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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New York’s 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 I’d 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 family’s 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 York’s assuredness had shifted and realigned. A moment of profound change, and opportunity, of failure, and pain. For us it was a moment of watching people’s 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.”

“The situation”: that’s what those on the ground call it. On the face of it, the situation is straightforward. It’s a conflict between two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, over land: the Holy Land. In reality, it’s 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 fantasy.

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 Bush’s 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. That’s a big distance in Israel. Many of Israel’s enemies are much closer, and the gap between protection and defenselessness painfully narrow.There’s 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 people’s lives. Roni, the café owner, switched channels to find the news. There had been another terror attack, and Roni translated for us.

“We’ll never be free,” he said. “This country is shit, we’ll never be free from terror.”

“This is my point,” said Peter. “How do we, they—Israelis and Palestinians, but it affects the rest of us too—get 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 Roni’s 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 Peter’s troubling question, how we might get out of it. Major General Amos Gilad, by now head of the Israeli government’s 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 didn’t.

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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