Donald Macintyre: 'I want the wall to come down. The right to return can come later'


Thursday 14 May 2009 00:00 BST

Though better than the view of the slabs of concrete that make up the military barrier facing their apartment, the view through the side window on to the UN schoolyard had never seemed that special to Suad Abu Aker. Until yesterday. It afforded such an ideal vantage point from which to watch the Pope speak that the 48-year-old Muslim woman invited her Christian friend Gloria Elias over to witness the spectacle. "I love them," a delighted Mrs Elias said of her neighbours. "They are good friends."

Since the separation wall is a central preoccupation for Mrs Abu Aker and her five unemployed, grown-up children, the message the Pope delivered was especially welcome. Before its construction, said Mrs Abu Aker, "there was land on the other side; the farmer used to let us pick olives and there was a place where the children could play". That mattered, given Aida is one of the most crowded refugee camps in the West Bank – 5,000 people in 500 square metres.

But the economic impact of the hemming of Bethlehem has been more far-reaching. The widow of a building contractor, Mrs Abu Aker has seen the family's income dry up because her sons – like the eldest, 27-year-old Wael, who was a gardener in Jerusalem – can no longer work in Israel. The family now depends on UN food handouts. His sister Suhair, studies education at al Quds Open University and wants to teach but there are no jobs. "There are hundreds like me, she says.

Then there is Ahmed, 22: "He loved a woman but he really couldn't afford to get married," said his mother. "He was so crazy about her that we borrowed money and he got married. Now he hides under the bed whenever anyone he owes money to comes to the door. He will pay them back when he gets a job."

Mrs Abu Aker's parents fled Malha in West Jerusalem after the Dieir Yassin massacre of 1948 and all the family say they dream of going back to their home, now occupied by Israelis.But her son Ali, 21, says that for now he has one wish – "to be in work". His brother Wael agrees: "I want the wall to come down. The right of return we can talk about later."

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