Jerusalem’s Survivors

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Mrs. Asfour, a respected Palestinian woman in her late 50s, 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 her new granddaughter, she had no idea that during her week-long absence her house had become inaccessible to vehicles.

Mrs. Asfour had to figure out how to get several suitcases around the cement blocks obstructing her path home. The barricade had been erected by the Israelis to stop Palestinians from circumventing the nearby checkpoint. Her taxi could only take her as far as the cement blocks, and she had to carry her bags the rest of the way home.

Mrs. Asfour was surprised when she learned 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 within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries.

Certainly Mrs. Asfour’s problems are nothing compared to those of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who face daily problems in getting home, getting to work, getting to school or university. The unprecedented Israeli closure has wreaked havoc in the lives of three million Palestinians who find themselves trapped.

More interesting than the difficulties and their source is the amazing will of Palestinians to find solutions and go on. When she was confronted with her problem, Mrs. Asfour wasn’t bitter nor did she talk about revenge. She immediately started looking for solutions.

This spirit of survival despite all odds can be seen in many Palestinians who are determined to find solutions to their problems, no matter how difficult life gets.

Take for example the story of Shaaban, a Jerusalemite in his 30s who has had his share of difficulties. His family first lost their home in the Mughrabi quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Their neighborhood was demolished when Israel occupied Jerusalem and wanted to expand the pavilion in front of the Western Wall.

His family then built a house in one of Jerusalem’s suburbs, but the Israelis came and demolished that house because it was built without a permit (building permits are nearly impossible to get for residents of east Jerusalem).

So his family and 25 others decided to squat in an unfinished cultural center 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 a-Salam (“the chimes of peace”). At the same time, Shaaban formed another band called Ranian, which played in 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 plays songs about being shelled by the Israelis.

When he is not in his band, Shaaban drives a van and helps transport Palestinians from Ramallah to Jerusalem and back, often having to use back roads, like the one where Mrs. Asfour lives.

Asfour and Shaaban are among the new/old breed of Palestinians. They have an amazing instinct for surviving despite all odds. In the Seventies, the term sumud was given to Palestinians who have chosen to be steadfast as the only act that they can do.

With the peace process in deep freeze, perhaps the only option for Palestinians, and certainly for Jerusalemites, is that of survival and steadfastness.

Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.

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