Late yesterday morning, word came about the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa, the leader of the PFLP, an important Palestinian political party. By Staff of the International Center in Bethlehem
Late yesterday morning, word came about the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa, the leader of the PFLP, an important Palestinian political party. Then during the night, the sounds of machine gunfire and tank shells filled the air around Bethlehem. At 2:00 am, calls came for people to come out of their houses to defend their country. The bells of the Church of the Nativity began to ring and verses from the Quran were chanted from the minarets.
After a long, sleepless night, the staff and volunteers of the International Center made their way to the office through the deserted streets of Bethlehem. As we gathered for our weekly staff meeting, everyone showed the signs of an endless and tiring night, with fatigue, despair and worry etched deeply in each face.
We shared a time of scripture and prayer, centering ourselves in the love of God that surpasses even our worst fears. We spent time connecting with one another, sharing the stories of how we had passed the night. As we talked, we decided we needed to send you, our friends, a letter. At a time when much of the international news both ignores the human side of the reality in which we are living, as well as perpetuating the dehumanization of the Palestinian people in general, we offer you a window into our reality by sharing just some of the ways in which these ‘news events’ impact our lives here at the Center. These are not unique stories; people across the West Bank and Gaza could write many more as well. Our hope, though, is that by listening to these voices, you will come to see the humanity behind the headlines and the political rhetoric.
Viola Raheb, director of the Evangelical Lutheran Schools in Palestine, shared with the staff, “We made the decision to open our Lutheran schools a week early this year. Our hope was to both ‘win’ some days in case of future turmoil and to give the students and teachers an opportunity to gather in a calm and comfortable environment. Yet, only midway through the first day came news of the assassination in Ramallah of Abu Ali Mustafa. We made the decision to send the children and staff home early and planned to close the schools on Tuesday, reopening on Wednesday. When making this decision, however, we had no idea that our lives would be turned upside down that night. At this moment, we’re struggling with whether we can open the schools tomorrow. Many of our students and teachers live in areas that have been re-occupied and are now living under curfew, forbidden to leave their homes. The rest of them spent the whole of last night and most of this morning hiding from shooting. We begin yet another school year marred by the trauma of occupation.”
News was also shared about the occupation of the Lutheran Church in Beit Jala, including the home for boys which is operated on the premises of the church. The Israeli military, at the time of this writing, have occupied both the church and Abraham House, where the children are living. No one, other than the staff living at the facility, have been allowed access to the church or House. There is currently not even any bread on the premises and all attempts to get food to the children are being denied. Our bishop has been in conversation already with numerous officials here and abroad to alert them to this new development. The Israeli news broadcast that the IDF would respect all holy places in Beit Jala. This belies their promise and must be harshly condemned and staff and food must be allowed to enter to church and school.
For our volunteers from Italy, Germany and the USA, it was an unbelievable night. For the newest arrivals, it was a shocking event, for the longer-term volunteers it was a night of despair and heartache. One of the most ironic notes came from one of our most recent arrivals,
Marc Frings, a young German working with ICB for the next 13 months. Choosing to do civil service in place of his military service, he commented this morning, “I choose to do civil service to work for peace rather than to serve in the military. And, of all my friends who went to the military, I’m probably the only one who will actually see a war!”
Two of our co-workers were unable to come to the Center this morning. Shady, our communications officer, had to flee from his home in Beit Sahour in the middle of the night. His home is near Jabel Abu Ghneim, where the Israelis are currently building the new settlement of Har Homa, and is close to the firing line. Along with his wife and 2 1/2 year old daughter, they moved to his sister-in-law’s home in the old city area of Beit Sahour. Although sleeping was still not possible, it was at least safer for he and his family. Another friend of the Center called just as we began our staff meeting. Sousan, a young mother of two was crying on phone, “There are tanks going by and soldiers at our door, shooting. What should I do? I don’t know what to do.” Pastor Mitri reported also that several families of the congregation had suffered damage to their homes during the night. One member who lives in Beit Jala had just left the kitchen when a bullet came through, shattering the glass behind her. She and her family, including her 4 children, are now living under curfew.
As we write this letter to you, shooting is still occurring in the region near Aida Refugee Camp, at the northern entrance to Bethlehem, and Israel is evidently still uncertain about how long their forces will stay in place.
We are in need of your solidarity in these days and we appreciate the ways in which many of you have already been expressing your concern and support. We urge you to continue to pray and advocate for a just peace and wisdom among leaders. Also, we invite you to visit our web page www.annadwa.org that we update regularly with new stories and reports.
Urgent action alerts are also posted there and give you concrete ways to direct your support.
We join you in prayer and action,
Dr. Nuha Khoury, Rev. Sandra Olewine and Ms. Viola Raheb, Staff members
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb
Tel: ++972 2 276 4696
Fax: ++972 2 277 0048