It's Easier To Reach Heaven Than The End Of The Street by Emma Williams

Vivid portrait of Jerusalem's tribal conflict from an expat perspective
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The Independent Culture

Is perception all? Or is there an "objective" benchmark for facts about the Israel-Palestine war? Emma Williams is the latest author to bear witness to the continuing tragedy of ordinary people caught up in violent events.

She has worked as a doctor in other conflict areas such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Her husband, a UN political officer, was posted to Israel-Palestine in 2000, when the soon-to-be prime minister Ariel Sharon upset the applecart of Labour's inept Ehud Barak and sparked the second Palestinian uprising.

This statement already proclaims my own bias, just as the defenders of Sharon's (now Olmert's) Israel denounced Emma Williams' previous news reporting. They will not like this book either, although she has gone to great lengths to talk to both sympathetic and unsympathetic Israelis, chronicling the human cost of Palestinian suicide bombings as well as of Israeli incursions, curfews, punitive shellings and bombings.

In a unique act of courage, or folly, Williams and her husband Andrew took their three small children with them for their three-year stint - then she gave birth to a fourth. They settled on a Jerusalem street that coils between Jewish and Arab houses below the Hill of Evil Counsel, one of the city's most picturesque settings. Hence the evocative title.

Williams chronicles the descent into the familiar syndrome that a Palestinian cabbie in New York summed up to me as, "We'll make their life miserable as long as they make our life miserable". Without doubt, she is "an honest, fair-minded, humane" writer, with "a passion for justice". But is this enough? A reader only vaguely aware of the reality behind the headlines will find much that is observant and saddening in her vivid portrait of this tribal dispute. The outsider can only penetrate so far. For the conflict is, in the end, tribal. The Hebrew language, that hermetic bubble of a nation's singularity, stands as a particular barrier.

I fear we will have a lot more books like this one while the tribes continue to make each other miserable. The Israelis coined a phrase, "shooting and crying", for their unique blend of action and regret. One might suggest another concept, "reading and crying". There is some comfort in this, and some enlightenment, and the lifting of a burden of helplessness from the author's soul. Perhaps this is all that can be achieved, but some deeper knowledge might be preferred.