Today I went to Abu Tor and I’m going to tell you about it for two selfish reasons; one because I find writing therapeutic, and two, because my writing is medicinal for me not for you. On the contrary the second reason I write is because I want you to feel what I feel. Due to the intangible definition of ‘feelings’, this is unlikely. Improbable perhaps. But then again, that’s what I thought about many things, until I came to Palestine.

Today I went to Abu Tor and it was completely by chance. I was on my way to visit Silwan – the neighbouring suburb. Lately, Silwan has received a fair amount of media attention. Well at least it has in my activist world within the 8km radius covering Bethlehem to Jerusalem.

{mosimage}To know whether or not it has received media on an international scale, you are better judges of that. Have you heard of Silwan? In case you have confirmed my scepticism, the municipality of Jerusalem intends to demolish an entire neighbourhood; 88 houses in Silwan have received demolition orders; “to restore the area to its landscape of yore”, according to the city engineer, Uri Shetrit. In human terms ‘thousands of people’ are to be made homeless (without compensation) in order to restore Jerusalem to its “beginnings of from 5,000 years ago”.

The residents of Silwan have put up a good fight – but after all, what have they got to lose? I didn’t make it to Silwan because on my way I received news that a house in Abu Tor was currently being demolished – destroyed – transformed into a mess of concrete, stones, dust and twisted iron.

Are we in the right place? Israeli flags hung out of every window. The antennae’s of the parked cars were trimmed with the orange ribbons; many with more than one. The colour orange has become a symbol for those opposed to the forced removal of Israeli settlers from Gaza; opposed to being made homeless, against demolition; selective demolition that is.

We drove on until the flags stopped and the kippahs turned to hijabs. The Palestinian part of Abu Tor moved past besides us, but the road was blocked.

Army army everywhere, everywhere and you are there, eyes hidden by plastic fashion, guns held like black kryptonite.

{mosimage}We parked and walked. Which way? Follow the trail – Follow the debris of ‘The house’. “You can’t come here no one can come here. Not even press.” How many houses? “Just one.” Just; One? When did they start? “We started this morning.” She said. My phone rings, a Swedish-Israeli, just arrived to visit his grandmother in Natanya. “I can’t speak now” and I rudely switch my phone off. A belated, “Sorry”.

We walked around, towards the sound; the sound of ‘construction’. But here in Israel everything is downside up and front to back. We walked towards the sound of drilling. “Where do you go?” I ignored it. I couldn’t face another pair of cocky sunglasses. “You’re Welcome.” I stop and turn round. My impatient mistake. A young Palestinian boy motions to me. We follow him. Through an alley way, past a kitchen window, up some stairs, through another gate. Another, “You’re Welcome”, and a young mother leads us up to her roof.

Together we stand and watch as two huge pneumatic drills launch into what’s left of half a days work. They are surrounded by more sunglasses, and police, and men in fluorescent jackets who point this way and that way, as if they are overseeing a clean-up operation after a natural disaster, although their gestures probably mean more like: Over there you’ve missed a bit. No drill into it a bit more, it still looks like a corner of a building. Right now you can start drilling down just to make sure you get the foundations.

I climbed up onto the ledge and took a photo. As I did the face of a voice came into view. I couldn’t understand the screams, but the gestures were expressive. The girl was leaning over a neighbouring building raising her arms above her head and then furiously pulling them back below her body. Again and again, as if she was in a trance and possessed by some almighty power far beyond her own human range.

She leaned over further, pointing toward the little glass cab which sat on top of the pneumatic drill. The drill after all is not automatic, neither is it an extension of the directions of the fluorescent coated figure, rather it is controlled by a ‘man’ whose ‘job’ it is to destroy people’s houses. Did he hear her scream? We did. It left us empty. Hollow. I felt embarrassed at watching her pain. I climbed down.

 “This morning they told the lawyer”. The mother began as if pre-empting my swallowed questions. I had felt they would be too intrusive to ask. “It was a new home, nearly completed. The family hadn’t yet moved in. But they didn’t have a license [permit]. They don’t give it to anyone. They want us to suffer”.

Us? I looked down; the drill was dangerously close to the wall supporting the roof beneath our feet. These were after all her neighbours. I thought back to our rushed walk through her house. The rooms were empty of furniture. Now I was intrusive. Do you feel scared? ‘What?’ How does this make you feel? Does it make you scared?

