Middle East

New Memories for Beit Hanina’s Children

By Mike Odetalla

“It is said that every cloud has a silver lining. I prefer to think that if you look past the clouds, the Sun is always shining.”

—Mike Odetalla

The Israeli Supreme Court has just legalized the first ghetto in Beit Hanina, the village of my birth and ancestors, in the East Jerusalem district. The new Israeli created ghetto will include the villages of Beit Hanina’s lower portion (the village will be carved up to suit the Israeli demographers), Beir Naballah, Al Jib, and Al Judeira, effectively cutting off the residents of these villages from Jerusalem and its residents.

A panel of nine Supreme Court justices unanimously rejected yesterday all petitions protesting the route of a section of the apartheid wall north of Jerusalem that will completely surround 20,000 Palestinians in what will be known as the Bir Naballah “enclave,” or ghetto.

The villagers said that the wall was a “noose around the necks” of the Palestinian residents in the enclave. They said it violated property rights and the ability of the villagers to earn a livelihood. It would also cut them off from family, friends, and economic, social and cultural services.

Furthermore, the villagers said the new route would force Palestinians with Israeli identity cards to drive through the Qalandia military checkpoint to enter “Israel,” instead of reaching Jerusalem directly via existing roads. Bir Baballah’s once thriving commercial district is rife with large stores, warehouses and factories that are expected to be abandoned, a forecast of economic catastrophe in the area.

The Israeli court decided to install metal gates to enable the students of Beit Hanina to pass through in order to reach their schools….

As a child growing up in Beit Hanina in the late 60’s, we used to take a taxi (a late model red Chevrolet) that would ferry us back and forth the 4 kilometers or so to school each day. The taxi driver used to pack us in like sardines as he made more than a half dozen trips to the school and back. The cost of the round trip to school was equivalent to about an American nickel.

I remember during pleasant weather, we would decide to walk home and save the taxi fare so that we could purchase ice cream and eat as we walked home along the long winding road that connected our village. The road was lined with olive groves, and fruit orchards and I still harbor some of the fondest memories of my youth as we walked home after school, savoring an ice cream cone in a way that only a child can on a pleasant spring day, and which we had saved for by walking home instead of taking the taxi for about 3 days.

I also have vivid memories of walking the road home, the almond and fruit trees in full blossom, a kaleidoscope of white, pink, and green, climbing the hills to get a panoramic view of my world, in all of its glory and splendor, and thinking to myself that this is what heaven might look like. Many times, we would stop and pick the tangy green almonds, and plums that were so sour, I still pucker up, salivating just thinking about them till this day.

On more than one occasion, we would find a tin can, and kick it back and forth between us as we made our way home along that road as it snaked its way towards the center of our village.

As I relay these memories to my children, I am angered by the fact that the new generation of Beit Hanina’s children will not have the same pleasant memories to share with their children when they grow up. Their memories will be of giant 30 foot high concrete walls, metal gates, and the Israeli soldiers who man them. When they stand on a hillside, their view of their world will be marred by the ugliness of razor wire, cold concrete walls, and the surrounding Jewish only settlements that loom menacingly in all directions. The road they travel, unlike the one I remember, has been torn up by Israeli bulldozers and littered with car-size boulders.

What memories and feeling will the school children be left with as they see their village imprisoned, their lands stolen, and the experience of having to wait for a metal gate to be opened so that they may pass through on their way to school and they must hurry back home after school, unlike other school children in the world, because the metal gates will only be opened briefly and at set times.

No, Beit Hanina’s school children will not have the same pleasant memories of childhood that my generation had. Their memories will be shaped by the ugly reality of Israel’s occupation and dominance over every aspect of their daily lives, including walking to school and back. Their childhood memories will carry the scars of Israel’s brutality and the world’s indifference to their suffering.

Al Awda, November 28, 2006