The Dovekeeper and the Children’s Intifada
How a thirteen-year-old boy in Jerusalem became a Rorschach blot for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Manasras live in a compound of multifamily homes occupying almost an entire block in the Jerusalem hillside neighborhood of Beit Hanina. In the shared courtyard, half a dozen bicycles of various sizes are propped against a tree or lie in the dirt by the tall entry gate. Ten brothers and their families share the compound, and the children move fluidly through each other’s apartments, which are furnished rather formally: prints of alpine landscapes, velvet-covered sofas, lacy tablecloths. They’re the homes of a modestly prosperous clan whose breadwinners owned a grocery store, or work in trades or in transportation. Until October 12, 2015, Hassan and Ahmed followed the same schedule as all the school-age cousins in the household: go to class, come home, eat, change clothes, and then go play in an area that their uncles had cleared for them on the unused land beneath the highway overpass that separates Beit Hanina from the adjacent neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev. Sometimes the cousins played soccer, but Hassan and Ahmed particularly enjoyed training for parkour; the concrete pylons and grassy embankments under the highway were ideal for practicing vaults and tumbles.
The highway divides two East Jerusalem neighborhoods—the House of Hanina and the Peak of Ze’ev—that face each other across a shallow valley. Both are long-settled places. Beit Hanina was home to a few farming families as early as Canaanite times; in Pisgat Ze’ev, excavations have uncovered ritual baths from the Second Temple period. Both neighborhoods have seen tremendous population growth since 1967, when Israel captured this territory from Jordan in the Six-Day War. Now the busy highway is all that marks the division between the Palestinian neighborhood and the Jewish one. Pisgat Ze’ev is the last stop on the Jerusalem tramline, Beit Hanina the second-to-last. Residents of the two neighborhoods live cheek by jowl, yet they inhabit two different worlds.
Pisgat Ze’ev, named for the Revisionist Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky, was one of the new settlements rapidly built on land annexed by Israel after the war, intended to connect and thicken the Jewish areas of East Jerusalem. Although the annexation remains illegal under international law (the United Sates, for one, does not recognize it), Pisgat Ze’ev is now one of Jerusalem’s largest neighborhoods, with some forty-two thousand residents, around five hundred of them Palestinians. Shady trees have grown up, softening the lines of its medium-rise, stone-clad apartment blocks and humming commercial areas.
Beit Hanina has grown organically over time from its village origins. Some thirty-five thousand Palestinians live there, on land Israel has annexed. Another thousand have been severed from their neighbors by the building of the separation barrier a decade ago, after the wave of suicide bombings that characterized the uprising known as the second intifada. The looming concrete wall, which mostly divides annexed land claimed by Israel from occupied land administered by the Israeli military, has huge implications. Those on the Palestinian side may not crossinto annexed East Jerusalem—to go to work or school, to visit family, to buy groceries—without a temporary pass issued at the discretion of the Israeli authorities.....
On December 17, 2015, at Jerusalem’s Kotel, Na’or Ben Ezra was called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah.
On May 10, 2016, Ahmed Manasra was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison.
Hassan Manasra’s body was finally returned to his family for burial seven months after his death.
Excerpted from “The Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation,” edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, out on May 30th.