This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
I need to take a detour to get to my house. I used to take a road that has now become an
Israeli checkpoint and military camp. We heard last year that the land on the hill above my
house, which we have cultivated for many years, will be expropriated in order to build the
Wall and, next to it, a military road. This was of course most difficult news for us. The
Wall will be at a distance of only 6–12 meters from our house. We will be imprisoned by a
Wall above our house, where there is the Har Gilo settlement, as well as a Wall below our
house. Above our own property, the Greek Orthodox Convent has lands, and beneath our
home, the Salesian Convent has lands. Both convents started court cases against the Israeli
army. Because these are church institutions that the Israelis respect to some extent, we may
perhaps be supported. The Israelis have announced that they will change the route of the
Wall, but up until now we haven’t been informed.
Because of the checkpoints my dad lost his factory – a stone factory for building houses.
He got the raw material – the rocks – from Hebron, but the rocks could not pass the
checkpoints. So he lost his job and left to look for work in the United States together with
my sister who now studies and works there. I hope that my father will come back. My mom
stayed here. She is a very strong woman; she didn’t want to go to the States. As long as
there was still an open road that led to downtown Beit Jala and Bethlehem, she was content
to stay. They could not close the road because there is a hospital nearby. So we were lucky.
The fact that we have a house here protects our land from being expropriated. If we were
not here, there would be nothing to prevent them from taking the land so as to enlarge the
Har Gilo settlement.
Palestine is divided into three areas. Sometimes you lose count [laughs]. Area A is
supposed to be 100-percent Palestinian controlled; Area B, Palestinian-civilian controlled,
but with ‘security’ in the hands of the Israelis; and Area C is under complete Israeli control,
with the exception of specific services such as telephone and electricity. I live in Area C, so
the army is always around. It is very difficult to have the soldiers coming and going so
close to our house. Sometimes they close the road when they suspect that there are ‘wanted
people’ who have been injured and are being taken to the hospital. Then the Israeli army
comes and searches the area for these ‘wanted’ people.
I had planned to study for my master’s degree at Birzeit University, normally two hours
away. However, the checkpoints and the difficult roads made it impossible. It’s not safe.
Sometimes you are stopped and prevented from reaching your destination, and sometimes
it also happens that the road back home is blocked. Then you’re stuck in the middle and
have to endure the rain and cold or the heat of the sun.
My uncles live in the Ramallah area; I haven’t visited them for the last two years. You
can’t easily go to hospitals, to holy places. I haven’t been to Jerusalem in four or five years.
It’s very difficult to even get a permit to go there. So you can’t really live your life. At
night when you want to go out to meet with friends or do something, you need to be careful
not to get too close to the checkpoints so as not to encounter Israeli soldiers. It’s especially
frightening for young women. Sometimes when the soldiers are looking for someone, they
impose a closure on the area where you are, and the drama starts. Frankly, you can’t
understand what I’m talking about unless you live it.
I really hate checkpoints around the house. I used to go out and walk through the hills. We
live near the top of a very high hill; it has nice views. The air is fresh, not like in downtown
Bethlehem. But as soon as you want to go for a walk on a beautiful summer night, for
instance, you sense that danger is lurking. The soldiers may think you’re a ‘suspicious
person’ and take you away for investigation or something even worse. So you’re just
imprisoned in the Bethlehem area – or more specifically, a part of the Bethlehem area.
You’re stuck in a very small space. You can be stopped and checked every few meters.
You can suddenly find a so-called emergency checkpoint in front of you and, just like that,
you’re taken away for interrogation. This happens especially in our neighborhood, because
I live in an area where they look for ‘wanted’ men.
Each summer I travel abroad to study or visit my friends. When I need to travel in June, I
start planning in March. And even with the best of plans, I am never sure whether I will be
allowed to leave the country or not. Palestinians are forbidden from using the nearby
airport (Tel Aviv). So I have to ask for a permit to go through Jordan. And even if I get the
permit, I’m not sure if I will be allowed to pass through the checkpoints on the day of my
departure. It often depends on the mood of the soldiers who man the checkpoint. After a
while, you lose hope and want to say: “It’s enough, I don’t want to travel.” Imagine having
to suffer three months every year just thinking about how to leave the country. It becomes
Then finally, if you are able to leave, you discover another world – freedom: freedom of
movement, freedom of expression, respect for you as a human being, respect for you as a
female. I remember the days when I went to Europe. In Holland I traveled by train. You
can go from one city to another without a passport and, after some hours, I discovered that
I was in Belgium. Wow! Nobody asked for my passport. I was free! The journey back
home was my biggest problem. When you return, you find the opposite. You find
checkpoints, you find yourself stuck in cultural issues, you can’t move, you can’t do
anything. I was really frustrated and depressed during the first weeks after I returned. It
was almost as if I had never lived here before. I asked myself: “Did I really used to live in
this situation?” All I wanted was to leave again.
But then, all of a sudden, after I had been home for three weeks and had filled my days
with the dozens of things that one has to do after traveling, I actually felt attracted to being
here – as though there were a magnet that was pulling me to stay or reminding me of my
attachment to this land. I don’t know exactly what it is. After all, you can only scratch the
surface of your life. You don’t know what lies beneath the surface. But sometimes, for a
brief moment, there is a feeling that captures you. If you were to ask me the reason, I
wouldn’t be able to tell you. At first you think that there’s nothing to do here, and you can’t
bear your life any longer. There are dozens of problems that fill your head, and then, all of
a sudden, something comes like this [snaps her finger]; maybe it is the smile of a friend, or
a word from an old woman, or a cup of coffee with your relatives, or your relatives coming
to help you. Maybe it is our family life, maybe it’s our friends. I can’t describe precisely
why I want to stay here. It’s just an irresistible desire. It’s strange, but that’s the reality.
