“Peace will be the fruit of Justice and my people will dwell in the beauty of Peace”
“Peace will be the fruit of Justice and my people will dwell in the beauty of Peace”
Dear Friends, Brothers and Sisters,
After his arrival from a very busy trip in Cyprus, our Patriarch Michel Sabbah, resumed his activities, which seem continuous without any break. In fact, during this month of May he has a lot of confirmation ceremonies in several parishes, and graduation ceremonies as well in many of our schools. After St. Joseph’s school and the Latin Patriarchate’s school in Ramallah last week, he presided today the graduation ceremony in Beit Jala and will preside to one of the Rosary Sisters School in Beit Hanina near Jerusalem. Today’s graduation in Beit Jala was really great, special and meaningful, because these 42 students who finish their high school in these difficult time after 8 months of bombardment and shelling on their town, looked like a very mature young men and women; the presence of their families and friends was a “celebration for life” as the principle of the school, Mr. Issa Abu Ghanam truly said; every word was calculated, the right word at the right time; they really told us their story of the whole year of suffering that they passed through. We all admired their courage and optism, optimistic with a deep desire of a better future for their children who didn’t know how to enjoy their childhood.
The words of the Patriarch came with the same tonality in order to encourage and congratulate their patience, courage and insistence to remain in this castle of residence which is called Beit Jala. I was astonished when he said that in 1948 he was student in the same school (because the celebration was taking place in the play ground of our Seminary) and that he passed through the same time of war, but it seems that it was easier and shorter at that time, but now there are more damage and suffering on the city of Beit Jala. We are really proud of our young people who are paying a heavy price for a better future of their homeland, for the freedom and dignity of their people. They are very well prepared and armed with the weapon of a good education, faith and determinism. With such new generation we are sure that we cannot loose the battle to reconquest our independence as soon as possible.
Before going to Beit Jala we visited the 80 years old Dominican Fr. Marcel Dubois who is living alone in Abu Tor, which is a closed neighborhood of Jerusalem. He is a French priest and a great philosopher who spent his whole life in Jerusalem, where he founded with Fr. Bruno Hussar St. Isaiah House and taught at the Hebrew University and was the dean of the Faculty of philosophy for several years, and he is still teaching there. He was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the State of Israel because he saw in it a realization of what he calls “the mystery of the people of Israel”. We were astonished to hear him say that he discovered that this people is blind because they ignore to see the other people living in this country and they don’t recognized the rights of the poor Palestinian people as he said. He told us the story of Theordore Herzel who at the beginning of the century sent a small delegation of Rabbis in order to investigate the possibility of the establishment of a State for the Jewish people according the slogan “A people without land in a land without people”. When they came and saw the land is full of Arabs and Palestinians they sent him this short telegram in which they wrote only this sentence “The bride is very beautiful but she is already engaged to another person.” We were really amazed to see this man speaks in this strange way, and we thought that he had a real conversion! We remembered the other story of that same Theodore Herzel who visited the Ottoman Sultan Abdel-Hamid asking him to give the Jewish people some Land in Palestine. The Sultan refused and told him: “This land was conquered by precious blood and cannot be conquered without blood, blood is the price of this land”. It seems that he was right at that time, and he knew how much blood was shed throughout centuries for this precious Holy Land. Therefore, in 1924, when the first Jewish pioneers founded the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus nearby Jerusalem, they invited Einstein, the famous Jewish scientist to come and teach in this university, he refused to come and said: “I don’t accept to teach in a University which will be the nucleus of a future conflict between two peoples over the same land”. And for this same reason the other famous Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote his famous book “One Land for two peoples”.
It seems that this is the only solution and we don’t have any more choices: either we live together or we die together; either we recognize each other or we eliminate each other. We have to learn very well the lesson of history.
BETHLEHEM DIARY (28)
Toine van Teeffelen
May 21-28, 2001
The week began with the wedding disaster in the Jerusalem quarter of Talpiot, just two kilometers from Bethlehem away. Over 25 people died. This time national politics was not involved. A severe mistake in the construction of the building, carelessness in the building inspection procedures, and greediness, were responsible. However, initially a bomb explosion was suspected. The sky above Bethlehem was full of helicopter gunboats ready to drop their load, while people witnessed the arrival of extra Israeli troops around the town. Although not a political affair, the disaster wasn. t entirely divorced from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict either. As Haaretz wrote the next day, the mayor of Jerusalem Olmert had used the construction regulation department of the municipality as a punitive enforcement branch with respect to building infractions in Arab East-Jerusalem, where many Palestinian families – due to a systematic lack of building permits and the absence of development zones – take recourse to . illegal. building. Meanwhile, the department had ignored infractions in the city. s Jewish areas. My Arabic teacher tells me that her colleagues at the Freres felt sorry for the death and the injured, but I also hear some people saying that the disaster is the punitive hand of God.
