Sophia's Peace Work

Sunday, August 08, 2004

At the Tomb of Lazarus

Today was a day in Jerusalem, not the Galilee as I had planned. East Jerusalem to be specific ... or was it the West Bank? Even Israel is not clear on this issue. We went to visit the family of Shefa, a widowed mother and four of her nine grown children living in an area of East Jerusalem called A'zariya. In the Bible this area is known as Bethany and Shefa lives just a few doors down from the tomb of Lazarus (that guy that Jesus raised from the dead). Shefa is a Christian who as done the Haj (it’s a long story, but suffice it to know that there are both Christians and Muslims in the family).

The children living in Shefa’s house consists of 50 year old Assa, Khalil, the middle son, Kefah, the unmarried 30-year old daughter, and the youngest Ashraf, who married and later divorced a U.S. Citizen. He became a U.S. citizen, lived in the States for 11 years and is the youngest in the family at 27. Shefa’s family has seen a lot of hardship during this last Intifada.

The area they live in has always been part of Jerusalem but the Israeli government is trying to shut them out. A'zariya doesn't really have any economy of its own to speak of. Most people used to work in Jerusalem but now, since they don't have Jerusalem ID's and the new "Security" Wall is being erected almost within sight of their house there is no more work. Even the modest tourist visits to Lazarus' tomb have slacked off. Everyone in the community is struggling.

Shefa, well into her 60's if not beyond (she doesn't remember her birthday), has a heart condition but there are no hospitals in A'zariya. She needs a permit to go see her doctor or get her medicines. Permits, which are generally only good for the day, can be very difficult and time consuming to come by. No one knows what will happen if there is an emergency and she needs to be rushed to the Mount of Olives hospital in Jerusalem. These days travel for work or to visit family member living elsewhere within the West Bank (Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus) requires a permit. If you lived in some portions of East Jerusalem and raised a family, you could find yourself in a situation where your wife and your older children have Jerusalem ID’s and you and your younger children have West Bank ID’s. You need a permit to even see one another.

Most of Shefa’s children are unemployed. Khalil, the middle son was lucky enough to work on the grounds of the Sisters of Nagrizia Convent (soon to be locked away on the Jerusalem side of the Wall). He had earned enough money to buy some land and was slowly building a house on it. He like many others took the chance to build the house without a permit, since Palestinians can pay the fees and submit the permit requests but are generally unlikely to actually receive a permit to build). It was almost complete when the Israelis came and demolished it.

Then Ashraf, who had returned to A’zariya from the States, was stopped by the Israelis. He showed them his U.S. Passport telling them that he was visiting family but they demanded to see his Palestinian ID, which he no longer carried. Ashraf thought that as a U.S. citizen he didn't need such things anymore. Unsatisfied, the Israelis looked him up in their computer and found his old ID number. They confiscated his passport and he was told he would only get it back when he left the country.

To top it all off, Ashraf got word that he was being called up for active service in Iraq. As a new U.S. citizen, he was required to signup for the Reserves. He leaves Palestine to join the U.S. military at the end of August. I asked him what he would end up doing in Iraq.

"I'm a truck driver," he said, "I'll be hauling missiles around."

I tried to stifle my groan. It is hardly the safest job in Iraq.

When I told the family that I had been in Iraq for five months and this was translated for Shefa, the elderly woman sitting cross-legged on her couch shook her head at me and I could tell that she thought I was foolish to go to such a dangerous place.

Before we left, Ashraf confided to us. "My mother thinks I'll just be returning to the States at the end of August," he told us, "She doesn't realize that I'm going to Iraq."


I received an email message letting me know that I did not fact check this properly. There is no requirement to sign up for the Reserves in the immigration process. There is a requirement to sign up for Selective Service and joint Dept of Defence/INS initiatives designed to encourage immigrants to sign up for Military Service by expediting their naturalization process. But this is certainly not the same as being “required to sign up for the Reserves.”

I don’t believe that Ashraf lied to me at any point in the conversation. I recall him saying that he had been required to join up but I now realized that it is possible that I misunderstood how he entered the Reserves. I do apologize to my readers for not being more certain of my facts in this matter.

Thank you to the reader that called this to my attention.


  • About those construction permits: back in the mid '80s, I was married to an Israeli, who had a full-time army job. He was in military intelligence. I clearly recall a three-day seminar he went to, on the subject of Jerusalem. It was stated there (by an urban planner in full orthodox regalia) that no permits would be given to "Arabs" (they didn't say Palestinians, because they didn't want to link the people with the place). Why? in hopes that they'd get the hint and leave.

    Even my ex-husband, who was far from being a human rights activist, was disgusted by this policy. It is NOT a written policy, though. No, it is an oral tradition, though, and is borne out by the number of permits granted to Palestinians in Jerusalem.

    Just another data point.

    Dena Shunra

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 09, 2004 6:01 AM  

  • I recently had an email exchange with Sophia about an inaccurate fact stated in this story.

    In the seventh paragraph it says this:
    "To top it all off, Ashraf got word that he was being called up for active service in Iraq. As a new U.S. citizen, he was required to signup for the Reserves. He leaves Palestine to join the U.S. military at the end of August. I asked him what he would end up doing in Iraq."

    While it is true that almost all men between the ages of 18 and 25 in the US are required to register with the Selective Service (
    there is no requirement to sign up with *any* branch of the US military.

    If Ashraf was indeed enlisted in the "reserves" he enrolled on a purely voluntary basis. And as a side note, ordinary "truck drivers" certainly will not be
    "...hauling missiles around". Only those trained to handle "missiles" are allowed to transport them.

    I thank Sophia for her quick and courteous response to me and for her honest correction of the story.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 14, 2004 2:39 PM  

  • Nice post. orchard bank

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 26, 2005 12:17 PM  

  • Veteran's Day is November 11th and I hope that EVERY American will be flying the flag in honor of our troops fighting in Iraq and around the world to preserve our freedoms!

    I can even tell you where to get one for free! Visit right now and they'll send you a FREE American Flag. These flags were $19.99, but now they are FREE. You pay just for shipping/handling and they'll ship one to your door. (Actually - I've ordered more than 20 from them to give to my neighbors, as gifts, etc!)

    Get your free flag now: **FREE AMERICAN FLAG**

    Semper Fi!

    Bill Adams

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 31, 2005 3:33 AM  

  • Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

    I have a free link exchange site/blog. It pretty much covers free link exchange related stuff.

    Come and check it out if you get time :-)

    By Blogger, at November 02, 2005 4:36 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home