My commute to work is a 40-minute walk. I get up at around 7am, get ready for work and leave my house at around 8am. I usually stop to get a coffee. Sometimes I have to queue, sometimes I don’t. My commute is just part of my daily routine and I don’t give it a second thought. In Ireland.
Last month, Christian Aid Ireland hosted a special screening of ‘Home’, a documentary on the lives of three young Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. The film, shot by Belgian filmmaker Berber Verpoest, was commissioned by Palestinian NGO, PalVision, which works to improve the lives of young Palestinians.
‘Home’ documents the lives of three young Palestinians over the course of a few months and provides at times a shocking account of life for East Jerusalemites living under Israeli military occupation.
We were lucky to have two young people from East Jerusalem join us as part of a tour the documentary is making across Europe: Khalil Issa (32), a married father of three and Batoul Ryad Mufreh, (24), a law graduate.
The first thing I noticed was their eagerness to share their experiences. They arrived at our offices two hours early for our meeting. Batoul was keen to tell me her story and started most of her sentences with, “I want to talk about”. I asked her about her daily life and her routine. She told me: “I get up at around 5:30am, get ready for work, then I leave my house and prepare myself to make a two-hour journey by car”.
But unlike most long commutes, hers involves queuing at – and hopefully getting through – one or two military checkpoints, being stopped and searched for no apparent reason and then waiting for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to pass through. And that’s if the checkpoint is even open. This explains why they were two hours early for our meeting.
Batoul says: “I never know if I will get through the checkpoint or not, so making any kind of plan is hard. I feel like I am constantly on an international trip, but this is all within my own country”.
Even though she was born in Jerusalem, Batoul’s ID means she has to constantly apply for visas and permits to work and travel. The restrictions on free movement within one’s own country has a harsh impact on the social behaviours of Palestinians. Trying to live what we consider an ordinary life, becomes extraordinary.
Batoul was born in an area that is now inside the separation wall and as a result she hasn’t been able to go back to her place of birth in four years. When her father became ill three years ago, she couldn’t visit him in hospital.
Khalil is currently trying to get birth certificates for two of his children, aged three and one. For him to receive such basic documents, he needs to prove again that he and his wife are from Jerusalem, the city of his birth – electricity bills, tax certificates, insurance bills: the list goes on, all going back ten years. How many of us hold on to an ESB bill for ten years?
Hearing about the implications of the extraordinary obstacles that these people experience in their everyday lives is heart-breaking.
About 40 percent (372,000) of Jerusalem’s 800,000 residents are Palestinian, but the municipal budget allocates only 10% (in 2014) of its budget to them.
In watching the film ‘Home’ we heard accounts of unprovoked violence, humiliation and intimidation. One man tells how he had three of his front teeth knocked out by the butt of an Israeli rifle in full view of his two young children when he tried to prevent the Israelis from demolishing a small extension he built, albeit without a permit.
We heard another account of a young woman whose small house was taken from her and handed over to settlers. She now has to share a two-bedroom home with eight other family members.
For people like Batoul and Khalil, living in Jerusalem is an unrelenting and unavoidable stress. Hearing their voices is a further reminder of the need for Ireland to do more, to ensure that international law that would protect Khalil and Batoul, is actually implemented, and that those who flout it are held to account.