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Monday, March 1, 1999 Published at 14:54 GMT


Farewell Jerusalem

Jerusalem's Old City walls

By Lyse Doucet

When I first moved to Jerusalem, I was told I needed a view -- a place to lift me above the city's noise and torment.

So I found a flat, at the top of four flights of stairs, not just with a window but long arched panes of glass.

They became my eyes and ears -- a perspective on this ancient city, its present so very haunted by its past.

From there, I could watch the sun sink over the hills, a golden wash on hard white stones.


[ image: Prayers at Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan]
Prayers at Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan
For four years, I lived on the edge of Jerusalem's deepest fault line -- the main highway which snaked through its heart, the boundary, which many denied, between the city's Jewish west and its mainly Arab east, including the Old City with its mediaeval walls, and the holiest shrines sacred to Muslims, Christians or Jews.

The highway used to be a border dividing Jordan from Israel. And between 1948, when the State of Israel was born, and '67 when its troops marched in and occupied East Jerusalem, few wanted to live in my neighbourhood, known as Musrara, on the western edge of this line.

Gun-runners and drug smugglers

Some of it was a no-man's-land, taking the brunt of sniper fire as Israeli and Jordanian troops trained their rifles on each other.

Israel dumped many of its new immigrants, mainly Sephardic Jews from North Africa, in my neighbourhood. It became known as a den of gun-runners and drug smugglers, and gave rise to Israel's Black Panther movement, fighting the cause of non-European Jews.

When I arrived in early '95, the neighbourhood had changed -- new residents were moving in. But the tensions hadn't moved away. From my windows, I could see them on the other side of the highway -- and hear them.

Living with violence

Sometimes it began with the screech of wheels, a loud cry in the night from Damascus Gate, the most elaborate of seven ancient gates in the walled city and the most troublesome. It was here that most stabbings took place -- of Arab shopkeepers or Jewish religious students. The sirens would sound. Police and crowds would gather.


[ image: Image of violence]
Image of violence
No matter how quickly the BBC called, I always knew first. Several times I couldn't see, but could hear, the chilling sound of a suicide bombing.

In early '96 a Palestinian blew up a bus at the far end of Jaffa Street, the road through West Jerusalem, on the other side of my flat. A week later, at exactly the same time, another bus was ripped apart. I stood at my window, waiting to see which way the ambulances moved. A police message on my beeper announced it was just behind me, at my end of Jaffa Street.

I tore out of the house, arriving even before police could cordon off another heap of twisted metal and corpses. The world knows this as one of the most horrific images of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But another loud image came from a silence -- the long pause twice a year, on Holocaust Day and Independence Day, when a siren sounded for a minute or two.

Divided by suffering

From my window, I would watch the western side of the highway come to a full and utter stop. People stood at the side of their cars, pedestrians froze.

But the other side was unmoved, unchanged. The markets bustled, people hurried to and fro.

One road -- two truths.

It became, for me, the most powerful symbol of a divided land, of two peoples: Israelis and Palestinians, still unwilling, unable, to recognize the other's history and suffering, still nursing their own wounds, still needing a righting of their wrongs.

Some ultra-Orthodox Jews also refused to pause for thought, rejecting a Jewish State they believe only God is empowered to bring.


[ image: Praying at the Wailing Wall]
Praying at the Wailing Wall
They say that in Jerusalem, every stone matters to someone -- and often more than one -- that every stone has layers upon layers of memory and meaning -- religion, politics and a family's faded records all twisted together.

And so it was in my last days in Jerusalem that I came to know that the conflict I observed around me had at one time been inside my flat.

My kitchen had been an Israeli military bunker.

Until 1967, it was the highest point next to Israel's border. I had indeed found the very best view. Israeli troops once looked where I did but theirs was a stare over the barrel of a gun and a thick concrete wall.

The lemon tree

A Palestinian friend told me he was born next door, before the Israelis moved in in 1948. Where his garden once grew, there is now a block of Israeli flats.

All that's left is one lemon tree.

I was told you could smell its powerfully sweet fragrance. And before I left, I leaned as far as I could over the ledge of my lowest window, and I think I could see it.



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