I just got back to Amman from four days in Palestine: Jerusalem, Abu Dis, Bir Zeit, Ramallah, Qalqilya and Nablus.
I also heard heart-wrenching stories about children.
One mental health workers says they’re now seeing mutism in children — children who have gone mute in reaction to some trauma. Another father told me his 2 year old son thinks that “shalom” means soldier. He also refuses to eat and wants to play only with tanks and guns (they live a block from Arafat’s compound).
Girls in Abu Dis talked calmly about jumping the fence to visit their grandfather.
But I keep coming back to how powerful the Palestinians are. Certainly lost hope is a theme of just about every conversation but they clearly have a power to survive. It’s growing stronger with each of my trips.
As for the walls, the first I saw was in Abu Dis. For reasons that have never been explained to me, four houses in Abu Dis have been designated by the Israelis as Jerusalem homes. In the past, a checkpoint separated the West Bank part of Abu Dis from the Jerusalem part. Now an enormous wall has been constructed to wall off those four houses from the rest of the town. Wherever there are houses along the street, the owners themselves have had to construct the walls; in other places the Israelis have done it. The Palestinians are, in some places, then, subsidizing their own captivity. As my friend pointed out (who lives in one of the four houses), it’s one thing to live inside a cage; it’s another to have the zoo keepers in there with them. Patrols go up and down the wall night and day keeping people from jumping over it. But, people do all the time, to get to work, to get to school, to see their families.
In Qalqilya, the famous “security wall” is being constructed. The plan is to completely encircle not only Qalqilya but a number of the surrounding villages, allowing only limited access to them. The north side of Qalqilya has just ditches now - 10 feet or so wide. The west side has the 8-meter high wall. The Israelis had told the farmers that they would be able to use gates in the wall to farm their confiscated land but the only gates I saw were for the water the Israelis are taking from the town. Israeli companies have contracted to build the wall and Israeli Arabs are doing the work.
The streets of Qalqilya are empty and shops are closed everywhere because nobody - from the villages or inside the green line - can currently get to the town. This is a beautiful town that the municipality is keeping together but it’s being crushed little by little.
As I sat at checkpoint after checkpoint over the last few days I couldn’t help but compare the soldiers with my own students - they come from the same age group but you would never be able to tell. My students are cynical and worried about how much money they’ll eventually earn but there is a desire to learn - really. But how can these 18 year-olds go back to any kind of normal life after brutalizing the Palestinians? The disgust they show for them is tangible. They make them wait for hours at a time just because. I know we all know this information but it’s devastating to see in reality, to see people squashed together along the border of the checkpoint, afraid of moving for fear they’ll lose their space in the line, to have Israeli soldiers confiscate students’ textbooks, and on and on.
These checkpoints have also brutalized the land as the Israelis have uprooted trees and houses to set up their monstrosities. Palestine is so beautiful and this serves as yet another symbol of the destruction.
Betty Anderson is an Assistant Professor of Middle East History at Boston University. Her research interests cover Jordan and Palestine so she travels to the area repeatedly.