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During most of the other nights of the week, shooting and shelling prevails, especially in Beit Jala. Sharon. s announcement of an Israeli . cease-fire. turns out to be untrue. Several houses are damaged and even the St Nicholas Church is hit. On Friday, when we meet at the Freres, Giselle tells that during the previous night several streets of Beit Jala were full of water. Many water tanks located on top of the houses were shot in a rain of bullets. It wasn. t the first time they need to be replaced. (Each tank costs over 100 dollar). The water supply is in fact a huge problem in Palestine, especially during the hot summers. Water is also a keenly felt aspect in the discriminatory treatment Israel imposes upon the Palestinians. Why is it considered normal in Israel that Israeli households are allowed to use at least four times the amount of water the inhabitants of the Palestinian areas use? In summer, almost all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have to take care not to spend too much water because of the limited supply. As soon as the running water streams into the tanks, usually twice a week, people who do not have any other supply hurry to wash the dirty laundry piled up over the previous days.
Beit Jala has an extra problem. Since it is located on the slopes of a hill and since the higher the water pipes go up the less pressure there is on the water, Beit Jala suffers more from water shortages than other areas. Giselle tells that some years ago the Beit Jala water supply was directly connected to the abundant water supply of the small settlement of Har Gilo located on the top of the Beit Jala hill. This settlement is however now directly connected to the Israeli supply system, and its water out of reach. Some extreme right-wing politicians in Israel are presently talking about the withholding of water as a punitive measure against the Palestinian areas.
Giselle is shocked to hear from a music teacher at the Freres that her sister. s house might have been hit during the previous night. Together with hundreds of other inhabitants of Beit Jala this music teacher took refuge at the Convent of the Latin Patriachate from which they could watch where the shells fell down. Giselle immediately starts worrying how she will tell any possible negative news to her mother who, a diabetes patient, can be easily affected by a psychological shock.
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Perhaps we all need more sleep. After she goes home, Giselle is accustomed to take a nap. Many people in Beit Jala, including her family, now sleep during the afternoons to compensate for the sleep they loose during the night.
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With the lack of shelter facilities, churches are the traditional places where people hide during wars. Right now I am editing, together with Suzy, a book with oral history interviews conducted by students from St Joseph. Many of the stories are about how people during the wars of 1948 and 1967 went to the basements in their houses or to the churches like the Church of Nativity or to convents like the Salesian Monastery in Beit Jala. The churches also played a role in hosting refugee families. Whether they are safer than other places is in fact a moot question. During the 1967 war the Armenian Monastery of the Church of Nativity received a direct hit. One student writes that during that war a family member happened to smoke in the church and was asked by a priest to extinguish his cigarette. Instead of . cigarette. (sigara) the man understood ghara or . raid.. He thought that Bethlehem was attacked, started to shout . WAR, WAR,. and created a real panic in the church. In another story about the 1967 war, a student writes that people escaped Israeli soldiers by fleeing to the convent of Artas. Half-way, they were enveloped in a foggy cloud that brought them safe to the convent. Traditional stories about the protective deeds of Mary, St George and St Nicholas are virtually limitless in the Bethlehem area.
My Arabic teacher tells how she and her family fled to Beit Jala in 1948 after living in the Musrara quarter in Jerusalem. With affection she relays how her mother each Friday morning used to go to Miriam. s Hammaam, a kind of Turkish bath located in that quarter and a meeting place frequented by Moslem, Christian, Jewish and Armenian women alike. All the women pleasantly talked with each other without any overt . religious. or . national. consciousness. On the eve of the wedding day, the bride was brought into the hammaam and decorated with the reddish henna herb in front of all the women who cheered and gave their remarks. While my teacher is talking, my own thoughts flee to the irrelevant question whether a hammaam would be a good shelter or not.
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Karishma is presently making up her mind what to do in the coming months when she leaves the country. Her parents live in Mombassa, Kenya. They have a shop that is, among others, frequented by Israelis (there are hundreds of Israeli military experts and advisers in Kenya). Unsurprisingly, they tell Karishma. s parents that their daughter should immediately leave Bethlehem and that she shouldn. t have gone there in the first place. She weighs her future options which are obstructed by visa problems but also enhanced by new personal horizons and challenges. One option is to settle down in Dubai where some of her family lives. A future in Kenya is doubtful, she says. The regime in Kenya supports the Christian-Indian community to which she belongs. However, the regime also has a bad human rights record, and her community may become a scapegoat during any future unrest in the country.
No doubt, lots of Palestinian teachers and students will miss her when she moves on.
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At one night, the Tanzim shoot from our street, in front of the house. Mary wants to go out to ask them to go away but I urge her to stay inside.
We try to give Jara opportunities for summer activities now the holiday approaches. This week she went to the beach with a French friend of the family. After coming back, she wants to eat sea fish. Mary asks how in heaven. s sake she can go out to buy fish with all that shooting and shelling going on around the house. Jara: . You can go out. Don. t you know that the shelling is not here but in Beit Jala?.