Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Jerusalem Memoir by Emma Williams

A obstetrician, mother four children ( the youngest of whom was born in Bethlehem ) and wife of a U.N diplomat, the author lived in East Jerusalem in a Palestinian hamlet near the top of the Forest of Peace on the Hill of Evil Council, within sight of the Dome of the Rock, during the time of the Second Intifada ( 2001-2005).

The year 2000, when we arrived in Jerusalem, was a key moment. Peace, however fictional, still seemed realizable. The situation was simmering but had not yet blown up, exposing fully the failure-myths of Oslo. We walked into it a month before the situation declared itself at crisis point, and watched flurries of last-minute attempts to respond before the die-hards and extremists at home took hold. What I had done was witness one dramatic chapter in an ongoing process. Like so many others, I had thought I was seeing something new, and I thought I would see things change, but I was wrong on both counts.

As long as it remains easier to reach heaven than the end of the street – or field, or school, or hospital, or the next-door village, let alone Jerusalem, the City of God – then no security measure yet devised will stop people seeking a gruesome shortcut to end their hell on earth. There can be no peace without justice. A willingness to make peace exists. It's real, but drowned out.

Her family faced real dangers, her husband from the IDF during the course of his negotiations with the Palestinian authorities and Hamas. A Palestinian blew himself up at the entrance to their children's school, the author happened to be late arriving that day. They experienced the closures, checkpoints, the harassments of everyday life in the Occupied Territories and witnessed the devastating consequences of war on the lives and livelihoods of the Jews and Arabs of the land of Israel. Since so much of the carnage and human waste is filtered-out by the American press or simply denied by the government of Israel (“It didn't happen') it is tempting to use this opportunity to convey a more complete and detailed version of the truth but this is practically impossible within the limited confines of a blog like this. I will have to be content to reproduce the following passage.

"Israelis were stunned when, in December 2003, thirteen elite Sayeret Matkal commandos wrote to the prime minister saying they could no longer participate in Israel's oppression of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. They wrote “out of a deep sense of foreboding for the future of Israel as a democratic Zionist, and Jewish state.” The army responded: the soldiers should be dismissed or jailed. Israelis, horrified to see members of such a prestigious unit challenging the accepted line, sent them waves of hate mail, abuse, and even death threats. A well-known former Sayeret Matkal member, Binyamin Netanyahu, objected that refusing to serve would lead to the country falling apart. One of the commandos responded, “If a plane is going to crash, you can jump out or you can try and prevent it from crashing. That is how we feel about the state of Israel.”

Not long after the thirteen commandos wrote their letter, a serving IDF officer resigned after Israeli soldiers opened fired on unarmed protesters who were demonstrating against the Security Barrier. Among those injured was an Israeli civilian, Gil Naamati, who nearly bleed to death. Lieutenant Colonel Eitan Ronel wrote: “A country in which the army disperses demonstrations of its citizens with live gunfire is not a democratic country... I saw this deterioration, stage after stage: the blind eye that was turned to the abuse of detainees in violation of the army's orders... to soldiers' gunfire on unarmed Palestinian civilians...the settlers unlawful behavior toward Palestinian civilians; the oppression of the population; the roadblocks; the curfews, the closure; the blind eye the army turned towards humiliation and abuse; the searches and arrests; the use of live fire against children and unarmed people... This is an educational, ethical, and moral failure.”

In November 2003, the Army Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon, astonished the government by contradicting the official line on checkpoints when he declared that “restrictions on the movement of Palestinians are counterproductive, generating greater hatred of the occupying army” and strengthening terrorist organizations.

But when four ex-directors of the Shin Bet security service - Yaakov Perry, Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, and Carmi Gillon – gave an interview to the major Israeli daily, Yediot Ahronoth, Sharon took notice. His later volte-face on withdrawal from settlements – the unilateral “disengagement” plan of 2005- was partially attributed to many Israelis speaking out, but particularly to these four. Together, the four men, with their unparalleled knowledge and experience, decried the failure of the Israeli government to deliver on peace and urged ending the occupation by the dismantling settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Shalom said, “We must once and for all admit there is another side, that it has feelings, that it is suffering and that we are behaving disgracefully.” The Israeli preoccupation with preventing terror,” he said,” is not a mistake. It is an excuse. An excuse for doing nothing.”

Sharon dismantled the settlements in Gaza but it has become a prison that, in Israel and America, one cannot safely call a “concentration camp.” The expansion of settlement on the West Bank continues. The main effect of the obscene security wall is to expand Israeli control and ruin the prospects of a peaceful solution. In her epilogue the author represents, on the basis of his speeches, that the election of Obama as President represents new hope for a long-lasting peaceful resolution to the problem of Palestine. Yet it still remains doubtful that the American government is willing or able to take effective action along these lines.


  1. As reported in “Jewish Terrorism in Israel" by Ami Pedahzur & Arie Perliger, Columbia University Press, 2009. [ Blog: 11/26/09 ] Jewish fundamentalism is a significant threat to the peace 'process' in Palestine and is reflected by varying degrees in the ideology of the settler movement, principally the idea that all Palestine belongs to the Jews by the will of God and that its Arab occupants have plenty of other places to go.

    “ Jewish fundamentalists want to replace the State of Israel with a Jewish Kingdom that would be ruled by the Halacha, Jewish religious laws. Rabbis would interpret this law and appoint a king, a Sanhedrin would replace the Knesset, religious appointees would enforce Halacha throughout the land and citizens would be required to report any wrong doing. Men and women would be segregated in public and law would enforce modesty in female dress and conduct. Adultery wold be punishable by death. Anyone who desecrated the Sabbath, by driving a car for example, would be liable to death by stoning. The Halacha would institutionalize discrimination against goyim, non-Jews. Any crime or sin committed by a non-Jew against a Jew would be more heavily punished than the same wrong committed against a goy.”

    As Emma Williams told an Israeli writer friend: “When you said you Israelis have domestic problems, you weren't joking.”

    I omit a description of Islamic Fundamentalism because most readers are already quite familiar with it.

    “It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street; A Jerusalem Memoir” by Emma Williams; Olive Branch Press, 2006, 2010.

    Emma Williams studied history at Oxford and medicine at London University. She now lives in New York.

  2. this was a wondderful book and i feel that everything goign on in jerusaalem makes no sence because whether or not they take land or fight its no going to make a difference but people dying and getting injured