Mar 29 2001

Jerusalem’s Survivors

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

Mrs. Asfour, a respected Palestinian woman in her late fifties had a problem the other day getting to her home in the Jerusalem district of Dahiat Al Barid. Coming from Jordan, where she had visited her daughter and the new born granddaughter, she had no idea that in the week she was absent her house would no longer be accessible. Having a number of suitcases with her, she had to figure out how to get them to her house, as the Israelis had put up cement blocks in order to stop Palestinians from circumventing the checkpoint.

The taxi could only get her to where the cement blocks were placed, and she had to carry her bags the rest of the way home. She was surprised when she learnt about the new blockade. “But our house is next to the World Bank and the Norwegian mission’s offices,” she said to the driver. “How will their people get to work?” Those two foreign entities as well as many others have set up offices in Dahiat Al Barid feeling that it is the nearest place to Ramallah, but still within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries. For sure Asfour’s problems are nothing compared to those of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who face daily problems getting home, to work, school or universi. The unprecedented Israeli closure has created havoc for three million Palestinians who find themselves trapped. But what seems more interesting is the amazing will of Palestinians to find solutions and go on. When she was confronted with this problem, Asfour wasn’t bitter, nor did she talk about revenge. She immediately started looking for solutions (like, for example, who would help her with her bags).

This spirit of survival despite all odds can be seen in many Palestinians who are resigned to find a solution to their problems, no matter how difficult life gets. Take for example the story of Shaaban, a Jerusalemite in his thirties who has had his share of difficulties. His family first lost their home in the Mughrabi quarter in the old city of Jerusalem. Their quarter was demolished when Israel occupied Jerusalem and wanted to expand the pavilion in front of the Western wall. Then, his family built a house in one of Jerusalem’s suburbs; the Israelis demolished that house because it was built without a permit (building permits are almost impossible to get for east Jerusalemites). So he and 25 other families decided to squat in an unfinished cultural centre next to the American Colony. In his new make shift home, Shaaban started a band. He had a few Israeli friends and together they created a joint Palestinian Israeli band called Ranian Al Salam (the chimes of peace). At the same time, Shaaban made another band called Ranian which played at Palestinian weddings.

Now that peace is no longer chiming, Shaaban is no longer playing with his Israeli friends. He went to Ramallah and created a nationalist band that is playing songs about being shelled by the Israelis. When he is not in his band, Shaaban drives a Ford van and helps transport Palestinians from Ramallah to Jerusalem and back, often using back roads. Asfour and Shaaban are among the new/old breed of Palestinians. They have an amazing instinct of survival despite all odds. In the seventies, the term sumud was given to Palestinians who had chosen to be steadfast, as the only thing they could do. With the peace process in deep freeze, perhaps the only option for Palestinians, and certainly for Jerusalemites, is to try to survive and be steadfast.

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