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The house encircled by the Wall

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House encricled by the wall
The house encircled by the wall (c) Haim Schwarczenberg

“No one is coming this way, not even the alternative tours groups,” explained Claire wistfully and sighed, as she unlocked the door to her gift shop.

I first met Claire Anastas in 2010, when I was taken to see Israel’s separation wall in Bethlehem. A Bethlehem native, Claire’s extended family made their livelihood catering to tourists, mainly Christians, visiting local venerated sights, from the Nativity Church to Rachel’s tomb. Her street-level store offers a myriad of souvenirs and handmade crafts of interest to tourists, including artifacts skillfully created by impoverished communities in need, which in turn benefit from their sales. The top floors are shared by Claire, her mother, husband and children in one apartment and her brother-in-law and his family in another. The rest of the building is used as a guesthouse, where Claire offers her guests home-made organic meals and comfort.

Claire’s family business though fell victim to Israel’s decision to enclose the West Bank by a network of walls and fences, ostensibly for ‘security reasons.’ However, countless undocumented Palestinian labourers, sneaking daily into Israel in search of casual work (as the recent Israeli documentary film ‘White Night’ demonstrates) are the ultimate proof that the construction of the wall was politically motivated and serves as a means for further land grab. The imposing wall, complete with numerous surveillance cameras, is located not even five meters from the store front, encircling the building on three sides, leaving only a narrow asphalt road which makes it difficult to access by car, let alone by tour buses. I took this photograph back in 2011, during my third visit. I was appalled by Claire’s plight and the callousness of Israeli decision makers, their casual redesigning of space utterly destroying people’s lives.

I decided to pay her another visit today to see how she is doing and show solidarity. It was gut-wrenching to see her shop locked in the middle of the day so well into the tourist season. When word got to her, probably through the children playing outside in the claustrophobic front path, there are visitors, she hurried down to greet us and open her shop.

I asked her how she was doing, but I already noted the anguish on her face. In her eloquent and friendly manner, Claire shared some of her woes with us. Her guesthouse is empty these days, even though she should be booked for the summer. Visitors at the shop are few and far in between. Her desperation has become so great she is offering overseas shipping of merchandise sold at the store.

An item on a shelf caught my eye. It was a wooden-carved nativity scene, but with a removable replica of the wall. The artifact managed to capture the multi-layered ironies of life under occupation in the shadow of the separation wall yet still offered a glimmer of hope for a better future. The real-life wall, adorned with artistic graffiti as well as blowups of photos documenting its construction, disrupts Claire’s everyday life in every possible way imaginable.

“They installed a camera overlooking straight into our bathroom,” she told us. The Israeli military, which maintains a heavy presence in the immediate vicinity of the house, follows her closely. When Bob Simon’s piece on her life in the shadow of the wall aired on CBS’ 60 Minutes [Christians in the Holy Land], she was called for an interrogation, since the story, viewed by approximately 70 million households in the US, apparently embarrassed the State of Israel. When she installed a basketball hoop on the wall for her children, she was likewise interrogated. The hoop was still there today.

“You are my hope,” Claire concluded before we departed. “People like you who come and support us. I believe peace will finally come through your activism.” Claire’s house is located on Hebron road, Bethlehem. Please visit the store and guesthouse, or shop online

This story, written in collaboration with Noa Shaindlinger, and photograph first appeared on Haim Schwarczenberg’s facebook page.

Haim Schwarczenberg

Haim Schwarczenberg is a photographer and activist in Israel. His facebook page is

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9 Responses

  1. a blah chick on June 23, 2013, 12:32 pm

    But..but…Syria! Iran! China! Why does everyone pick on poor little Israel? If that lady lived in Damascus she’d been gang raped for putting up that basketball hoop. Israel shows it is the better nation by only taking pictures of her and her family doing number twos.

    Arabs hate women; Arabs hate Jews; Arabs hate Israel for its freedoms. In Israel gays are free, women are free, the Arabs can vote! Why, on any given afternoon you can find naked gays having sex with scantily clad woman on the beach while Arabs, fresh from voting, look on and pass out condoms. Is this not the most awesomest country on the planet!

    Israel sincerely wants peace while the Arabs don’t. There is no apartheid! What you think is apartheid is merely the attempt by the Jewish people to live and move safely through a land filled with hatred for them. Hey, it’s a tough neighborhood! A rock thrown by an Arab can cause death. Sure the odd Jewish person throws the occasional rock but everyone know that they don’t have the arm strength of those crazy Arabs. If the Arabs would just leave the Jewish people alone they wouldn’t have anything to complain about.

    There, I have covered the hasbarists talking points. Did I leave anything out?

    • W.Jones on June 24, 2013, 4:38 am

      Wow, you must have become inundated with it somehow. You know the lines pretty well. You missed that “Palestinians” never exist, although you did a good job calling the indigenous Arab-speaking population just “Arabs”. Report to your superiors for commendation.

  2. just on June 23, 2013, 2:21 pm

    Monsters and thieves.

  3. DICKERSON3870 on June 23, 2013, 2:27 pm

    RE: “The imposing wall, complete with numerous surveillance cameras, is located not even five meters from the store front, encircling the building on three sides leaving only a narrow asphalt road which makes it difficult to access by car, let alone by tour buses.”


    “What an ingrate! I know plenty of people who would love to have a nice security fence like that around their store and/or house (for free, no less). Not to mention the free security cameras with 24/7 monitoring!
    Why must Palestin . . . er . . . um . . . I mean, why must Arabs, always insist on looking a gift horse in the mouth?!?!
    And just look at that trashy yard!”

    P.S. A LARGER SIZE OF THE PHOTO (960 x 192) –

  4. Shingo on June 23, 2013, 7:27 pm

    But hey, at least it’s not apartheid right?

  5. Ael on June 23, 2013, 11:53 pm

    How does one buy one of those wall+nativity scenes from Claire?

  6. W.Jones on June 24, 2013, 4:48 am

    Here is a good article on the topic:

  7. Eva Smagacz on June 24, 2013, 9:20 am

    I have just read about the Israel’s underground hospital, and thought to myself, just how much safer would Israeli’s be if they did not rely on walls and fences but just build entire Israel underground. I also thought that the only safe ingress’ and exits would be in Washington DC, close to Capitol Hill.
    This would keep Israeli’s safe and leave the surface to Palestinians.

    Wouldn’t this be a more humane (think of distress due to rockets), environmentally friendly, not to mention aesthetically pleasing (exhibit A in a picture above)?

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