From the January 2004 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 51, No. 1)

Middle East

Intersecting Journeys

Suad Amiry and Batya Gur, Le Nouvel Observateur (left-wing weekly), Paris, France, Nov. 6, 2003

Palestinian girls and women walk the streets of East Jerusalem
Daily life in Jerusalem (Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP-Getty Images).
For a week, two writers—an Israeli, Batya Gur, and a Palestinian, Suad Amiry—kept diaries for Le Nouvel Observateur on their daily lives in Israel and the West Bank.

Sunday, Oct. 26
Batya: “I can’t stand Sharon’s voice”
At 4 a.m., the muezzin’s call awakens me. On the 7 a.m. news: Three soldiers—two women, one man—have been killed at Netzarim, near Gaza. Later, in the newspaper, I see the photos of the two young women. They’re 19, the age of my younger daughter. I fold up the paper.

At 8 a.m., I hear ambulances go by in the street. I count—it’s not three ambulances. Three means there’s been a terrorist attack. A few months ago, a terrorist was arrested in front of the Cafe Cafit, near my home; a few weeks before that, another blew himself up at the Cafe Hillel just 100 meters from here.

In the evening, we visit Ariel’s niece. She and her husband live in Bakaa, a nearby neighborhood. Her three children fall asleep tonight with the sound of shots in their ears. Is it gunfire from the direction of Bethlehem or just fireworks? Differing opinions. The sound of the TV news reaches us from a neighboring building: Against the background of a threatened general strike, I hear Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon’s voice, which I haven’t been able to stand since the war in Lebanon in 1982.

Tuesday, Oct. 28
Suad: “Olive trees by the wall”
I tried desperately to hide my anguish and fear as I accompanied Leila to the town of Kalkilya, 50 kilometers [30 miles] from Ramallah. She wanted to assess the worst consequences of the “wall of separation.” The only way to reach Kalkilya now is to cross through Israel, “illegally.” It’s also the only way to defy Sharon’s so-called security barrier. Thanks to my age, we were able to get through the Kalandia checkpoint; thanks to Leila’s elegance, to enter Israel; and thanks to the confusion of the soldiers at seeing her Lebanese and my Jordanian passports, to get through the gate that constitutes the only entrance and exit for the 45,000 inhabitants of Kalkilya. Later, we learned that the gate has been continuously closed for 12 days. Next to the 7-meter [25-foot] concrete wall, stood a 70-year-old farmer who had lost most of his land, now behind the wall. He cultivated olives and figs. I wondered whether he would live long enough to see his trees in blossom.

Batya: “I can’t live anywhere else”
A morning whose chill heralds winter. The taxi driver who takes me to the Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem is an Arab from East Jerusalem. I listen to the news on his car radio, trying to put myself in his place: threatened general strike, municipal elections, Hezbollah in Lebanon. The driver looks as if he’s been hermetically sealed up. We don’t exchange a single word.

In the afternoon, a journalist from Die Tageszeitung, the German newspaper, comes to see me. She asks whether I could live elsewhere. I shudder at the idea and answer: “No way.” Surprised, she pursues the line of questioning, asking why I don’t retreat to the countryside, far from Jerusalem. I retort that no place in the world is any safer than here. I am unable to explain why I can’t live anywhere else. It’s not so much the idea of homeland, but rather of attachment to people, language, and odors. That’s how it is.

Wednesday, Oct. 29
Suad: “You see what's it's like to live in a cage”
“Yes, we’d really like to go to the zoo.” Leila was as excited as I was. On a concrete slab in the middle of a tiny cage surrounded by barbed wire, next to her beautiful offspring Zarf, the old lioness held herself proudly. “You see now what it’s like to live in a cage, isolated, cut off from your natural habitat,” the lioness said, looking me in the eyes. “I know, I'm truly sorry, we owe you an apology,” I said. “It’s all right,” the lioness replied. “It’s the Israelis who owe us apologies, both you and me.” We embraced, breaking down in tears.

Thursday, Oct. 30
Batya: “Take refuge in culture”
After my workout class at the gym, finally a phone call from Suad! A very pleasant conversation: We have the same opinions about the powerlessness of the left, the torture of writing, the wonders of Italy.... She tells me of the shock she underwent at the Kalandia checkpoint. With things as they are in this country, we agree that it’s best to take refuge in culture and go see a movie like The Human Stain, adapted from Philip Roth’s novel, even if the film is a flop.

Friday, Oct. 31
Suad: “Unquiet of spirit and tired of body”
I can’t say what exactly caused this acute stomach pain I’ve felt all day; the image of the immense concrete wall, or Abu Mohammad and his olive trees next to the wall, or the mortal sadness in the lioness’ gaze, or the Palestinian being roughed up in the lockup at the Kalandia checkpoint, or the tears that ran silently down Leila’s cheeks during the return trip.

Unquiet of spirit and tired of body, I shuttled back and forth today between bed and computer to share with you my diary of this past week. Clearly, the Israeli helicopters that keep prowling the sky over Ramallah for hours on end haven’t made my work any easier, or brought any relief to my upset stomach.

Batya: “The same smile as Rabin’s assassin”
On the 7 a.m. news, I hear that Yitzhak Rabin’s memorial has been profaned and vandals have scrawled graffiti on the grandstands erected for the celebration of the eighth anniversary of his death. “Kahane was right,” they wrote. They’re worse than Hamas, these Jewish fanatics who stockpile weapons, and run around with crazy looks on their faces. They have the same smile as Rabin’s assassin.

The shopping center, south of Jerusalem, is packed with people on this Friday morning before the Sabbath. Security guards search me three times. People look pained and disoriented because of the war and the horrific economic situation.

And yet, the sun is shining on this beautiful autumn day in Jerusalem and, at the florist’s shop, you can already buy anemones.

Suad Amiry, 51, architect and writer, teaches at Birzeit University. The book Earthquake in April, which she co-edited with Mouhammad Hadid, was published in 2003 in English.

Batya Gur, 55, was born in Tel Aviv and lives in Jerusalem. She has written several suspense novels. Her last book translated into English was
Murder Duet: A Musical Case.

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