Excerpt from It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street by Emma Williams, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street

A Jerusalem Memoir

By Emma Williams

It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street
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  • Paperback: Dec 2009,
    384 pages.

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Kim Kovacs

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Driving back to Jerusalem, I wondered about Ghassan. About him seeing the concrete wall towering between him and the short distance to his wife and toddling son, about him applying for a permit to be allowed to see the two of them, about his ordeal of waiting and humiliation. General Gilad had been in earnest when he said that half the checkpoints had been removed and that the Barrier would make life better for Palestinians inside it because there would be fewer checkpoints. Inside. And did he know the number of internal checkpoints had not decreased, nor leveled off, but had actually increased?

The bubble again, hiding from hearing the prejudices: people saying the word “Palestinian” and meaning terrorist, the word “Jew” and being full of hate. People who hadn’t seen, or didn’t want to know, or if they had been here, seeing out of one eye. And in a way I envied them their one-eyed view; simple, straightforward, knowing where you stand, stark in black and white, all sorted out, not torn. But one-eyed views didn’t fix: I had stood at a party abroad holding a glass of wine and listened to foreign male certainty brush aside the things I’d seen, imposing their distant diagnoses, and I had hurried back to Jerusalem to listen to old hands who had watched for years, decades, and who admitted they had no answers and were still able to see the humanity of both sides.

I thought of trenches I had seen dug and closures tightened even as the IDF announced that closures were being eased; of conversations with foreign military observers who said time and again that the upper tiers of the army didn’t know what the unit commanders and ranks were doing; of Israeli friends’ shock at the finding that, even in the first few days of the Intifada, unit commanders made decisions without asking senior officers who would have said no, and then there were riots, and people—their own citizens, Palestinian Israelis—were killed.

I remembered the face of an Israeli friend, drained into anguish waiting for her soldier son to come home, then silently putting him to sleep in his boyhood bed—only he still is a boy, just eighteen— and she’s wondering if she should look in his pockets to try to understand what it is that he’s been doing on duty and won’t talk about, just clams up. And the teacher, a settler, at my boys’ school who wept in class for her baby niece shot dead by a Palestinian gunman; and the other teachers telling her class of mostly Palestinian children that she was weeping because she had a headache.

I thought of the children shot dead by army snipers as they played soccer or sat at their desks in school, their friends splattered with their blood. Of the maze of lies, and the voices pushing from abroad, the one dictating the “reality,” the other interpreting it for their own use. And the voices on the ground, from both sides, crying out for reason and moderation and understanding, and for dialogue. The gags on those voices, the extremism, the blind convictions and the willful misunderstanding. And of the many Israeli peace activists, explaining to us whenever we saw them: “People don’t know ‘the situation,’ because they are sold a version and because of the ‘bubble.’”

I thought of the black-haired firebrand journalist, beating the table at the smart East Jerusalem restaurant with her fists, her bracelets crashing, saying, “The army and the settlers hit us again and again and again and here and here and here and take our land and break our trees and kill our kids day after day after day and then ‘BOOM’ and everyone is surprised?

I thought of the hundreds of dead whose lives are cut, and the maimed whose lives are ruined, and all Israelis and Palestinians living in fear, even the general at the top. Everyone trapped, wondering how to get out of the situation.The reality for so many: that, as the journalist said, ‘it’s easier to reach heaven than the end of the street.”

Excerpted from It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street by Emma Williams. Copyright © 2009 by Emma Williams. Excerpted by permission of Interlink Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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