Auntie described the horror of sitting in the living-room, able to see nothing, but hearing the rushing feet, gunshots and mortar blasts overhead and in the alleyways leading to the house. Several mortars had been thrown into the courtyard and the fridge had taken the impact.

Auntie had fed the family, about 12 in all, from her store cupboards and from the fridge. I didn’t dare to ask if the fridge had been plugged in. However, I had my curiosity assuaged, and from then on treated the fridge with even greater respect than before. It had been part of history, protecting a family in its hour of need but also providing sustenance for them as well and now it was living out an honourable retirement. Every time I opened the fridge door, I thanked God that this family that I had come to love and respect had come through such an ordeal unharmed.