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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street by Emma Williams

I'm only on the first chapter and I think I may have hit upon a book Americans can relate to and understand the whole of "the situation" at the same time. She has a respect and understanding for both sides (often said, but rarely the case in this thing) and cuts through and explains the propaganda and myths on both sides. I'm pretty amazed and impressed thus far...


I've finished now, so I'll put my overall impressions up here (I had "in progress, notes as I go" here initially). There are a ton of specifics that I either remember reading in the news when they happened, that I'm impressed she included, etc. I'll just leave them below as examples- I stopped noting them after the first half of the book anyway- there were too many.

This is not your typical memoir. But that's a good thing- and actually probably pretty typical when your memoir is set in Jerusalem and you are as thoughtful as she is and have access to UN, doctors on both sides, and officials. There is a lot of politics and references to historical events and recent events, but I can see this as a memoir because she's honestly trying to sort this out while she's over there. It is one of the most honest attempts I've seen. It is a little hard to tell what her own views are, which is kind of strange in a memoir, but appreciated in anything attempting to explain the conflict. When I first started reading the book, I interpreted the news items and her relating interviews and conversations with a pretty wide variety of people as her own.

My impression due to some of her commentary was that she related to Israelis most- that could be due to a suicide bomber blowing up outside her children's school and near it and in places she frequented. Unlike some who have a strong sympathy for Israel, though, she doesn't ignore or deny Palestinian humanity, rights, the fact that Israel is an occupier, the fact that Israel does wrong. I would be curious how she struck people she lived with in Jerusalem; there were a number of times when her friends would say something against Palestinians and she noted that she remained silent. She definitely seems pretty balanced in the book. She really seems to have sympathy for both people and understand the nuance of both sides' politics. Even if she has bias herself, at least she included pretty balanced historical info and accounts of the recent developments.

What also made the book so good was that it covers a wide variety of issues: Israeli denial of absolute facts- like IDF kills children, UN workers, etc; how she and others self censor depending on who they talk to; media bias; the Wall; American attitudes; among others.


I wondered what could make her so reasonable, besides being British :). Maybe I shouldn't wonder, just enjoy. But this is such a rare occurrence, this genuine sympathy and understanding of both sides, I can't help it.


Maybe being a doctor (she worked in many hospitals, Palestinian and Israeli, in her public health research while there) helped her not be able to ignore the facts. Seeing the maimed and hearing doctors' struggles on both sides must have had an impact on helping her see the similarity in the two sides, the brutality and senselessness of the violence, whatever the source.

Maybe being a UN worker's wife also helped her feel sympathy toward Palestinians. She tells of how an Israeli chased her up the street yelling obscenities in her face upon seeing her UN plates because many Israelis feel the UN is "on the Palestinians' side." I guess that could have driven home what kind of hate could be directed at Palestinians by Israelis, if she didn't get it by listening to her Palestinian friends' experiences.

***

Continuing with specifics...

In just the second chapter, the interviews and exchanges (p34 and 40, esp) she records relates so many things Western audiences would be shocked to know. I have been reading widely on this, so I'm not surprised by what she writes, but it was satisfying to see her refute all of the myths and reservations I hear people repeat when I dare suggest that Palestinians have (or should have) rights and a homeland.

People would call her from the States discussing the situation and tell her (who was eyewitness to the contrary) things like all the Palestinian deaths are terrorist deaths, Palestinians who were fired upon on Temple Mount after Sharon's infamous visit were all armed, Palestinian mothers push their children to the front lines- that's why there's a high death rate for them, Palestinians know Israel is militarily superior and will retaliate so it is actually Palestinians' own fault they are being killed, the occupiers are the victims, etc. People actually insisted they were right (b/c they read it in Time or this or that American outlet) and she, practically an eyewitness, was wrong!

One thing that absolutely disgusted me was hearing about the "game" soldiers would play shooting steel/rubber bullets into children's eyes. Apparently it takes precision. I'd like to show that to people who like to tell me that Palestinians teach their kids to hate and accompany it with a pic of a toddler dressed in military fatigues... And on the subject of pride in hate and destruction... she references this article in Yedioth Ahronoth as well: http://electronicintifada.net/content/i-made-them-stadium-middle-camp/4459. Yikes.

