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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“You know, the Israelis, they even make us apply for a permit to move from one place to another in the West Bank. I cannot go anywhere, not even Bethlehem, without one. It’s there, Bethlehem, just over the hill, you can almost see it.There is nothing we can do. What is the point of anything, even demonstrating? It does no good at all.”

Daniel walked over to the wall where we were sitting. “How are things?” he asked, and we talked for a while about the students’ problems getting to class. Daniel and I climbed into the car and drove away, toward the road to Hebron that Ghassan cannot travel because he is Palestinian.

To get to Hebron we had to pass through Bethlehem, and Daniel knew a back way eastward across the dry country. We wound through narrow streets, passing children and donkeys and little green tractors pulling miniature trailers. A path led off to the right down a wadi. I could see the valley below, patches of rebellious green against the sand, but I couldn’t see where the path went or why there were so many Palestinians, old, young, suited, robed, making their way down the hillside.

Daniel and I kept going. There was a checkpoint ahead. A burly soldier told us that the checkpoint, separating two Palestinian areas just as Ghassan had described, was closed and no exceptions: “Security.”Daniel knew the checkpoint had been open that morning and asked politely if the soldier was sure. Yes, he was sure, and now he was angry.He thought we were trouble, and started to shout, but then another man in uniform appeared. Slight, polite, and apologetic, he spoke in Hebrew to the burly man and told us: “Wait here.” We waited. It didn’t matter, waiting, we were used to it. Then the slight soldier motioned us to go through. The burly one had disappeared.

We passed through and curved down the hill on a hairpin bend. Now I could see where the footpath led: it was the checkpoint bypass. The Palestinians knew they would not be allowed through the checkpoint so they were walking around it to one of the yellow taxis waiting on the other side. The old, bent and leaning on sticks, found the rocky steepness difficult. The young helped them.

We drove on, through the biblical landscape toward Bethlehem, into the village of Beit Sahour, now a suburb with squares of olive orchard and blocks of concrete houses, past the Shepherds’ Field and Manger Square, doubling back where the roads were blocked by earth-mounds or trenches dug by the army. But there was no traffic, the place was still. We drove across the middle of Bethlehem, past the hospital where I had given birth, and out again through another suburb-village, Beit Jala, up the hill and past the church and the well and out to coils of barbed wire: another checkpoint. Again, it was a checkpoint between two Palestinian areas, well inside the West Bank.

“You can’t pass. And all of Bethlehem is under curfew.” This explained the midday quiet of the town. The soldier was very young indeed. He had his orders not to let anyone through his checkpoint. But he checked to make sure, at a concrete pillbox just behind, with more soldiers away to the left watching from under the drapes of camouflage.

“You cannot pass,” he came back to say. “You have to go back.”

“You’re sending us back during curfew? People get shot for breaking the curfew.”

“No, we never shoot people for breaking the curfew.The army doesn’t do that.”We said nothing. It is always better to say nothing. Anyway, it wasn’t his fault.

We doubled back. Now that we knew about the curfew the quietness was frightening. Rather than go back into the curfew we tried the road by the monastery of Cremisan. After the dry earth west of Bethlehem, Cremisan was green, damp, and fertile. Vines and terraces fell away below us and rose upward from the narrow road. Round the curve between stone walls the monastery facade appeared amid pointing cypress trees.The presence of water seeped through the green. But this road was blocked as well, three monks from Europe told us.

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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