Yesterday, school started a little late as we waited to see who would show up. About half our students came. Those from Jenin and beyond of course couldn’t come; many from other towns (and even a handful from Zababdeh) were too scared to come.
April 3, 2002

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, school started a little late as we waited to see who would show up. About half our students came. Those from Jenin and beyond of course couldn’t come; many from other towns (and even a handful from Zababdeh) were too scared to come. After an hour, word came that Israeli soldiers were on the road to Tubas. We loaded the Tubasi students on the bus and hurriedly left school. The soldiers who were stopping cars on the road fortunately let us pass, allowing us to bring the boys and girls home safely. Returning, we (the vice-principal, the two of us, and the bus driver) had to wait a long time as three tanks changed their positions, driving in front of us and then across the road, heading north. As we waited, cold rain and wind blew outside the antiquated bus. Through its muddy windows, we could see dozens of people fleeing Tubas through the hill-top pine forest. Finally, we proceeded to Zababdeh after the tanks left. School limped along until half past noon, when we sent the rest of the kids home and had a teachers’ meeting. We tried to make plans about how to run a school at half its capacity. Then we learned that Zababdeh had its first shaheed, or “martyr”. A young man was killed as he shot at a military outpost near Jenin.  Teachers were somber as they reflected on the waste of a young life and pondered the possibility of the Israeli army’s retribution within the town.

We returned home heavy-hearted to face the terrible news on the television. CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, and many more blared developments – constantly changing, constantly repeated, blurring together in our minds as the hours passed.  We were chilled by the prospect that the horrifying scenes in Ramallah and Bethlehem might be repeated in villages throughout Palestine, including Zababdeh. People trapped in their homes without enough food, water, medicine, fuel. People shot on sight for venturing out. Journalists expelled so the world can’t see what’s happening. Ambulances attacked and medical help denied.  People buried in a mass grave in a parking lot.  Soldiers going house-to-house rounding up all men, and tearing up homes as they searched them. Executions. Our email was overflowing with messages sharing the latest developments and desperately calling for intervention: Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Gush Shalom, LAW, Independent Media Centre, and many more.

Around suppertime, after the mosque’s loudspeaker announced the closure of schools, we discovered that telephone service had been cut outside of Zababdeh; we could call within the village, but nowhere else. The only link to the outside was cellphones, and we wondered how much longer they would have service. Late that night, the Israeli army began re-entering Jenin. The sounds of scores of tanks and shooting resonated across Zababdeh.

This morning, after much prayer and heartache, we made the difficult decision to leave. We left because we feared for our lives and well-being in the face of the Israeli military offensive perched on our doorstep.

We might have felt called to stay in spite of (or even because of) this threat if we still had email or even telephone access. Like those internationals staying in Ramallah, Bethlehem, and other places, we might have done so to offer support and to share on-the-ground news with the outside world. We might have. As it is, we have left our dear friends behind, and we feel awful for doing so. We are terribly sad and worried about them. Since we left, we have spoken to as many of our friends in the West Bank as we could, including those we could reach in Zababdeh. As yet, the village is still quiet – starting tomorrow, there will be no electricity except a few hours at night, because there is very little petrol left. People are afraid of what is to come.

We are now staying with friends in largely-Palestinian Nazareth, Jesus’hometown now in the north of Israel. Although sad, we also feel relief and calm to be in a safe place.  However, we hope and pray to be able to return to Zababdeh soon. Our hearts and our prayers (as well as all our stuff) remain there.

In the most urgent way we know how, we ask you to pray for peace. And we ask you to act for justice. Let your voices be heard by your governments NOW; the international community cannot and must not sit on the sidelines. The Israeli military is brutalizing whole cities, breaking international laws with impunity. Not only is it endangering thousands of people, it is robbing millions in Israel and Palestine of a future together, finishing off hopes for a peaceful settlement in which co-existence is still possible.  Future generations will judge us by our actions now.  May they be merciful.

In Hopes of Peace,
Elizabeth and Marthame

P.S . With evacuation of internationals and media expulsions, there are few eyewitnesses watching and sharing what is now taking place.  We hope to stay in touch with as many people as possible throughout the West Bank so that we can update our journal daily – not only with our news, but theirs.  Please visit it regularly:
P.P.S.  We will also be updating a page with commentary and updates from “ground zero” hopefully every few hours:
P.P.P.S.  We are available to talk to any interested media as well – the more the world is made aware the more cause there is for hope.  Please pass this message along as well as our email addresses:

Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders are American Presbyterians working in the
Palestinian Christian village of Zababdeh.fl