After this trip, I was completely at rest with my family again, with my friends and family. I
was back into our normal prison life [laughs]. And I thought: So why did I want to leave? It
doesn’t make sense. I don’t have many choices here, but at least I have better choices than
other people. I have a job; I study at a university; I have friends; I have a social life. What
do we need from life, in general? We need respect, we need to be able to afford a
household, we need friends. It’s not very complicated.
I once had a problem with my car, a small accident. I phoned and suddenly three cars
arrived, full of guys – my brothers and friends – who asked: “What do you want? Is
everything OK?” The guy who caused the accident was afraid because he thought that I
had brought all those people to make problems for him. Wow, whenever you need them,
friends and family are there for you.
Maybe family life is better outside, I’ve never tried it; but I sometimes hear from my father
that he hasn’t seen my sister for two days, although they live together. She works different
hours; she studies at night, gets up early. Money-wise, they say it’s better there. But if you
work a lot without having the time to enjoy your life, what will happen to you after a
certain number of years? It’s not easy when you are under stress. Sometimes I just want to
sit with a big family around and drink a cup of tea. When they ask me: “What do you
consider a day off, a holiday?” After having visited six countries this summer, I say: “I am
completely free when I am away from the world and when I am in my pajamas drinking
coffee with my mom, with nothing to do. It’s very therapeutic.
After going to Lebanon for a workshop, I was able to say, without hesitation, “I am so
lucky to be in Palestine and Bethlehem.” I went to the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.
There I met a lady – she was in her late sixties maybe – and we were carrying flowers to
take to the collective graveyard that commemorates the massacre. She asked: “Where are
you from?” “I come from Bethlehem, Palestine,” I replied; and she hugged me and kissed
me. She even wanted to kiss my hand. She started to cry. She didn’t want to leave me, and
she said, “Please take me with you.” There were about sixty of us there at the time. We had
all come to visit, and we represented six Arab countries. And all of us were crying at that
moment. Refugees have a strong desire to see their land. When I asked them: “Where are
you from?” They replied, “from Safed,” or “from Acca,” and they even mentioned the
names of Palestinian villages that I had never heard of. When I came home and saw my
family around me, I knew that I would remain here, despite the fact that life is very
difficult and really a struggle. In fact, the struggle makes me stronger. I have been through
a lot. If you have everything, a tiny problem becomes a big problem and you become
frustrated by it. But if you face a lot, if you face a really tough experience, it makes you
stronger, it gives you a challenge. So I said to myself, it’s either me or life; life is not going
to get the best of me. So now I can say that I am here because I have certain choices –
better choices than many other people – and I must stay here in order to save my home, to
save my life, and to encourage others.
As a teacher of children, I hope that the children will be able to bring about change: respect
the differences of the other; respect somebody for what she or he is. For me, the concept of
freedom means respect for a human being. I am not sure whether we will ever reach that
stage, but I believe that we need to try – through education for both Palestinians and
Israelis. We shouldn’t feel superior or inferior towards other people. Feelings of inferiority
lead to hatred of the other; and a sense of superiority prevents respect of the other. Of
course, this is my long-term goal.
And that’s what keeps me going – hope. I hope that I can be a catalyst for change. When
you’re young, you can do a lot to bring about change. Many foreigners stay here to live in
solidarity with us; they give. So what about us Palestinians? Why don’t we give? In fact, I
believe that we give a lot. But we still have the energy to give more, to stay in our country
and raise our children. We love our country and its people. We love our home.
Despite all the terrible things that happen to us Palestinians, we have achieved something.
We are now able to get Palestinian passports and IDs that reflect our nationality. I became
aware of this achievement during a recent visit to Canada. I was there for a few weeks
because I had received a scholarship. The aboriginal people – native Canadians, don’t have
Indian passports and have just melted into part of colonial history. I realized that I had
forgotten that we, as Palestinians, are becoming strong and that we have our own
nationality, our own presence, our own country. We are facing very strong international
powers – the strongest powers in the world. But we have asserted our cultural and national
There are also rewarding moments with my children, that is, my students. Whenever I go to
class, I know that they’ll be waiting there for me, outside the English class. Last year I told
one class that I wouldn’t be teaching them next year. They went to the principal to ask if
Miss Jizelle could continue to teach them. They appreciate the fact that I teach them how to
be self-confident, how to act democratically. I don’t impose things on them; I give their
opinions weight. Sometimes, when I am tired and nervous and start to yell, they say, “Ah,
but you said that you were a democratic teacher!” Education is the most important means
for bringing about change. You see the sparkle in the children’s eyes when they hear the
word ‘democracy’ or ‘participation’. These eyes reflect hope, innocence, and love for their
teacher. That’s very rewarding for me.
Living in Palestine is something special. I was lucky enough not to have to leave the
country, not to become a refugee or an emigrant. I could have gone to the US to get a green
card or a passport, but I didn’t do so. If ever I have to choose again, I would still choose to
live in Beit Jala – on the top of that mountain that is so very calm and clean and surrounded
by strong family and social bonds. Bethlehem and Beit Jala touch your heart.
Interview: 7 December, 2004, Beit Jala.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?