As the air raids began to destroy Beit Sahour in early October, Mr. Maher Al-Atrash, the Acting General Director of the Latin Patriarchate Schools in Palestine, By Dr. Maria C. Khoury As the air raids began to destroy Beit Sahour in early October, Mr. Maher Al-Atrash, the Acting General Director of the Latin Patriarchate Schools in Palestine, did not think they will continue to bomb his Beit Sahour home consistently throughout the last five months of this current Intifada. Maher and his wife Jane, who also works for the Beit Jala Latin Patriarchate School administrative office, live only 200 meters away from an Israeli military camp. Their lives are constantly on edge and lately in danger. Maher was required to attend the schools commission meetings in Jordan headed by Professor Bart McGettrick of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre on October 12-14, 2000. It was a pleasant family get away from the shootings and killings. However, once in Jordan and with the completion of the commission meetings eventually one needs to return home. Getting home was a prolonged experience, full of wait, harassment, hassle and excessive hours and days to cross over the bridge with three small children. The bridge between the East Bank and the West Bank closed for over a week due to the Israeli siege in Palestine. Sometimes, getting stuck out of your home is worse than being stuck inside your home. Either way, it’s a denial of one’s basic right to movement and freedom. When Maher and his family did reach home they were not able to stay even one night because heavy shooting and bombing in his neighborhood and an Israeli missile landing directly in his living room forced them to run away. Specifically, they survived unharmed throughout three hours of massive shooting before they left to safety for his sister’s house in the middle of the night. Eventually Maher fixed the damage to the house and in mid January when things were actually not getting any better, the family moved back into the Beit Sahour house along with the other few hundred families that relocated during the months of heavier shooting. However, twenty of these families could not return to their homes at all because of the severe damage and destruction to their properties. The bombings and the shootings have become so “regular,” “normal,” for us here in Palestine that we think of them as rain coming down and sometimes the rain goes away only to come back. But this rain is so deadly. Was it worth returning home? Is it possible in the Holy Land to think “home sweet home?” Last week Maher’s house was bombed again and this time unfortunately he can’t think of returning home in order to keep his children safe. The house next door, belonging to Fr. Aktham Hajajin’s first cousin was destroyed completely from the bombs and intense fire. Maher’s four-year-old son Maroun keeps asking (in Arabic) “When are we going back to our house? When will we play with our toys again? When will we go down our slide again?” He is one of the thousands of little children that have not had a good night sleep since the beginning of the Intifada when the images of death and the massacre against Palestinians hit their television screens. They have not had a peaceful day since they stopped showing cartoons on TV and broadcasting the killings and shootings. Maroun’s sleep is so short that it’s not even a quiet sleep. His dad confesses that actually he just can’t sleep at night. His sleep is simply too short for a four-year-old. He is also scared to death to be alone so he insists on sleeping with his mother and father. Maroun started receiving psychological services at the YMCA in the Bethlehem area because at night he constantly speaks about death. His behavior at school and at home has become aggressive. This once polite and happy child, who is one of our preschool students at the Beit Sahour Latin Patriarchate School, damages everything in his site. Also, it’s not unusual to wake up at midnight and start screaming out of fear. His father thinks this behavior is a reaction to the constant Israeli brutality, the nightly shootings, the daily images of killings on TV and the fear he probably senses in his parents’ eyes. Beit Shaour with over 15, 000 inhabitants and an 85% Christian rate is the largest Christian community in the Holy Land. Four local churches in Beit Shour represent the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, and the Protestant denominations. Most people here are frustrated. They have experienced and seen the Israeli occupation and brutality daily since their birth. They see how the Israelis control all the roads, the airport, Jerusalem since l967, all the natural resources in the area and they directly control their lives too. “This is not a normal life. Palestinians in the last eight years since the Oslo Peace Agreement have seen nothing implemented on the ground. The situation is very bad,” Maher says who has been working in the education office in Ramallah for the last nine years. Many days he cannot even travel from his home to his office. When he does come, he spends double the time on the road and shows his identity card sometimes seven times. Recently at the Patriarchate two special visitors, a major in the U.S. army and a retired colonel, who are members of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher joined the Pontifical Mission. After visiting Maher’s neighborhood, they could not believe that the Israelis were using such weapons of destruction and carrying out such severe attacks in civilian areas. They specifically said that what they saw in Beit Sahour was intense and excessive use of power on civilians. They could not believe their own eyes as they saw the damage in this Beit Sahour community. In the same evening they met with the patriarch to express their condemnation and anger concerning these unjust attacks. Thus, this very tiny spot on earth where in the Bible is referred to as Sepherds Field because it is here that the angles proclaimed the Good News to the world is suffering terribly from the Israeli injustice and Israeli brutality. And therefore, we pray that the Prince of Peace and the Lord of Love bring about a miracle during this Lenten Season in this sacred land so that peace may prevail for all the little children that cannot sleep at night like Maroun. Because “with God all things are possible,” (Matthew 19:26) and we have great faith “The Lord blesses His people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11)
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