Palestinian Man Talks Of Hardships Created By Wall Adnan Jahdoh's life has changed drastically since Israel put up a wall between Bethlehem and nearby Jerusalem. He lost his job in Jerusalem and lost access to the farmland his family has worked since the early 1960s.
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Palestinian Man Talks Of Hardships Created By Wall

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Palestinian Man Talks Of Hardships Created By Wall

Palestinian Man Talks Of Hardships Created By Wall

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Visitors to the town of Bethlehem now have to pass through a checkpoint in Israel's barrier, which has been under construction since 2002 in response to Palestinian suicide bombings. Along the Palestinian side of the wall, spray-painted graffiti reads, welcome to prison and ghetto. Many Bethlehem residents say the wall has devastated their city. In the last of our series, NPR's Eric Westervelt has the story of one Bethlehem man.

Mr. ADNAN JAHDOH: (Speaking foreign language)

ERIC WESTERVELT: Adnan Jahdoh sits on a wooden stool in his apartment in the Aida refugee camp smoking cigarettes intently, like it's his job. It's early afternoon on a Tuesday, and he's still in his pajamas. Short and stout with close-cropped hair, he's pulled his blue and white stripped pajama bottoms up so high over his paunch he looks vaguely elfin. At 55, Jahdoh says he's too young to just sit around home smoking, brooding and watching Arabic soap operas, but that's exactly what he does most days.

Mr. JAHDOH: (Through Translator) Sometimes I stay inside my house for two weeks cooped up. Where can I go? I don't really leave except to buy cigarettes. I don't work anymore and there is nowhere to go.

WESTERVELT: His wife, Sabah, cooks lunch in their small kitchen. Pictures of his father, grandfather and other family members adorn the apartment's faded white and yellow walls. The pictures bring back bittersweet memories. Since Israel put up the big wall between Bethlehem and nearby Jerusalem, Adnan says he lost his job at a car showroom in Jerusalem and also lost access to the farmland his family has worked since the early 1960s - land where he used to grow figs, dates and olives. The farm is on the other side of the wall.

Mr. JAHDOH: (Through Translator) After the wall was built, my brothers managed to get a permit to farm their land, but I was unable to. I've applied several times, but I am denied. First time, second time, third time, they have rejected it always.

WESTERVELT: Adnan's not sure why. The Israelis, he says, don't always give a reason. The only time he is allowed into Jerusalem, just five miles away, is during the holy month of Ramadan to pray at the Dome of the Rock, Islam's third holiest site.

Mr. JAHDOH: (Through Translator) My wife, Sabah, for example, often gets rejected for permits, as well. The Israelis said she's too young because she is under 55. They only want old people. Maybe they prefer us to be dead before arriving to Jerusalem.

WESTERVELT: Adnan has nine children, two sons and seven daughters. All but his youngest, 14-year-old Rula, now live outside the house. They help support him as best they can. But he says he relies on the United Nations' relief agency UNRWA. He gets about 100 shekels, or $20 a month, from the U.N., along with some oil, and flour and other basic food items.

His family fled the village of Malha in West Jerusalem during the 1948 war when Israel was established. His grandfather was a mukhtar, or village elder, in Malha, and helped build the school there. Today, there's a mall near what used to be his home village. Adnan hasn't been there in years.

Mr. JAHDOH: (Through Translator) I believe my land will always be mine regardless of what is built on it, who confiscates it and what do they with it. The land is still there and it will always be mine. Just like 1948 Palestine -whatever they do with historic Palestine, it will always be ours.

WESTERVELT: The wall here doesn't just cut the city off from Jerusalem, it also winds through parts of the town to separate Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish holy site, from the rest of Bethlehem.

Mr. JAHDOH: (Through Translator) We live today in an open prison. Why shouldn't I be allowed to go freely to Jerusalem to pray, to stroll through Damascus gate, to breathe the air, buy sweets and come home to my family refreshed?

WESTERVELT: Because of suicide bombings, is the Israeli reply. The massive wall at the entrance to Jesus's birthplace was built after suicide attackers killed several hundred Israelis during the Second Intifada. In early 2004, two bombings a few weeks apart in nearby Jerusalem killed 19 Israelis. The Palestinian attackers, one a policeman, were both from Bethlehem.

Mr. DANNY TIRZA (Retired Army Colonel): The goal of terror is not to kill people. The goal of terror is to frighten the other side.

WESTERVELT: Danny Tirza is a retired army colonel and was former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's point person on the West Bank barrier. Tirza designed its route.

Mr. TIRZA: In 2002, I was afraid to send my daughter to school on a public bus. There were 17 public buses inside Jerusalem that were blown from terror attacks. People were afraid to sit in a cafe, to go to a movie or wherever inside Jerusalem. And today the West Bank is closed. You can come from the West Bank to Israel only by check post and the terror is left behind.

(Soundbite of refugee camp)

WESTERVELT: Back in Bethlehem's Aida refugee camp, Adnan says he sees things only getting worse, and views the wall here as the prime mover behind his own downward drift. He looks at life here before the barrier with an air of nostalgia and sadness.

Mr. JAHDOH: (Through Translator) I want the good old days to come back. I want people to visit me and me to visit them. I want to live with dignity. This is not a life.

WESTERVELT: Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Bethlehem.

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