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‘They’re fighting ordinary people who want to live ordinary lives’

Two taxi rides gave a small glimpse into some of the daily realities of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents — ordinary people forced to live in unordinary circumstances.

Palestinians arrive to Qalandiya checkpoint outside Ramallah, West Bank, to cross into Jerusalem to attend the Ramadan Friday Prayers in Al-Aqsa Mosque, July 19, 2013. (Photo: Nidal Elwan/ Activestills.org)

Palestinians arrive to Qalandiya checkpoint outside Ramallah, West Bank, to cross into Jerusalem to attend the Ramadan Friday Prayers in Al-Aqsa Mosque, July 19, 2013. (Photo: Nidal Elwan/ Activestills.org)

“These houses were once neighbors,” says Naseem, a Palestinian taxi driver, as we drive through the neighborhood of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. He points to the separation wall to our right, jammed between homes that were mere meters away from each other. “These people are even from the same families. Now they have to walk or drive around the wall and through a checkpoint, just so they can visit one another.”

Naseem, who is in his early 50’s, speaks with a soft voice and a relaxed demeanor as he drives me from Jerusalem’s central bus station to Ramallah. I would normally use the regular public buses, but an attack on Qalandiya checkpoint just a few days before has me wary of running into trouble or going through more tedious security checks.

I give Naseem the name of the street where my meeting was located, but he has never heard of it. I call my colleague in Ramallah to ask for directions, she tells us the hotel nearest to the building. “Ah of course!” laughs Naseem. Palestinians generally don’t navigate their towns by street names (if they had any); instead we ask for the closest neighborhoods, landmarks, or family homes. “These street names in Ramallah are all new,” he says. “They name them after this country or that donor or that historical person. I don’t know if anyone even uses them to get around.”

Naseem lives in the Old City of Jerusalem with his wife and six children. His family is poor, and with a high rent and daily expenses, he says it is hard to make ends meet. He doesn’t mind his job – “I like having a simple life,” he says – so long as he can support his kids and help them enter higher professions. His eldest daughter just began her pharmacy studies at university.

A Palestinian man climbs over the Israeli Wall from the West Bank town of al-Ram to the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina, to attend the Friday prayer in Al-Aqsa Mosque, in the town of Al-Ram, near the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem, on the second Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, July 3, 2015. (Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

A Palestinian man climbs over the Israeli Wall from the West Bank town of al-Ram to the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina, to attend the Friday prayer in Al-Aqsa Mosque, July 3, 2015. (Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

I ask Naseem how life has been for him in the city during the past few months. Since October, Jerusalem has been the epicenter of violence both from Palestinian knife and car attacks against Israelis, and from the Israeli security forces’ crackdowns and closures on Palestinian residents and neighborhoods. Naseem gives me the same answer I always hear from Palestinians in the city: “Hiya se’ib (it’s difficult).”

Naseem says the tensions in the city are being felt every day – “like something is choking and dragging you by the throat” – and it is only getting worse. He doesn’t like politics, but in his city, politics are inescapable. “I just want an ordinary life, with a regular job and time to raise my kids without trouble. But the city doesn’t give you that.” He gestures back to the wall splitting Beit Hanina’s homes. “I don’t understand what the Israelis think they are achieving with all this. They’re fighting ordinary people who want to live ordinary lives. And everything about this city forces us to be unordinary.”

As we pass Beit Hanina on the way to Qalandiya, I tell Naseem I cannot imagine how people who see the separation wall every day cope with it. Naseem shrugs, his voice still calm: “We get used to it. We don’t accept it, but we find our ways to deal with it.”

***

Israeli police stop and inspect Palestinian residents of Jerusalem as they enter and exit their neighborhood, Issawiya, East Jerusalem, October 15, 2015. Following a spate of over a dozen stabbing attacks carried out by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, Israel blocked off and erected checkpoints at the entrances and exits of most Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israeli police stop and inspect Palestinian residents of Jerusalem as they enter and exit their neighborhood, Issawiya, East Jerusalem, October 15, 2015. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

A few hours later, I am picked up by a different taxi driver, Samir, to take me from Ramallah back to Jerusalem. Samir is from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz. He’s in his 30’s, more energetic in his talk than Naseem, but with the same relaxed posture in his seat.

Samir informs me that there had been an attack near Damascus Gate – a 19-year-old border policewoman was killed and others injured. Fearing that the authorities could be more aggressive at Qalandiya, Samir thinks it better to go through the road to the town of Hizma. He’s wrong; we arrive at the one-way road to find it completely congested. “Ya Allah,” he mutters, and quickly puts the car in reverse, gesturing to oncoming cars to turn back.

