Video: Authors confront Israel’s “Kafkaesque” restrictions in Jerusalem

“You understand that these things exist before you come to Palestine. But before you’ve experienced it, you don’t really quite understand the apparatus and the kind of mechanism in place,” says UK poet Tom Warner.

“One gets the impression that there’s nothing accidental about the way these checkpoints work on you, work on your spirit. These are well thought out. They’re intended to humiliate, they’re intended to dehumanize.”

Warner is one of several writers who appear in this video released by the Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest).

It records the reactions of several authors including China Miéville, Gillian Slovo and Omar El-Khairy as they witness Israel’s oppressive system of walls, checkpoints and bureaucratic restrictions designed to make life in occupied Jerusalem impossible for its indigenous Palestinian residents.

The visit took place last year during the 2013 Palestine Festival of Literature

“Putting people in their place”

Slovo recounts that the occupation soldier manning a checkpoint allowed people through without further searches even after they set off the metal detector, because the soldier appeared too busy “tweeting or doing emails on her phone.”

“That indicates to me that they don’t really think that there’s a security situation going on. They’re not really looking for arms or guns. What they are doing is putting people in their place and trying to stop the free movement of a whole people.”

The writers visit Sheikh Jarrah, where Fayrouz Sharqawi of Grassroots Jerusalem explained that the Jerusalem neighborhood “embodies physically the policy of occupation and displacement of Palestinians and Judaization of the city.”

They also visit the home of a Palestinian woman whose property is threatened by the occupation with seizure.

Omar El-Khairy calls the complex and unpredictable system of permits that make life for Palestinians in the city so precarious “Kafkaesque.”


Ray Dolphin, who works for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, explains how Israel’s restrictions function to make family life impossible and ultimately to remove Palestinians from their city.

If a Palestinian from eastern occupied Jerusalem wants to marry someone from somewhere else in the West Bank, say Bethlehem or Ramallah, the couple cannot live together in Jerusalem unless the spouse applies for “family reunification.” But Israel has suspended that process since 2003.

The Jerusalem spouse could go and live in Bethelehem or Ramallah, but if the Israeli authorities find out, then that person’s Jerusalem residency could be revoked.

“There are all these intriguing little details that add a kind of juridicalized cruelty to it, which really does take your breath away,” observes China Miéville.

This PalFest video, like an earlier one on Hebron, is by Murat Gökmen and features music by Stormtrap Asifeh.

For an in-depth view of how Israel’s persecution is affecting one Jerusalem family, read Patrick Strickland’s report on the Issawi family.