Toine van Teeffelen

The Writing on the Wall: Terry Boullata

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 Terry Boullata, head of a private school in Abu Dis and an advocacy worker. “My neighborhood was turned overnight from a residential base into a military zone. Men, women, children - everybody was jumping over the wall at the low point near our house. You could always find children jumping amidst teargas and sound bombs. On a daily basis.” 

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.” 

A schoolbag named desire

With thumb held high and a broad smile, the school bus driver welcomes Tamer who proudly carries his little schoolbag on his back. He takes the seat right behind the driver so as to be able to peep over his shoulder towards the road. Watching this is one of those little rituals every day which keep Mary and me in a better mood than the situation otherwise would allow. Wearing her chequered school uniform, Jara too takes the school bus but unlike Tamer she is not always in her best mood. Her bag is stuffed with books and she curves her back to carry the burden. 

Flags in Palestine

“I suddenly remember that some twenty years ago, in the 1980s, the Israelis forbade the Palestinians to even color the Palestinian flag, let alone to hoist it in the streets. The flag was considered a danger to public order. During the first Intifada Israeli soldiers forced Palestinian citizens to paint over Palestinian flags that covered the walls of the streets. Mary still remembers those days very well. Painters sometimes circumvented the prohibition by showing a Palestinian salad containing the colors of the flag: black and green in the olives, red in the tomatoes, and white in the cheese. Or women’s embroidery containing those colors.” Toine van Teeffelen reports from Bethlehem. 

The Mountain Shakes

We all cannot sleep, this Friday early morning. Mary, Jara and I sit around the TV to watch the latest news about Arafat. The best news on offer is the announcement that he is not yet dead but in coma, a “reversible coma,” it is said later on. Palestinian spokespersons in Ramallah and Paris were yesterday contradicting each other. I am reminded of the repeated complaints, at a recent conference, by young Palestinian media students about the presence of multiple spokespersons at the PNA. Jara solemnly announces that she hopes that “our leader will not die.” Toine van Teeffelen writes about the feeling in the streets of Bethlehem. 

Wings of Freedom

Palestinian singer Ammar looks an introvert person. On the Lebanese Future station, where he is a finalist in the Idol-like competition “Superstar”, he sings his almost classical Arab songs in a beautiful melodramatic voice. He remains serious while he laughs. Surrounded by glitter and fashionable show presentators and a screaming teenager audience, he looks out of place. Asked by a jury member why he is so reserved and sad, he replies that he cannot sing gaily when his people in Palestine face so many difficulties, and he mentions the people dying at checkpoints. Art is resistance for him. Toine van Teeffelen reports from occupied Bethlehem. 

View on the Sea

Mary is called by a student from Gaza who since three years is unable to complete his final year at Bethlehem University due to the impossibility to travel out of Gaza. Her heart beat leaps after hearing the familiar voice of the student she knew so well. He tells her: “But we are better off than you, at least we have the sea here!” In Bethlehem the American actor Richard Gere watches some performances from Suzy’s students who had made some good drama plays based on their recently published Intifada diaries. Gere also visits a group of young children making drawings of the sea. The teacher tells Gere that the sand and the shells stuck on the drawings are really from the sea at Tel Aviv, a sea which the children cannot visit. 


What might happen to those taxi drivers and travelers is at present a subject of much storytelling in Bethlehem. Mary heard from a cousin that her brother in law, a taxi driver, was beaten up by soldiers. Another of her cousins studies at Birzeit University and has to take the Wadi Nar road every now and then to visit family back in Bethlehem. A weekend ago she even didn’t dare to try to take that road. Apparently soldiers had erected a large tent next to it where those who were caught sneaking through the hills were brought together and sometimes beaten up. All were people who for their daily duties had to travel from one Palestinian town to another. 

The bittersweet lives of Palestine's children

At the teacher workshop about diary writing the participants say that nowadays Palestinians here are less strict in observing customs like not holding, for a period of up to one year, a wedding party after somebody in the family has passed away. In the past it was unthinkable not to comply but the negative events are so frequent and overwhelming these days that it is simply too unpractical to let one’s social life be prescribed by them. As Mary says, one has to live. Toine van Teeffelen writes from occupied Bethlehem. 

Journey into prison

My family’s costs for the journey from Bethlehem to Amman and the return trip almost equalled a flight trip, per person about $200, including the costs of special taxis, border taxes, the entry authorization from Jordan, and a hotel in Amman. Not for poor people. “Back to the abnormal life,” Mary is used to saying upon entering Palestine. It was raining heavily. The taxi driver was nervous about soldiers checking the car, as he is not allowed to carry passengers without the relevant permits, and wanted to drop my family somewhere before ‘Azzariyyeh (Biblical Bethany). Toine van Teeffelen writes from Bethlehem.