We return to Qalandiya and, as expected, the line of cars there is also packed. Seeing an opening, however, Samir makes a U-turn to cut in – causing the driver behind us to honk furiously. When the traffic freezes again, Samir steps out of the car to apologize to the other driver. He comes back with a guilty expression: “The guy was stuck on the road to Hizma for nearly an hour. He had just made it to Qalandiya before we cut in front of him.” He felt bad, but forced himself to forget about it. “It’s hard to not be selfish when it comes to checkpoints. You’re just desperate for it to finish as quickly as possible.”

Several minutes pass and we have only moved about 10 meters. But Samir isn’t too bothered. As we slowly make our way forward, he spots several people amidst the cluster of cars around us: a cousin, a former classmate, a fellow cab driver, an old friend. They smile and wave from their cars, asking about their families and cracking jokes. I tell Samir I find it amusing that the checkpoint had become a kind of meeting place. “It really is!” he replies. “The neighborhoods on this side are still part of our daily lives and our daily work. The wall makes it harder of course, but our connections haven’t been lost. We’ll always find someone to say hi to at the checkpoint.”

Cars wait to cross the Qalandiya checkpoint separating Jerusalem and Ramallah. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Cars wait to cross the Qalandiya checkpoint separating Jerusalem and Ramallah. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Another few minutes pass and we almost reach the soldiers guarding the checkpoint. Samir and I start discussing the subject of resilience, and again I express bafflement as to how Palestinians in Jerusalem can cope with their circumstances. Samir agrees that it’s a form of strength, using an unusual analogy to put it into a simplified context.

“Say you live in a house with another person. One day, that person suddenly brings a cow into your room. Bear with me a minute,” he says as I laugh at his example. “You’re shocked by what the housemate does and ask what on earth he is thinking. But the housemate doesn’t reply to you. A month later, he brings another cow into your room, and another one a month later, and so on. Soon there are so many cows that you don’t even remember what it’s like to live without them. Now all you want is just for there to be fewer cows in your room.

“So the housemate removes a cow, then another one, and maybe another one after that. You still have a few cows in your room; but you’re just happy that there are fewer than before. You live with this for as long as you can. But one day, you will remember that you could actually have something better – that you don’t have to live like this. Then, I suppose you crack. And God help you both when that happens.”

I thought about it and told him it was one of the best explanations of the Palestinian experience I had ever heard. Samir smiled and reached for the glove compartment to pull out an apple for a snack, along with his ID card to show to the young Israeli soldier waiting to inspect us.

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    1. Ginger Eis

      “Since October, Jerusalem has been the epicenter of violence both from Palestinian knife and car attacks against Israelis, and from the Israeli security forces’ crackdowns and closures on Palestinian residents and neighborhoods. Naseem sighs as he gives me the same answer I always heard from Palestinians in the city: “Hiya se’ib (it’s difficult).”

      That kinda sums it all up. I will add that “the violence” and “the attacks” are not just from “Palestinian knife” and “Palestinian cars” Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Arabs use in knifing Israeli Jews to death resp, ramming Jewish pedestrians and crushing them to death, but also from ‘Palestinian axes’ and ‘Palestinian machetes’ which they use to butcher them. Tens of ordinary Israelis, among them a young Jewish mother of six children who was hacked to death in front of her children, 23yrs. Shlomit Krigman, etc., have been butchered by these “ordinary people who just want to live ordinary life”. Here is an example of what “ordinary people who just want to live ordinary life” do: http://unitedwithisrael.org/palestinians-celebrate-anniversary-of-har-nof-synagogue-massacre/

      Yeah, that is how “to live ordinary life” Muslim Arab version. Stop the murders and stop whining!

      Reply to Comment
      • Whonoze

        On October 16, 2015, a Hamas terrorist “journalist” wore PRESS vest and launched a brutal knife attack on an Israeli soldier, before he was shot dead by the IDF. The terror-terrorist was just one of the “ordinary people who just want to live ordinary life”: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2015/10/16/17/2D79894800000578-3275687-The_Palestinian_was_shot_dead_after_wounding_an_Israeli_soldier_-a-2_1445013948517.jpg Stupid IDF just killed an “ordinary” “journalist” “who just wanted to live an ordinary life”.

