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EVEN THE QUALITY OF THE LIGHT
One morning in early August of 2002, the residents of Chiyah, El-Azariyeh, and Ras al-Amud, the Palestinian villages that form the eastern boundary of Jerusalem, discovered that pieces of paper printed with a message in Hebrew had been tacked to the trees during the night. The message, bearing the stamp of the Israeli Defense Forces, was a military order informing residents that some of their land was going to be requisitioned by the army to erect a wall. It listed the plots of land that would be affected and specified that those who wished to file an objection had one week from the time that the notices had been posted to do so. In the time it took to translate the flyers into Arabic, access the land title registry, identify the requisitioned tracts of land and the path of the future wall, the week was over.
"Finding a lawyer to bring our case before an Israeli court and have it translated into Hebrew would have taken us at least another whole week. Assuming, that is, we managed to raise the money," says Terry Boullata, principal of an elementary school in Abu Dis and an impassioned activist for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Four years later, she still hasn’t come to terms with the brutal legal maneuvering of the Israeli army. Sitting on the flowered sofa in her living room, this energetic woman in her forties is agitated. While serving coffee, then cold drinks, she chain-smokes, glancing out the window at her concrete enemy every time she mentions it. "Why is it that for us, the soldiers are satisfied to nail military orders to trees, but they’ll go door to door, house to house, to explain to the settlers that they’re going to be evacuated from Gaza? What happens when the rain washes away the message or when the wind tears it loose?"
The residents never filed an objection in the manner required, so on August 14, the bulldozers, protected by a large detachment of soldiers, began demolition to clear the way for the wall and to open a roadway for construction vehicles. As a first step, concrete blocks in the shape of upside-down Ts, each about two yards high, were haphazardly set down by cranes. There was enough room in between some sections for a child or a slim adult to slip through. But: "We could see that there was something temporary about that wall," remembers Terry Boullata. "It prevented cars from getting through, except at crossings controlled by the Israeli army. For people on foot, it was exasperating and humiliating, if not entirely insurmountable. But when the checkpoint was moved from Ras al-Amud to Abu Dis, along the planned route of the wall, it was clear that something else was in the works. In fact, it appeared that the Israelis intended to transform the municipal boundary of Jerusalem, which had been arbitrarily drawn after the annexation of the eastern part of the city in 1967, into a genuine border between Israel and the territories under control of the Palestinian Authority. For those of us here, that was a disaster."
A member of an old Jerusalem family, Terry had married Salah Ayyad, the son of a successful businessman from Abu Dis, toward the end of the First Intifada. Terry was Christian; Salah, Muslim. Both were members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and had spent time in Israeli prisons for having belonged to an outlawed political party. Neither one saw their religion as an issue. "We were married during the Gulf War, but we still had a party at the Cliff Hotel, which belonged to my husband’s family, until it was confiscated by the Israeli army in 2003 in order to set up quarters for the Border Police," Terry recounts. "The municipal boundary of Greater Jerusalem, drawn by the Israelis after capturing the eastern part of the city in 1967, ran straight through the hotel. The bar was in Jerusalem, the restaurant in the West Bank. This was just one of the countless absurdities of the occupation, and it sometimes caused problems with the Israeli military bureaucracy. But it didn’t get in the way of the hotel’s daily functioning, nor did it hinder customers coming from the West Bank or from Jerusalem. They simply had to cross the army checkpoints, wait, and run the risk of being turned back. But the Palestinians of my generation have been used to doing that since birth."
By the time the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords had been signed, Terry had left the DFLP to join an organization working to reform the status of women in Palestinian society. She and her husband moved to the second floor of a little white-stone apartment building within the municipal boundaries of East Jerusalem, about twenty yards from the Cliff Hotel. The building had been built in 1958 by Salah’s family.
"I was filled with hope," Terry admits today, now regretting her nai;vete;. "I really believed we were finally going to have our State and live as neighbors with the Israelis. I was so full of enthusiasm that I decided in 1999 to open a kindergarten and elementary school in Abu Dis, to contribute to the education of the new generations of Palestinians. ‘New generation’ was actually the name that I had chosen for it. I borrowed thirty thousand dollars, then twenty thousand, then ten thousand, and I started with fifty children. Five years later, I had two hundred children and twenty-two teachers. It was a heady time. The school was a five-minute walk from my home. All I had to do was cross the street near the mosque, walk the length of the Palestinian parliament building that was under construction, pass by Al-Quds University, and I was at work.
"Like many of my pupils and teachers who lived within Jerusalem city limits, I continued to take the same route to the school, despite the wall that appeared in 2002. There were openings in this wall where Border Police soldiers let children and people they recognized pass, when they didn’t have orders to the contrary. Their tolerance worked well for us, but I will never forget how humiliating it was to crawl through those holes, and especially to see old women in traditional embroidered dress or grandfathers in keffiyehs struggle to pass through while these young people looked on. And in spite of it seeming temporary, this wall was, for the first time, a concrete separation between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and an additional physical obstacle to what was already heavy regulation."
Indeed, since March 1993, six months before the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn, the Israeli army had put into place a system of cordons and controls in the West Bank and Gaza Strip designed to regulate—in fact, reduce—Palestinian movement within the Occupied Territories and at crossings into Israel. Any travel was laden with a multitude of checkpoints and military roadblocks. Entry into Jerusalem was forbidden, except to those who had authorization from the Civil Administration—that is, the army. This authorization was difficult to obtain, and the smallest incident could nullify it. With the onset of the Second Intifada in September 2000, the military and police tightened security; ditches were dug, clay roadblocks were put up, and cement blocks were laid across the roads, paths, and alleyways that had previously allowed people to avoid checkpoints.
For those who lived in the neighborhoods or Palestinian villages on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, such as Ras al-Amud and Abu Dis, these measures were a nightmare. They had been casually breaking the rules of the occupation for years and now faced a clampdown. The Israeli authorities forbade Palestinians, whether they had an orange or a green identity card, to remain in Jerusalem between 7:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. under penalty of prison and a fine. And Palestinians living in East Jerusalem holding blue "permanent resident" cards were no