‘I feel terrible, of course scared, of course I hate them [nodding towards the jackets and guns beneath us]. I feel the Occupation now. I feel it very well. I’m not from Jerusalem, but now this is my home…” Where are you from? ‘Originally from ‘Israel’ [pre-1946] from near Natanya…’

I probe further; I’m hoping the pain she feels is momentarily easing as she relays it to me – as I do to you. Have you received a demolition order yet? “So far a huge fine, 170,000 sheckles. Our house is only one year old, and we built these two stories on place of a very old shack. Just like that…was.” So you have no license? “No! We were supposed to have a license but they will not allow us one.” She speaks slowly as if I don’t understand “they – don’t – allow – anyone – a – license – to – build – on – their land”.

This women is young. Maybe she is only my age? Have you legal help I ask? “We have a lawyer yes” and is any organisation helping you? “I don’t think that any organisation can help with this Occupation”. She asks if I want a drink. I shake my head. I ask her name. “Jihan”; “Of the World”.

I feel empty, destroyed. Even more involved. Horrible. The first housing demolition I have witnessed. Evil. The sounds of the persistent drilling. The vibrations which resound everywhere as the dust swirls around, consuming us in grey ‘powdering’ clouds, pushing into our lungs. Below two Israeli police men are taking photos with small digital cameras – evidence – proof of a ‘job’ ‘well-done’. I walk away.

Of the World reappears carrying a bottle of water. She places it in front of us and then excuses herself. “I have to go see my baby, I’ve had to move him out, there’s too much” Dust. Noise. Pain. She turns to return down the stairs but her gaze rests on the houses further across her valley; “See how bad the situation is here. Very bad”. Of the World is staring at Silwan.

The golden dome of Al’aqsa mosque to the left, Silwan in the middle and the Wall out of view.

We sip water. We watch the kids playing games on the pavement below; games with no-name but which involved them hitting each others hands in a rhythmic mesmerising fashion; gradually gaining speed. We watch their older sisters looking across at ‘The mess’ from their roofs as their mothers lean out of doorways and their fathers climb on roofs from one to another – from one view point to the next. I feel empty.

As the house was. Of the World feels as destroyed as it is. I look at the colour of the pages I am writing these thoughts on. They are pink. It doesn’t seem right. Everything should be as grey as ‘The house’ beneath us, as the air we breathe. I turn my head a little. It rests on the horizon; on the wall of the old city encaging the shiny golden dome of Al’qsa mosque.

This afternoon the sun is beaming on the Old City. It doesn’t seem right that the Holy City should bear witness to this. I look away. No not Silwan, please I’ve seen too much. My eyes fall to the right. I see the new Wall.

A grey form bleeding across the hills. Winding, encroaching, intruding as it traverses and sequesters. Molesting. Incongruous with this land. Incongruous with all that is “Right”.

‘Snoopy’ is with me.

She has been here much much longer than me. At this point I feel too involved and at this point I know why she has never left. But how does she stay so strong? I feel exhausted. Demoralised – about everything. I ask her later, she replies, “but when you stop reacting, its time to leave – this should never be normal.” A Catch 22. A very painfully, personal, Catch. We pass the ‘creatures’. The sound of their huge tracks is so very ugly, and I couldn’t help but think two words… We watched as it slowly screeched and with each irregular tone left an equally distorted gravely ridge. The tarmac was crumbling beneath it as it laboriously wrenched itself onto the truck which brought it here… ‘Rachel.’ ‘Corrie.’

We walked towards the car. A group of young boys gather around us. They are high on action. They are surrounded by drills, the persistent insane vibrations, and hundreds of ‘too-tough’ soldiers with their black brutal ‘kryptonite’. I look at Snoopy.

She looks back. They yell at us and laugh. They throw stones at us and laugh. I really don’t need this. Snoopy shouts in Arabic. They continue, but hesitantly. She grabs one. How old is he? Or rather ‘how young is he’? A father appears. The boys return to boys. We return to the car.

I didn’t want to write that, but after all I am trying to make you feel what I feel and I can’t do that if I am too selective now can I?


The boys after the Army and their machines have left.

In less than five minutes we are winding our way up to the Old City. We pass a car decked in purple bows and laughing faces. We pass groups of young Jewish Americans, singing songs, as they see the ‘sights’ of the ‘Holy Land”. I look down. Remains of some part of ‘The house’ have stuck to one sandal. My foot is covered in its grey shadow.

My day ends with a trip to the West Jerusalem Cinematheque. This is the reality of life in this country. One minute … and the next…The film was about an aboriginal Australian poet. We were late but caught the end. The poet’s face fills the screen as Snoopy whispers, “I’m so glad we came”. The poet’s voice fills the auditorium.

The verse rings deep, disturbing the clouds within my lungs; “And we shall rise and surprise you by our will”