Excerpt of It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street by Emma Williams
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New Yorks confidence was as solid as its concern, but not always
shored up by the reality 6,000 miles away. My confusion at the
contradictions was to morph into an automatic resignation; I would
stop the retort that rose automatically and bite it back until Id seen
for myself what was happening on the ground. I was to find that
contradiction became a pattern and the general way of things.
The house that Andrew found, through a French-Israeli friend
Ofer who lived in Jaffa, was in a village in Jerusalem after all.We
did live in a Palestinian area, but found it no trouble. I grew accustomed
to the names of places, and to love them.The French school
served us well and was a good choice, though there was a suicide
bombing at its gate one morning. And we added to the family: a
baby boy, born in Bethlehem, four days before Christmas
Six years later we were back in New York. Six years; a large
slice of a familys life, but a brief moment in the story of the
Mideast. A moment in which there had been an intifada, an attack
on the US homeland, and the inauguration of two wars. New
Yorks assuredness had shifted and realigned. A moment of
profound change, and opportunity, of failure, and pain. For us it
was a moment of watching peoples futures sawn off by extremism
and violence, observing diplomacy fail and anti-Semitism and
Islamophobia grow, witnessing hope cemented into despair. It was
our moment of riding the roller coaster euphemistically known as
The situation: thats what those on the ground call it. On
the face of it, the situation is straightforward. Its a conflict between
two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, over land: the Holy Land. In
reality, its a maelstrom, a tragedy of our times, a shameful failure
of the modern world. And it looks so different from over there, on
the ground, that the view from New York verges dangerously on
We walked into the situation in August 2000, a month before
it blew up; the calm before the continuing storm. We quit on the
first night of George Bushs invasion of Iraq, in March 2003, the
bombs falling on Baghdad as I sat waiting with my four children
in a large airplane on the tarmac of Tel Aviv airport, hoping we
would not end up as collateral damage of the onslaught a few
hundred miles away.
A few hundred miles. Thats a big distance in Israel. Many of
Israels enemies are much closer, and the gap between protection
and defenselessness painfully narrow.Theres no Atlantic barrier, no
island safety for Israelis, who inhabit a sliver of land with undefined,
changing borders. I heard the fears all too painfully in a
conversation with an IDF general, Amos Gilad, military strategist
in the Israeli Ministry of Defense. He had described to a friend of
mine, Peter, his straightforward vision of the future: to turn the
seven major Palestinian cities into isolated microcosms. That
would contain the problem. This was to be the strategy, he had
said, this year and for all years.
Peter told me about their conversation over coffee one
morning in the Jerusalem winter of 2002, after we had dropped
our respective children at the school next door to the café. An
Australian ex-soldier turned UN political officer, Peter wondered
aloud at the idea of microcosms and their effects on peoples lives.
Roni, the café owner, switched channels to find the news. There
had been another terror attack, and Roni translated for us.
Well never be free, he said. This country is shit, well never
be free from terror.
This is my point, said Peter. How do we, theyIsraelis and
Palestinians, but it affects the rest of us tooget out of here?
Everyone is trapped, in different ways, but trapped all the same by
the situation. The question stuck, as it always did, in the freeze of
frustrated silence.The two of us left Ronis coffee shop in that same
silence, heading out into the damp Jerusalem chill to start work.
Later, when I went to see General Gilad myself, I asked him
about the situation and, remembering Peters troubling question,
how we might get out of it. Major General Amos Gilad, by now
head of the Israeli governments military-political unit, held court
in Tel Aviv at the Kyria, the left ventricle of the Israeli defense
ministry. I had driven down from Jerusalem with a slow leak in a
tire through sluggish traffic on Route 1, and an Israeli in the lane
next to me had pointed out my flattening tire with a look of
sympathy. I was going to be late if I stopped so I didnt.
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.