She tells about a French journalist friend who was aimed and shot at by a soldier with an M-16, just missing his heart. He explained that it would have hit his heart due to the angle he was standing at, had it not been for the flak jacket. Even more shockingly, Israeli friend of hers completely denied that it happened despite it being taped and played on the news. I hadn't realized the extent of Israeli denial of what goes on. I guess it's only natural that American denial of Israeli atrocities is so prevalent. I am frequently encouraged that Christians reject Christian Zionism and the Jewish claim to land today based on the fact that God said it's theirs- see the Old Testament. Frequently though, as I heard visiting at another congregation, they follow it up with but we should support them for political rather than religious reasons- we are allies, only democracy in the Middle East ??), etc- the usual. Why is it that people who can separate the political and religious still can't see that what Israel is doing is inexcusable. It is not security. It is revenge. It is punishment for wanting rights, a country, a homeland, a life, to live on the land that was stolen by victims of another war. Suicide bombing and killing Israeli civilians is wrong, but how can people so easily get behind targeting journalists, peace negotiators, shooting kids in the eye, shooting kids for sport (pdf), and many other atrocities?? If it's not religious, is it loyalty to the GOP? I can't help thinking that people just don't know what really goes on, but like the author's Israeli friend, if they did, they'd probably just deny it.

She relates another incident that I am familiar with while listening to the radio. The death toll for Palestinians rises exponentially compared to the Israeli one. Yes, I know that all deaths are bad, but this kind of lends credibility to the stories of IDF brutality. She was listening to the radio and the commentator saying that Palestinians must end the killing and violence. (a familiar, tired refrain) Just after that he reports a settler killed a Palestinian ( but of course a Palestinian could still be to blame even though a settler group claimed responsibility) and three Bedouin women were killed by Israeli tank fire. But, Palestinians must stop the violence.

She also tells in passing of one of many events that made her change her plans. I know people probably thought I was exaggerating when I relayed news (I remember, if not this incident, then ones like it) that the IDF bombed Palestinian towns with F-16s, targeting Palestinian police/security forces for a militant attack on an IDF post. What sense does that make? It says Israel considers Palestinian police (and civilians for that matter) militants and does not want Palestinians to make any progress in self governance that agreements supposedly are trying to promote.

In chapter 8, she delivers her baby at Holy Family in Bethlehem. It had been bombed once or twice before she delivered and she described the damage and several accounts of doctors. IDF officials she spoke to and heard from said the IDF is a humanitarian army; it doesn't do things like that. Another one said there was no tank activity there in October- pretty specific- a total lie. At the end of the chapter she talks to a Palestinian Christian who comments that the American Christians are so strange- they have no feeling for fellow Christians- where is their humanity.

I know I am mentioning quite a bit about the Palestinian side. This is because people rarely seem to believe that things are that bad for Palestinians or that the wacky things they hear about Israel, a democracy, doing this or that, isn't just propaganda. Peppered throughout the book are the author's experience with suicide bombings and her sympathy for Israelis who live in constant fear- I feel like people are pretty well acquainted with this- so it doesn't strike me as amazing as the understanding of the Palestinian point of view. The Israeli point of view is no less valid. Just want to make that clear.

Sharon comes to power or at least becomes very active during her stay in Jerusalem. I know I was completely dumbfounded by Bush's total complicity in crimes of the occupation and Sharon's knowing he can get away with murder and acting on it. I knew he was bad when it was happening. Looking back, I think I was probably kind in any analysis I may have done. Rereading the things that were said and done- it's unbelievable. He was a monster- worse than I probably thought back then. She mentions two things (p169 and p251) I remember I couldn't believe hearing and, further, couldn't fathom how things stayed the same after. Sharon stepped away from his carefully constructed straw man of Arafat (he wants the whole thing, wants to push Jews into the sea) and let slip that Arafat wanted to push Israel back to the 1967 borders (the horror!). The second was Sharon admitting there was an occupation and it was bad for everyone. Amazing- suddenly he was contradicting many fans in US government, AIPAC, etc. Through all of this, Bush never changed anything, never held Israel accountable. Those were truly hopeless times- for Iraq nonsense and for progress in the Palestinian Israeli conflict.








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