LETTER FROM BETHLEHEM
October 23, 2001

 Wholesale deaths in Bethlehem

I never wanted to lose hope of peace and reconciliation. I was always afraid that the day would come when this hope would disappear. I always pray and try to push this fear to the back of my mind thinking that the Israelis would come to terms with the fact that the Palestinians want to live in dignity and freedom, and that they canít continue to deny that with their lies. But for the past five days, the Israeli tanks and bulldozers have been roaming freely in the streets of Bethlehem, shooting and killing the Palestinians left and right, not caring about being condemned. They know very well that they can get away with murder, as usual.

One of my students called me on Friday, right after the assassination of one of her relatives, and said, ďWhat you are teaching us of love and forgiveness is not convincing anymore. How can you ask us to love our ďenemyĒ when they are shooting and hunting us like animals? I feel so angry and frustrated. Five members of our [extended] family were shot and killed in three days. I hate them.Ē I found no words and I felt helpless. What can I tell this 18-year-old student? How can I calm her down under the circumstances? We, the Palestinian teachers, do not teach hatred of Jews, they teach it to us because of their actions against civilians. Every time I talk to a foreign audience about the Palestinian struggle, the Palestinians are accused of teaching hatred against the Jews. The ugly crimes against the Palestinians breed retaliation. I donít know why the Israeli people donít yet understand that. I thought they were smarter than that. Israeli right-winged fundamentalists scream and demand more severe actions against Palestinians to teach them a lesson. Donít they know that people fight back when they are cornered? Donít they know that they used their power and control to impose their demands on others to get what they want? Do they think that the world revolves around their fingertips and gives them what they want without any consideration to other human beings? So many questions that are left unanswered hover in my head, but the strongest question is WHY?

A mother was shot and killed while running away with her children from Beit Jala to her parentsí house in Bethlehem. She thought it was safer for her kids to be there. The Israeli sniper shot her in the neck killing her on the spot. Then two teenage boys, one of 16 years of age in the Nativity Square going home from church. The other of 19 in his own home in Beit Jala while he was trying to get a blanket for his younger brother from the second floor of the house. Another mother of six was killed in her own home in Aida Refugee camp, and another pregnant woman going from a nearby village to the hospital in Bethlehem to deliver her baby; the Israeli soldiers refused to let her go, so she died together with her unborn child. And the list gets longer and longer with every passing day, and the fear of being shot at by snipers is growing, to an extent that we donít even go near our own windows or doors.

Tonight, Monday 22nd, the Holy Family Maternity Hospital was bombed and shelled and the doctors and staff hurried to remove the newborn babies to a safer place. Are those little ones terrorists too? Or does their God justify the killing of innocent people? I wonder!

I am tired of trying to convince the foreign public of our cause and defending our struggle against the occupation. How can anybody believe our struggle as legitimate when they are poisoned and brainwashed by the Israeli lies? This land belonged to the Jews three thousand years ago and now they have the right of return. The Israelis try hard to prove that they were here first, and we, the Palestinians, have no right to share this land. Itís OK for them to shoot, kill, confiscate, demolish and assassinate in the name of survival and security, and our fight of survival is called ďterrorismĒ. When will they acknowledge the fact that they wonít have their security as long as we are oppressed. I donít agree with violence, donít misunderstand me, but every country had to fight for freedom, all you have to do is read the history of the different countries to realize what Iím talking about. Why canít we fight to get our freedom when the so-called peace talks were given a chance many times but to no avail? I truly believe that the present Israeli government does not want any peace with the Palestinians and they come up with the different excuses every time we come close to an agreement.

 Susan Atallah

Coordinator English at St Joseph School for Girls, Bethlehem

Member of board Arab Educational Institute

Bethlehem, * 23 October, 2001