Opinion |

Suddenly the Future Invades

‘What will we do in another 10 years?’ asked the Palestinian hostess on a balcony in Bethlehem. ‘The grandchildren will grow up, get married, where will they live? What will be left for them?’

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We sat on the balcony so that the hostess and the other guest could smoke. The beer was cold, the almonds and pistachio nuts were salted just right, and the sharav wasn’t so oppressive because it was almost 7 P.M. Karkafeh Street, which curves under Terra Sancta Street that runs under the Church of the Nativity, was being emptied of cars as the time for breaking the fast approached. Once, 20 or 30 years ago, they say – presumably with charming exaggeration – this street was the end of the world. Whoever built here felt like a brave adventurer, going to live in the area between Bethlehem and Beit Sahur.

The daughter was preparing for an important test on a subject that was Greek to us (finance, business management or the like). The son returned from his work with farmers in the Jericho area, where it had been 52 degrees Celsius. The other daughter, a musician, called just then from where she studies abroad to say hi and that she missed them. And it turned out that the other guest drinking beer on the balcony had been her former teacher, so everyone was excited.

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But all the local, regular, characteristic variables inevitably invade this middle-class, universal scene. The father had been jailed for three years for activity during the first intifada. Did he die of a broken heart at 49 because the wall near what is called Rachel’s Tomb destroyed his business? Or did he die for a more prosaic reason – that in the midst of the second intifada the blocked roads didn’t allow the ambulance to arrive in time to treat him?

I said to myself that in any context we write about the Palestinians, we do them an injustice. If you write about the unnatural deaths that Israel inflicts upon them every day, their continuous, everyday lives fade to the background, as if the Palestinians are merely a derivative of Israel’s aggressive act of stepping over them and they have no autonomous presence under the sun. On the other hand, if we write about what so resembles life that is not trampled under our boots, like the grandchild that hits a plant while riding his plastic scooter or the new course for construction safety engineers, we are serving the well-oiled Israeli propaganda machine that proclaims to the entire world, first and foremost to the Jews, that Palestinians live a normal life here. Compare it with Syria and see who has it better.

How proper and necessary it is to write repeatedly about the water pipes that Palestinian communities are trying to lay to ensure that basic thing called running water, while Civil Administration inspectors and self-satisfied soldiers repeatedly confiscate them or block their installation. As they did Saturday, for example. On the holy Sabbath. Near Samua. But such Sisyphean reporting will only serve as proof of the existence of Jewish democracy at its best: We have the right to write, and readers have the right not to read and not to take interest and then to send their heroic children to serve in the military to prevent the Palestinians from enjoying running water.

How tempting it is to write about artistic initiatives in Beit Sahur, but that will only serve the voyeuristic racists who will scoff and say, “What, they know how to build musical instruments?” And how tempting it is to recount what the son said, about how shoppers in the nearby grocery store were speaking with excitement about permits issued for the occasion of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr allowing people to travel abroad via Ben-Gurion Airport. Even if further checking reveals that this is not an unfounded rumor, the fans will cheer from the stands and praise Israeli generosity, and it won’t help to explain yet again about the apartheid laws that deny Palestinians free movement throughout the land.

And then our field of vision was invaded by a symmetrical mountaintop covered with strips of new buildings, with green spots between them and a green space around them. Reach out and touch it. But not. It’s the settlement of Har Homa, or Homat Shmuel; a neighborhood in the language of post-truth. The settlement was planned during the tenure of peacemaker Yitzhak Rabin. For coalition considerations the aggressive construction was halted, but then under Benjamin Netanyahu it moved forward.

Once again, I thought despairingly about how hard it is to explain in words the connivance of Israeli agriculture, to describe the tight, suffocating belt of settlements, wall, fence and roads for Jews that Israel has built around the Bethlehem area. To the west, on the lands of al-Walaja village, a new checkpoint is being completed, with gleaming new barbed-wire fences. It will facilitate another extension of the green area for Jews alone, on the lands of a village we continue to mutilate. Village residents and other Palestinians will not be permitted to enter their green space.

“What will we do in another 10 years?” asked the hostess. “The grandchildren will grow up, get married, where will they live? What space will be left for them?” In response, the future invaded our conversation. From the air it will look like this: scattered spots of tall, dense buildings with no greenery or open space, connected by ribbons of narrow roads that two soldiers and a key can block at any moment. Those who flee to look for a horizon abroad will send financial help to the family they left behind and who still will need to eat. International organizations will continue to hold conferences in luxury hotels to coordinate the transfer of donations to these pockets of unemployment. And all around, the state of the Jews will flourish and bloom.

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