A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2000, Pages 9-10
On the Ground: the Al-Aqsa Intifada
On Living and Letting Live
By Samah Jabr with Betsy Mayfield
Because of the conflict in Palestine, my family and I, living within the area Israelis deem Jerusalem or Jerusalem’s environs, are under imposed siege. Since the Al-Aqsa intifada began, we cannot leave the house at night and sometimes we cannot go out in the day, either. Even if one of us becomes violently ill, we cannot go out to summon a physician or go to a hospital. If we need milk from the store, too bad. It will have to wait. Jerusalem is as silent at night as the famous Christmas carol, “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Only, in our case, the holy part is somehow missing.
One evening about two weeks ago, everyone in my family was immersed in work: Dad and my sister were reading, Mother and my brother were fussing about in the kitchen and I was editing material I wanted to submit for publication. Suddenly, we heard a cry from outside. It was one of our neighbors calling out like a Palestinian Paul Revere, America’s famous night rider who warned that “the British are coming.” “Settlers in Dahiat Al Bareed. Citizens be careful,” our neighbor shouted out in Arabic.
Settlers are as varied as people anywhere, but as academic Bruce Lawrence writes in his book Defenders of God, most settlers living illegally on Palestinian land believe that it is their religious task to reunite the Holy Land with themselves, God’s Chosen People. Others, the followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, believe that they must take back the Temple Mount, reconstruct the Jewish Temple—never mind that the Dome of the Rock stands there now—and get all of God’s Chosen People to settle in Israel before redemption of the righteous can occur. The Holy Land, say these people, belongs to God, and they, the Jewish settlers, have simply come to claim what God has ordained. Neve Yaqoub is the settlement of God’s People nearest our home.
The night of the attack was dark and shadowless, but we peered from our windows into the night, trying to see. We could only hear shouting and shooting. Mom came from the kitchen and, with a calming power worthy of God’s appreciation, commanded us to “get away from the windows.” We dared not disobey. Instead of watching, we hustled around turning off our lights.
From the nearby mosque, we heard a voice on the loud speaker. It was not the usual call to prayer that we are accustomed to hearing five times a day. This Palestinian Arabic speaker told us to gather stones and glass for defense and to stay in our homes with the lights out.
Outside our compound, we heard the rustle of kids gathering stones. A positive in this horror is that the kids actually cleaned up the area. Here in Jerusalem, where some municipal services are limited to the western part of the city, it is our custom to gather stones that clutter our byways in East Jerusalem and cart them away. Families have been after their boys for months to do this, but asking our kids to clean up the streets is like asking American kids to take out the garbage. Now, our teenagers rise to the task. It is exciting: there is danger, but, with typical adolescent aplomb, the youth of our village cannot imagine that anything really bad will happen to them.
In spite of Mom’s concerns, we sneaked to our windows to see what was going on. An elderly neighbor, supposedly ill and unable ever to leave her room, was outside gathering stones with the kids. We nudged each other and chuckled at the sight. Mom did not think it was funny.
But our amusement quickly subsided as the shouts and gunfire got closer and closer. One of my father’s academic colleagues from An-Najah University in Nablus had been killed a few days earlier in a settler attack near Bida. We had all seen the televised report of the killing of two-year-old Sara in the current uprising in Salfeet, not far from our neighborhood. My grandfather’s olive orchard in Kifel-Hared, just up the road, was ransacked by Jewish settlers during this current Israeli-initiated conflict, and many of our trees were burned to the ground.
Settlers never come in the day. Like the fox to a barnyard, they sneak in at night. They come fully armed, and often with Israeli soldiers. The noise we make sometimes seems our only defense.
While it is rare for them actually to kill one of us, they have a habit of destroying property and terrorizing our children. Even without Israeli-imposed curfews, few Arab people leave their homes at night. People stop work around 3 or 4 p.m. in order to be home and in the house by dark. Palestinian towns like Hebron, Nazareth, Salfeet, Birzeit, Sufat and Beit Hanina are like ghost towns after 6 p.m. It is unheard of to have any kind of party at night. Social life in most of Palestine is virtually nonexistent.
I didn’t fully realize that until I went to America and Britain and experienced after-work relaxation. Away from Palestine, I could stop at the gym and exercise after a day in the lab. I went to TGIF—“thank-God-it’s-Friday”—parties. I attended a “shower,” as Americans call it, for a friend having a baby. All these events occurred at night in a relaxed atmosphere I had never experienced.
Here at home, I unwind over a good dinner cooked by my brother, but there I could extend my life into the community and get to know people beyond my immediate family. Here, we all fear the night—no more so than now. Forty-year-old Issam Joudeh was kidnapped just a night or so ago from his home near Ramallah, a town about 15 miles north of Jerusalem. Severely beaten, he was then set on fire and, finally, when his agony ended and he lay still, the settler-gang riddled him with bullets, an act of pure hatred. This by men who claim to be God’s righteous and chosen people.
During the settlers’ attack on us, my father was the most distressed. Pacing, he finally took some analgesics and anti-hypertensive medication. Even my easy-going brother looked pale. To ease the tension, my sister and I began to chide him. “Go hide in the closet,” teased my sister.
“No, no,” I corrected. “You’re too big for the closet. Get under the bed.”
Mother was effective. She sat with my niece and nephew and read them a story by candlelight. Until the shouts came very close to our home, the children did not know what was going on. We do not want them to be aware of the oppression leveled against us. Like the Jewish character in the recent movie, “Life is Beautiful,” we try to shield our children from the realities of hate.
As the shooting and shouting came closer to our house, the street lights went out. In the dark, we sat on the floor for about four hours. Some of the British I had met during my medical rotation in London had told me about their air raids during WWII and how afraid they had been. Now, I could apply their recollections to my own situation.
Finally, we heard one of our Christian neighbors calling out. “Help!” he yelled. “The settlers are in the mosque with their fire.” Then, he began to chant our Islamic prayer, “Allahu Akbar,”—God is great.
That our neighbor and friend had gone out on his roof gave us courage and we, like many in our crowded neighborhood, went to our door. Our friend’s chant resounded and people up and down the road began to recite with him, “Allahu Akbar.” As our chanting rose into the night, the settlers, leaving the mosque behind, began shooting in our direction. Some of the boys threw stones into the night, but most of us went back inside when we thought our place of worship was safe.
Around 1 a.m., as suddenly as it started, the shooting and shouting stopped. Had our chanting and stone-throwing frightened the settlers, or was it finally their bedtime? Did they imagine that it was 1948 and that we Palestinians would flee in fear and horror as many of our people did then? Did they imagine that they were still fighting the Germans and that they had to use violence to stop their perception that we might rise against them, they with their guns and army?
We went out into the streets to make sure no one was hurt. A call from the mosque’s loud speaker reassured us that this attack was over. We went to bed wondering when the next outrage would occur. Such is peace among God’s people in Palestine.
Samah Jabr is a medical student and journalist writing from her home in Jerusalem; Betsy Mayfield is an American writer and supporter of truth and justice. This article was first published in i.Views.com.