        How wonderful would it be if Palestinians start demonstrating against terrorists and calling them murders, instead of celebrating them as “martyrs”? Do they not understand that their celebration of terrorism and murder against Israeli civilians make it very difficult for center leftists like me to understand them?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          “How wonderful would it be if Palestinians start demonstrating against terrorists and calling them murders”

          Would you and Madam Eis join us then in demonstrating against Nathan Nathanson, today a political advisor to Education Minister Naftali Bennett? And against Ze’ev “Zambish” Hever, closely associated with several Israeli prime ministers? And against Haggai Segal, editor-in-chief of Makor Rishon? And whose son, Amit, is a reporter for Channel 2 news, and has interviewed Netanyahu on various occasions? And against the countless number of members of Palmach, Etzel, and Lehi — including several prime ministers — who committed massacres and headed expulsions?

          You don’t understand? Let me explain:
          http://972mag.com/jewish-politicians-meet-with-terrorist-families-too/116779

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Hey Eis, since you’re all into not whining about things, then would you please get your homeboys in the far right to stop whining about the lone teenagers? You don’t understand? Let me explain:

        http://972mag.com/watch-israelis-and-palestinians-join-hands-to-say-no-to-occupation/116734/

        “That picture of a masked, uniformed thug yet again manhandling a peaceful protest organizer shows the world that Israelis will complain about violent resistance at the very same time that they violently shut down any form of peaceful protest. Then they complain about lone teenagers who their own Army and intelligence say are acting out of despair, out of seeing no way out. That soldier on the scooter flipping people off? The very embodiment of overlord arrogance.”

        Reply to Comment
      • betz55

        Oh poor Ginger, I found some typos in your posting, no worries, I corrected for you.

        “Since 1967, Jerusalem has been the epicenter of violence both from the Israeli occupation, home demolitions for Palestinians, midnight detainments, illegal settler squat home takeovers, shootings by Israelis’and from Israeli apartheid oppression. Please tell me how you would be living if the tables were turned. Of course you would fight like hell and we, the world, would never hear the end of it. And then of course you demand “compensation”.

        Naseem sighs as he gives me the same answer I always heard from Palestinians in the city: “Hiya se’ib (it’s difficult).” I am interested to know what you would be saying if you were prevented from having the kind of life you and your ilk enjoy in Jerusalem.

        That kinda sums it all up. I will add that “the violence” and “the attacks” are not just from “the illegal settler squats” and “Israeli cars”. Israeli Jews use all sorts of violence to, knifing and burning Palestinian children, ramming Palestinians with impunity – pedestrians and outside of the illegal settlements and crushing them to death, but also from ‘Jewish axes’ and ‘Jewish machetes’ which they use to butcher them. Tens of ordinary Palestinians, among them a Palestinians family who were burned to death in front of family members, Riham Dawabshe, the mother of 18 month-old Ali Dawabshe who burned to death in a settler arson attack her child burned alive near her. Palestinians have been butchered by these “illegal settler squats and ordinary Jewish people who just want to live ordinary life”.

        Yeah, that is how “to live ordinary life” Israel Jewish version. Stop the occupation and stop whining!

        Oh and hear is the link to the wedding video where Jews celebrate the death of Palestinians.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfkd0r1yY10

        Reply to Comment

        Reply to Comment
        • Tony Riley

          Netanyahu condemned those Jews for celebrating the murder of a Palestinian child.

          No Palestinian politician, or civilian, has condemned any of the murders of Jews.

          You’re just a complete Hamasshole bimbo.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      “Ordinary people that want to live ordinary lives”?

      More like evil bastards that go around stabbing Israelis for a hobby – and then boast about it on Facebook.

      Reply to Comment
    3. NAOMI

      Ordinary people don’t…
      Commit honor killings
      Polygamy
      Murder of Gays
      Murder of Apostates
      Murder anyone who sells lands to Jews

      No, these are not ordinary people. They are fascist low-lives which need to be taught a lesson that they and the World will never forget.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The mask comes off. Blatant fascist vilification, pure racism. Courtesy of Naomi. Goebbels would have admired the technique. It is good to see what hardened Judeofascists one is really dealing with underneath the veneer and the hodgepodge of other rationales offered up as to why the occupation cannot end. Once upon a time the Germans too thought they had to wrest Poland from Slavic untermenschen. You are appalling, Naomi.

        The extreme right turned Israel into an anachronism
        Unlike Europe, where the right has significantly grown but is still not in power, in this country the racists, the extreme and clerical right is the government, with only a vacuum opposing it.

        Zeev Sternhell

        http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/the-extreme-right-turned-israel-into-an-anachronism-1.353451?v=3715D5D155DE0B3A358AC297148486D8

        Reply to Comment
        • Whonoze

          Your mindless, rambling gibberish is racist, anti-Semitic, way out of line and non responsive.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Benny is very comfortable with his vilification of Israel and Israelis.

