We are living in the top floor (6th) apartment belonging to our friend, Yasser, in a section of East Jerusalem known as Aram, a suburb of Beit Hanina. The apartment is situated on the highest point in the area, so the view is unobstructed—Jerusalem to the left, Ramallah slightly to the right. From the airport in Tel Aviv it is about a 45 minute drive. Bleached blue sky; bright white buildings; dusty dark green of trees, shrubs and the sparse smattering of grasses; and the light tan to white of sand, rocks, concrete and dried out branches of palm trees and grass. Here and there are flowers—what look like yellow mustard and Queen Anne’s lace growing wild, and the various shades of pinks and reds of cultivated flowering bushes and flowers I don’t know the names of. Neat, trimmed, well organized, lovely to my eyes.
It is very clear where the boundaries are between Israel and Palestine, whether official and legally defined or illegal (settlements and outposts). Israel has the privilege of watered landscapes and well-financed infrastructure and public services, while Palestine does not. So, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it is drier, dustier, trash-cluttered; many of the streets and roads are dirt, stones and rubble, narrow with potholes. Trash is burned in large rusty metal containers (dumpsters or barrels) placed along streets of neighborhoods–black smoke indicating the locations.
I stand on the terrace outside Yasser’s apartment and look over the neighborhood all the way to Jerusalem and Ramallah. Children are playing below—kicking a ball, chasing after one another, boys throwing rocks at a target they’ve constructed with rusted barrels and plastic bottles. I hear their voices, familiar child voices—yelling, laughing, high child voices, excited and playful. I also hear birds chirping, the distant sounds of cars nearby, and the wind. The Islāmic “call to prayer” –the voices of men (imams—Islamic worship leaders), song-like, reciting sections of the Koran– can be heard from minarets in various places around the area. There is a kind of sound-around effect—sometimes nearly synchronized, sometimes like a call and response—exotic to my ears that are unfamiliar with the Arabic language. In the distance, I hear the sound of a siren.