Suffocation in isolated Bethlehem

Today is my mother’s birthday. She called my cellphone as my dear friend Areej and I were walking in the late afternoon shadow of the brand-new Apartheid Wall and “terminal” seperating Bethlehem from the rest of the goddamn world. To prove that i was there, i held the phone up to the wall and slapped it as hard as i could. The “terminal,” as it is being called, is a cattle-catch maze of turnstyles and x-ray machines, all enclosed in an enormous building of wire and steel and sniper weapons with crosshairs tuned like a fiddle. This is on the “Jerusalem” side of the wall, which one is able to access only after papers are shuffled, cars are inspected, and people are humiliated and intimidated, or perhaps beaten and arrested and tortured. 

The Writing on the Wall: Claire Anastas

The Writing on the Wall is a series of interviews with Palestinians who live close to the Wall. Van Teeffelen asked three questions: How is your daily life influenced by the Wall and the checkpoints? What does freedom mean to you? What are your sources of energy? Claire Anastas is a Palestinian civilian living opposite Rachelas Tomb in Bethlehem. “In 2002, there was a lot of shooting. We lived in a cross fire. My children were paralyzed of fear and could not even use their hands. During some of the shootings the bullets entered our house. We did not know where to hide. Each night my children were waiting when the shooting would start. 

The Terminal

On this Palestinian Independence Day I decide to take a break and go and visit the zoo in Jerusalem together with the children. Mary, who of course cannot join because she doesnat have a permit or a foreign passport-with-a-three-month visa as I do, puts fruits in the bag for me and for Jara and Tamer. Should we put a knife in the bag, to cut the fruits? Better not to have an iron knife, but a plastic one, we think, because the soldiers at the checkpoint may become suspicious. I make a quick check on the Internet to see whether there are problems to be expected on the road. The Bethlehem taxi driver tells us that today the new terminal is in use. We approach not a checkpoint but rather something that resembles an international border. 

The Sound of Music

The main Jerusalem-Bethlehem checkpoint to the Wall concerns a rather desolate area with few people walking and perhaps some cars waiting in front of the checkpoint. It is nowadays so difficult to enter Jerusalem that you do not need to wait long in the queue. Even the soldiers are less stressed and unfriendly than elsewhere, just lazy and indifferent behind their table in the shadow of the hot sun. I’ve got used to walking along those two or three hundred meters between the checkpoint and the Wall. You see little boys who try to sell their chewing gum, always in vain. In the past you could take a taxi after passing the checkpoint from Jerusalem, but now the area is empty of taxis. 

The Crow Cries

Lately Mary said that “we are slaves now,” – slaves even without the possibility of shouting at your masters. “How sad is it that we are happy to get a permit,” she said after hearing of people who received a permit to travel to Jerusalem during Easter week. She herself applied but did not receive one. We heard of many couples who received only one permit. According to some, there were seven hundred permits to give away for a thousand applicants. Most people did not bother to apply. With its army roads and barbed wire the Wall will soon dominate the western border of the Bethlehem area, as well as a large stretch of the south. The checkpoint to the north of Bethlehem is going to be moved southwards, approaching downtown Bethlehem. It will be in or immediately behind the Wall. 

Yom al-Ard in Bethlehem

For the past few weeks, Israeli machinery and bulldozers have been working at the northern entrance of Bethlehem city to construct the Segregation Wall. The path of the wall is almost complete in the area, confiscating Palestinian land and olive groves, and segregating Palestinian houses in the vicinity. Yesterday (March 30), the residents of Bethlehem city went out to peacefully protest against the Israeli policies and the theft of their land for the on-going construction of the Segregation Wall. The demonstration was part of a national day of action to commemorate Yom Al-Ard (“Land Day”) in Palestine, commemorating the killing of six Palestinians by Israeli police in 1976 at a protest against land confiscations in the Galilee. 

Did you say the Israelis are withdrawing?

Since the Sharm El Sheikh summit things have significantly improved in the Palestinian territories. The Army has stopped its incursions in Palestinian towns, Palestinian civilians are free to move, prisoners are about to be released and economic activity is slowly recovering… At least this is the information that most western media is conveying to its people. The situation on the ground is unfortunately completely different. The Separation Wall is being completed faster than ever, all the military check points are still in place, the Palestinian detainees are still under Israeli custody and daily life is still hell for all Palestinians. 

Feast of the Tree

It happens that Dutch books emit a political message that I do not wish to repeat to the kids. Many years ago a well-intentioned lady gave me a book about “Donald goes to Israel.” For her, Palestine was Israel, and she did not realize that Israel is not the name which Palestinians use for their country. But the book became one of Jara’s favorites after I changed the name of Israel into Palestine, the kibbutz into a Palestinian village, and Moshe into Musa. The book was about Donald and grandma Duck visiting the Israeli feast of trees [Tu Bishevat, in Hebrew]. The Ducks, of course, came to help the pioneers in planting trees so as to make the desert bloom. In fact, we do have a feast of the tree here too. 

Religious tourism and freedom of movement denied in isolated Bethlehem

“It is quite simple. We have no business,” a shopkeeper in Bethlehem’s Old City tells me when I ask him how his business is faring after four years of Intifada and intensified Israeli military occupation. Camels and religious figures carved out of olive wood sit neatly and undisturbed on their shelves. His inventory is the same as it was four years ago. Since no one comes into his store to buy his souvenirs, he doesn’t replenish his stock. And because businessmen like him are not ordering more merchandise, the factories in Bethlehem are at a standstill. 

The Writing on the Wall: Jizelle Salman

The Writing on the Wall is a series of interviews with Palestinians who live close to the Wall. Van Teeffelen asked three questions: How is your daily life influenced by the Wall and the checkpoints? What does freedom mean to you? What are your sources of energy? Toine van Teeffelen speaks with Jizelle Salman from Beit Jala, an English language teacher and youth coordinator at the Arab Educational Institute in Bethlehem. “I need to take a detour to get to my house. I used to take a road which has now become an Israeli checkpoint and military camp. We’ve heard last year that the land on the hill above my house, which we cultivated for many years, will be expropriated in order to build the Wall and next to it a military road. This was of course most difficult news for us.”