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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    Dec 2009, 384 pages

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Kim Kovacs

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The fear the general had talked about was a shackle for every Israeli, hanging round their future. It put a block on life. Life continued, but with the drag of anxiety. And then there’d be a heartstopping boom across the valleys and the fear flooded back and took over as you tallied where everyone was. Family first: kids, husband. Then friends. Colleagues. After that you give yourself the all-clear and push back the fear and out into the normal again. You feel bad being callous, but you have to carry on, as normal. Everyone does. How different everything had been when we’d arrived in Israel: the hope, the landscape, and the future. I had been changed by living here, stuck between the two communities, Israeli and Palestinian, moving from one to the other, hearing from each side about fear and hate and rage, facing the same things but as an outsider, and finding myself torn between the two.

The day before seeing General Gilad I was in the Occupied Territories.* Perhaps that was where the tire had acquired its puncture, not as I drove eastward on the new broad settler roads on the long detour around the new Security Barrier, but on the rough roads for Palestinian traffic as I looped back again to reach al-Quds University in Abu Dis, a suburb on the edge of Jerusalem. I was there to meet a German friend, Daniel, and wait for him to finish giving his lecture on graphic design before we headed off to Hebron. To the east of al-Quds lies the Judean desert, to the north and west the city of Jerusalem. Not far south, along the line of hills, is Bethlehem, with the city of Hebron beyond.

One ofDaniel’s Palestinian university friends, also waiting to see him, came up and said hello. Ghassan and I sat on a low stone wall in the spring sun under the olive trees of the campus grounds. Beyond us, on the sports fields, construction workers and cranes were slotting together towering slabs of concrete to form another wall, the wall. The rest of Abu Dis, and Jerusalem, lay on the other side.

We looked across the valley at the winding wall, and at the new Israeli settlements going up amid the remaining Palestinian areas, and at the roads linking the settlements that are not for use by Palestinians. “We must go the long way round,” said Ghassan, “if we are allowed to move at all.”

Ghassan was born in Jerusalem, not far from where we were sitting, at the hospital where I had worked, but the Israeli authorities classify him as a Palestinian from the territories, a “West Banker,” and therefore a Palestinian not entitled to live in Jerusalem. His wife, who is also Palestinian, and who, like Ghassan, works at al-Quds University, is defined as a Jerusalem resident. “The Israeli law does not allow us to live together,” Ghassan explained.* They used to live as a couple, breaking Israel’s rules, in their home in the Jerusalem suburb of Ras al-Amud, but now there is the Wall physically dividing them. Ghassan has to live with relatives on the West Bank side of the Wall, in Abu Dis.

“It’s the control that’s the worst. Israel controls every aspect of my life: where I can and cannot go, when, whether or not I can get to work, what roads I can use, even whether or not I can leave my house. They will not let me build on the land that remains to me—the settlers have taken the rest. With their wall and their permits they want to cut me off from my family, my friends, and my city. And my wife.”

“Can you go to Jerusalem to visit her?”

He frowned at the question but said very slowly: “They won’t let any Palestinians into the Holy City without a permit.” Ghassan was formal, somber. Part of his voice had anger in it, but he held it in a dark place and what I heard was sorrow. “And you can only have a permit, in theory, if you are over 29 and are married and have children.” “And you’re not?” He didn’t look very old. His black hair was cut short and square, his clothes were pressed and neat, his shoes polished, with a tidemark of today’s dust about the toes.

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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