Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Jerusalem encounter

David of Israelity reports on A Jerusalem encounter.
Jerusalem has always been a volatile place, but the last week of protests and rioting by local Palestinians in the Old City and east Jerusalem over what they claim to be Israeli efforts to move in on the Temple Mount really show what a tinderbox it is.

But sometimes, trying to hone in on a human aspect instead of looking at the dismal macro situation can provide a different view of the situation that Jews and Arabs find themselves thrown in together in the place both sides call their home.

I was waiting for a bus yesterday across from the Regency Hotel near Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus to take me through the tunnel and to Ma’aleh Adumim. A short distance away, at the intersection that leads to Wadi Joz, the police had blocked off the road and were redirecting traffic – evidently a common procedure during the busy days of Hol Hamoed Succot when so many extra visitors come to Jerusalem, but undoubtedly mighty annoying for residents of the area.
There was one other person at the bus stop, a young man in his 20s, wearing trendy sunglasses and holding a small overnight bag.

“Are you going to Beit She’an too? he asked me in Hebrew, revealing with his accent that he was Arab. I told him no, and we started talking about his journey.
“I’m going to Jordan to visit my sister. She’s lived there for years,” he said. “It’s easier for me to cross over the border at Beit She’an.”

Turns out his name was Khaled and he lives in Shuafat, the Arab neighborhood that borders the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill, next to Hebrew University.
We started talking about Jordan, and he offered some tips about visiting our eastern neighbor. “There’s not much to see in Amman, it’s best to just go to Petra. But don’t go to Akaba, they don’t like Jews there.”

“Are things quiet in Shuafat now”? I asked, referring to rock throwing and tire burning that had taken place there in recent days.

“Yes, but you never know when it will start again. There’s a few instigators who start doing those things,” said Khaled, who said that he was entering his last years of a Master’s degree in business administration at the university. “I don’t like living here,” he added, pointing to the roadblock a few feet away. “You can’t go where you want. When I finish my Masters, my girlfriend and I are leaving – to America, or maybe Europe.”

We tossed things around for a few more minutes until my bus arrived. Khaled and I shook hands, wished each other well, and I got on the bus leaving him waiting for his.

On the way back home, I reflected on the encounter and felt a certain sadness – if decent people like Khaled are throwing up their hands in despair and leaving the fate of Jerusalem to the rock throwers and tire burners, then our future looks bleak. I wanted to get off the bus and go back and tell him, ’stay here, help us build a society that we can all live in together.’

But my bus was already entering Ma’aleh Adumim.
A nice sentiment on David's part, but it would be nice if he had referred to all the things that Israel does to make the lives of people like Khaled miserable. It's not just the stone-throwers of Shuafat, it's the separation wall and the checkpoints. Yes, I know all the arguments in favor of the barrier - it keeps suicide bombers out of Israel. If, however, that were the only goal, it would be built along the Green Line and settlements in the West Bank would not be on the Israeli side of the barrier. And in places like Jerusalem, the barrier would not be built right in the middle of Arab neighborhoods, as it is. See this 2007 article on the Brit Tzedek web site for a discussion of how difficult the separation barrier makes the lives of ordinary, non-terrorist Palestinians. And a blog posting by Dennis Fox on his walk from Ramallah to Jerusalem, passing by Shuafat, which is behind the separation wall and has only two entrances to it.

Below is a photo of the separation barrier in Jerusalem. See how it divides most of the buildings of one Arab neighborhood from a couple of houses further down the hill.

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