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Living on Nasser Street, Bethlehem
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 15 - 08 - 2002

What is it like to live under nearly permanent curfew? Talal Jabari tells the story of a single building in Bethlehem
It is an ordinary apartment building. With four floors and a shop on the street level, it could be anywhere in the West Bank. This one happens to be on Jamal Abdel-Nasser Street in Bethlehem.
It is home to five ordinary middle class families, with lives typical of many families on the West Bank. By the admission of these families, many still are worse off.
For the families the day starts relatively routinely. They wake up and turn on the television to one of the local stations for announcements regarding the curfew. It is not long before the announcement is made. The curfew will be lifted today.
But moments later there is another announcement: the curfew will not be lifted after all. Most of the residents go back to sleep.
This is the status quo in Bethlehem, where successive incursions since April by the Israeli Defence Force have meant that the residents of the town have been under curfew for most of the 100 days the IDF has been in their city.
Aladdin, 22, studies computer science in Boston. He came back to Bethlehem because his mother, Salwa, was feeling ill, and was worried about the welfare of her other three sons. Now he is stuck in Bethlehem, he will miss the upcoming semester.
"I was supposed to take financial aid papers to the US Consulate [on Thursday]. That is the day the Israeli army came in. Now I'm too late for registration, I lost the semester." He now spends his time sleeping and playing cards.
On these curfew days only Salwa leaves the home, to buy the essentials. She makes her way through deserted streets to the old city, to find an open shop in an area not frequented by IDF soldiers, and where the alleyways are too narrow for tanks.
"They have no permission to be open. They will go to prison if they are caught," says Aladdin.
This week security talks continued between Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at alleviating some of the Palestinian population's suffering. The plan includes a partial IDF withdrawal from areas in the Gaza Strip and one city on the West Bank. In return the Palestinian Authority must prevent attacks against Israeli targets. Both sides have yet to reach an agreement.
Meanwhile, Aladdin is frustrated. He is against bombings that target civilians in Israel and feels that they hurt him more than they do the Israelis.
"It is very hard because the bomb goes off over there and it makes my life harder. What can I do about suicide bombers, and what can I do about soldiers? Both of them are killing me."
One floor up from Aladdin and his mother lives another of Salwa's sons, Issa, 32. Married with a 2-year-old son, Issa is currently unemployed. He now helps his brother at an Islamic bookshop in the front of the building in which they live.
"We used to make between $100 and $200 per day. Now we make around $2," says Issa.
Most of the shops in Bethlehem that sell merchandise such as clothes, books, and furniture are closing down. People are only spending money on the bare essentials.
Together with his family, Issa owns the apartment building, but he says people don't pay their rent. In turn, Issa and his family have nearly $1500 worth of unpaid utility bills.
"People who live in houses can't pay their rent because they have no income. There is a doctor and an engineer that live here. They give us $20 a month and we have to survive on that."
Sawsan, 32, a pharmacist, and her husband Nafez, 38, a doctor, live on the forth floor with their 3-year-old son Yazan. Nafez used to work in a private clinic and at the local Hussein Government Hospital; now under the emergency health plan he only works at the government hospital. Wages are low.
He doesn't pay bills. The rent alone would cost him his entire paycheck, and now the bank wants to repossess his new car. That did not keep Nafez, who works in the emergency room, from sleeping at the hospital for three continuous months. Besides, the daily commute to the hospital might have meant encountering the IDF.
"I don't like checkpoints. I personally knew three people who died in ambulances at checkpoints." Two of them needed dialysis, the third was a pregnant woman with heart problems.
He and his wife have both had to deal with increased shifts even though the curfew means fewer people can get to the hospital.
"On a normal day we used to see 200 to 300 patients in the Emergency Room. Nowadays only about 40 come to the hospital, and only in ambulances," says Nafez.
Sawsan now works 12 hours a day. Her son Yazan goes with her to work. "There is no place to leave my son, no daycare centers, so I take him to work with me." And despite the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian security talks aimed at easing the lives of ordinary Palestinians, Aladdin is not optimistic.
"We only hope that they will lift the curfew tomorrow for six hours so I can walk in the streets. We can't hope for more than that."


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