            He only whines when the truth is mentioned about his darling Arabs. He calls those who dare mention the truth about what his Arabs do, fascists. He is a sad case.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            No One Surpasses Israel in Chutzpah

            Neither the UN Secretary General nor the Arab Members of Knesset can match Israel in this quality that is a national source of pride.

            “The daily Yedioth Ahronoth wrote that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has “chutzpah,” after he noted that it’s human nature to oppose the occupation. The man is already sweating out of fear that he will be called an anti-Semite, with all the tragic consequences this would have on his professional future. Well, he can relax. In Israel “chutzpah” is not a dirty word. On the contrary, it’s a source of pride, and Israeli chutzpah is already famous worldwide — even in its Hebrew pronunciation.
            Still, “chutzpah” is the right description not for Ban, but for “human nature,” which dares to oppose the occupation. After all, we can understand “human nature” when it opposed the British, French or Dutch occupations, but not the Israeli occupation. Israeli chutzpah does not tolerate anyone who treats it with chutzpah.
            On the other hand, it turns out that according to the Israeli establishment, human nature differs from one nation to the next. For example, the police have decided that the nature of the Arab is to be a murderer….”

            http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.701980

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Yes it IS human nature to oppose occupation. Nobody argues about that.

            One can do it two ways, the easy way and the hard way…

            The easy way for the Palestinians an Arabs would be to give up on their old ways. Amend their national charter which advocates Israel’s destruction, as they promised, in writing, as part of the Oslo accord and sign a peace deal with Israel.

            The hard way, which is what they continually choose to do, is to maintain their old methods of violence, propaganda and war in order to keep their hope to destroy Israel alive.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            The zionists created this situation (hell for some, paradise for the ‘chosen’), then piss and moan when it righteously blows up their faces. To make it even funnier, you act as if you have anything to say about how one opposes their occupation! Maybe you could give a class – some tutorial and post it on youtube? Seriously that takes the kind of nerve that could only come from being raised as an occupier. Do you actually think a Palestinian or anyone else that is against the occupation gives a good damn how you think opposition against occupation should be done? What’re you talking about anyway with ‘Palestinians an Arabs’? There is one group, Palestinians, the indiginous people of this land, who’ve been here much longer than you and have stayed; not the 2000 some odd years ago according to the book you profess no faith in but will use as a convenient prop to attempt to explain away your presence in their land. As if! Tell you what though, when you’ve experienced the cruelty and horrors of the kind of occupation only zionists can provide, when you see your children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren treated as non-entities, called a fiction, so desperate and depressed they knowingly approach an IOF beast holding a knife, scissors or paper, knowing they’ll be murdered and their suffering will end, you’ve seen your land stolen, your olive trees destroyed….maybe then you can tell them how they should oppose occupation. Until then, why don’t you just take all your BS and shove it.

            Yes, I know, antisemitism, blah, blah, blah, blah……….. Your cry of antisemitism doesn’t mean what you like it to mean. It means you’ve found us out; history is revealing itself and it’s not looking good for zionists at all. GET USED TO IT.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            I thought you are not talking to me, deary? Are you sure you want to start?

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            Who knew that whonoze would chastise one of their own. ‘naomi’, you’ve been called out as racist, rambling, antisemitic, etc. READ AND WEEP!

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Poor Carmen is confused. Ben is the racist. That’s what whonoze said. I agree with whonoze.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            As for “the Zionists created this situation”, NOPE! Your Arabs did, Carmen dear. They created this situation by claiming that all this land is Arab land and by going to war against us nearly 100 years ago.

            I am prepared to say this as many times as you anti-Zionists are prepared to utter your lies, deary.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            WRONG. Whonoze didn’t put a name on his/her/it’s shout-out. The only post, besides the pseudojurist GE, that fits the accusation of being ‘mindless, rambling gibberish is racist, anti-Semitic, way out of line and non responsive’ was by ‘naomi’ as in ‘No, these are not ordinary people. They are fascist low-lives which need to be taught a lesson that they and the World will never forget.’ Me thinks ‘naomi’ and yourself protest too much.

            Reply to Comment
          • Whonoze

            My response was clearly to YOU, Ben. You need your meds, moron?

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            Moron? That’s the pot calling the kettle black! Confusing Ben with other antizionist posters again? He must scare the crap out of y’all as you see him everywhere. Maybe YOU need medication. Just go for the full lobotomy – your halfway there as it is.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            What a childish desperate silly woman.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Oh, I better say what a desperate silly woman Carmen is otherwise she will try to claim that I am talking about Naomi.

            Reply to Comment
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