“Let us work together to replace despair with HOPE, fear with human SECURITY and humiliation with DIGNITY”

Letter From Bethlehem (22)

The main events in the small world in which we live are the announcements of the temporary lifting of the curfew. On Friday afternoon Mary makes a list of things to buy and we divide the work since we can go out only a few hours and neighbors may pass by for a visit. After two weeks of curfew there is no milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, and tahine (sauce of sesam seeds needed to make dibis, a grape syrop, which is a popular spreading here).

The main events in the small world in which we live are the announcements of the temporary lifting of the curfew. On Friday afternoon Mary makes a list of things to buy and we divide the work since we can go out only a few hours and neighbors may pass by for a visit. After two weeks of curfew there is no milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, and tahine (sauce of sesame seeds needed to make dibis, a grape syrup, which is a popular spreading here). Janet and I conduct quick conversations on the street: “How are you?

[bitjannen – terrific] Do you have water, telephone, and electricity? No house searches?” And away people are, rushing to finish their errands. At Kattan shop on Manger Road, the shopkeeper has run out of regular bags and packs my buyings in eight small Gauloises plastic bags. Fortunately pharmacies still sell pampers and baby milk powder. The Hazboun supermarket in Madbasseh street is so crowded that Jara panicks. Some twenty people have to remain outside.

Near the Lutheran church in downtown Bethlehem soldiers stop people. From here on, some 1,5 km from the Church of Nativity, thousands of people are unable to leave their houses in Madbasseh, Fawagreh, Wadi Ma’aleh streets and at the eastern side of the Church. Elias, who is a member in the board of the Arab Orthodox Society, a charity, tells that he is continuously approached by people in the downtown area who lack food and especially medicine. A friend of my family who is social worker says that she now is called by people who lack cash. One can’t access banks and many don’t have savings at home. Electricity is not working in many areas; people try to make improvised connections with neighbours if they can. The families I know do still have water but many others must be without water supply because water tanks on roofs have been shot or because they live in tensed areas like for instance Fawagreh or the refugee camps. We hear that some people in the inner city area, to feed their kids, are cooking a kind of grass taken from the gardens.

Elias tells that his sister in law and her husband live in the closed downtown area. At one point, the husband tried to leave his house. His wife is pregnant and urgently needs medicine. When he entered the street, he was immediately forced to stay with his back against the wall. This lasted an hour, then he had to return home again.

A group of courageous internationals in town regularly and with considerable risk stage food convoys towards the inner city. Yesterday, they managed to come as close as Manger Square and were able to distribute food and medicines, for which the inhabitants are enormously grateful. At present there more and more international and Israeli peace movement convoys bringing essentials into the besieged towns, including Jenin. My own group of the United Civilians for Peace yesterday accompanied a convoy of the International Church Committee into Ramallah and more convoys are coming. It is the least what can be done.

Elias himself, who lives in an area where fortunately the neighbours have access to each other and can provide help, says that he was left with barely half an hour to do shopping. In front of his house, some twenty of youth, some of whom he knew, sat on the pavement for some hours, guarded by soldiers. During the lifting of the curfew, they were picked up from the street and their IDs confiscated. One of the youth was handcuffed, blinded and taken away, the others could go. Elias’ family was too frightened to leave the house.

It is very dangerous to walk on the streets during curfew. One man from Bethlehem in desperate need of food took the risk last Tuesday to go to Beit Jala during opening hours there. He was shot dead at the Baab al-Zqaaq junction some two hundred meters from our house. Friday a man in Beit Sahour was killed in a rain of bullets when he simply wanted to open his shop for the soldiers, who would otherwise blow up his door. I hear of people who for long periods remained under their beds during gun, helicopter or tank fire. “They shoot at every dubbaane [fly],” says Janet.
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The people increasingly become tired, depressed and nervous. It is not just the paralysis one feels of not being able to move but also the relentless attack – in the name of defense – on Palestinian society as a whole. The news reaches a point that one simply feels powerless. We were astonished to hear that Mary’s uncle’s lands are presently flattened for an access road to Har Homa, the Jerusalem settlement to the north of Bethlehem. As if the present occupation is not enough. It is the cumulation of distressing news, anxiety about loved ones, concern about properties, and shooting outside which play on the nerves.

It is also difficult to hear people crying on the phone. Mary is called from Dubai where Palestinian family are terribly worried about a sister who is in the village of Birzeit, close to Birzeit University, where Friday house to house searches were conducted in student facilities. Of course such anxious phone calls go on all the time.

In a way, many feel as if they are somehow dying. Yesterday I typed a diary from a matriculation student at a Bethlehem school. Her main realities and metaphors are about dying and burial – Bethlehem as a dead place where people are buried alive in their houses. Many feel terribly hurt by the siege of the Church of Nativity, a source of pride but now a sign of the total vulnerability to which the society is exposed. Whether it is one’ house, services, amenities, land, or religious symbols – everything is threatened to be taken away. A neighbour, who stays in Jerusalem because of her work, says she refuses at the moment to change her clothes or buy new ones, as if she is mourning.

The one space which, at least for us, has not yet been occupied is the home. It is kept clean very much. We eat the Easter cookies – primarily made for visitors – all ourselves. Of course, the children greatly determine the rhythm of life, the regular giving of milk, the bath, the food which Jara does not want to take. The children keep us busy. In the evenings I don’t try to watch films. Any escape will turn into a cold shower when reality seeps in.
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Fortunately Jara can leave the house in our neighbourhood and meet the neighbours’ children by climbing through the gardens. Yesterday we suddenly heard loud gun fire from approaching tanks and Jara quickly clamped on my legs. After a minute she was playing again. When we call her back home, she starts arguing: “Mama, the tank is near Gaby [500 meters away, that means far enough]. Don’t be afraid.” She learns from the neighbour’s children that putting grass on the streets will not stop the tanks but that rocks are needed. Her main interest is playing the ball. When the ball falls down into another neighbour’s garden, I run and throw it back. Jara cannot be consoled. I should have brought her to the ball so that she could have thrown it back herself.

For Tamer I sing old songs of Mama Cash, “There Is a New World Coming,” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” When the tanks and APCs pass by I raise my voice. Tamer sleeps on, peacefully, then hesitatingly opens his eyes to look into the sun.


2016-10-24T07:34:26+00:00 April 22nd, 2002|Categories: News|