Over the past three weeks, we have been monitoring media and news sources in order to give Sabeel website visitors a perspective on events in Palestine not given by much of the mainstream media. Since the first Israeli shelling of Palestinian towns on October 12 - the attack helicopters targeting of Ramallah and Gaza City - we have added 1-6 news stories, articles and human rights reports daily and archived them on the site. Last night, we were unable to update the site...
Yesterday appeared to be an "ordinary" day in the conflict, until we received a call at 4pm from Beit Jala to say that the town was under heavy bombardment from Israeli tanks in the Jewish settlement of Gilo across the valley and from US-built attack helicopters in the sky above. While my wife Amira and I were trying to find a way to get home to Beit Jala, our immediate concern was for the welfare of Amira's family in the town.
Yesterday was the seventh time Beit Jala had been shelled in less than 2 weeks - a fate suffered by the people of many Palestinian towns. The attacks had become almost part of the routine, but this time was worse, much worse. No part of Beit Jala was safe last night, as attacks took place all over town as well as in Beit Sahour (Shepherds' Fields), Al-Khader and Aida Refugee Camp in the Bethlehem area, and other towns and cities in Gaza and the West Bank. We had always made sure we were home before dark, as the previous attacks took place at night, trying to live our lives as much as possible during the day. Yesterday, the bombardment started during daylight before many people had a chance to get home. They were picking olives in their fields, visiting relatives, or like us, working. Many of our relatives were away from home, as Amira's sister Marina explains in a letter to friends of Inad Theatre:
"Because the shelling started early, half of my family was out. We started calling them to locate them. My brother was working on a building somewhere near the checkpoint, so we could not reach him. My sister and her husband who is British were at work in Jerusalem and we were able to get to them to tell them not to come home.
My aunt and two cousins went to check on her elderly paralyzed father and were stuck there. Their house was shelled so she had to get help from the neighbours to get her parents out of the house with my two cousins, thank God, they were safe. They had to stay at the neighbours; since there was no way they could reach the house without being killed. My uncle and his two sons were in the middle of the road going to get a doctor for his father-in-law when he was caught in the middle and had to hide at a house. A missile went through the wall, but luckily, they were not injured then they ran home when things got a tiny bit quieter.
At last, my brother got safely home; he argued with Palestinian police, who were trying to get people away from the shelling, to get to his wife and two daughters."
We were stuck in Jerusalem, and spent the night at a friend's house in Beit Safafa, the Palestinian village on the other side of the checkpoint. We remained in constant touch with family and friends over the phone. As we could hear the helicopters firing overhead and on television we could see pictures of homes being fired upon, trying to work out if our family or friends were being hit. What we saw and heard is indescribable - the fear of infants as machine gun bullets and shells fly past their windows. We had thought that our home was relatively safe - as it is at the top of Beit Jala in an area still under Israeli control, they have no reason to fire towards us.
We shared the anger, fear and frustration of Marina writing last night:
"I felt that there is no use in telling anybody what is happening here tonight because I lost hope in anybody being able to do anything, and because there is nothing fair on this earth. I am so angry and so frustrated at everything and everybody!
Since 4:30 pm, we have been under heavy shelling by Israeli tanks and helicopters. The shelling was targeting all houses and residential areas in Beit Jala, Aida refugee camp and Al-Khader village, near Beit Jala. This shelling continued until about ten in the evening and we are not sure whether it will stop or not tonight.
The factory across my house, about five meters away was hit, my cousin's car parked outside the house was totally damaged and the only thing we could do was sit in the inside room, all together.
I called my cousin who lives in Aida refugee camp and has four daughters the eldest is eight. She said their house had a huge bullet come through so they evacuated the house and smuggled themselves to relatives in Bethlehem. I am telling you this was for me the last night I could take; I felt I could not live anymore with this fear and danger. We tried to hide my nieces behind a cupboard in an inside room, but they are babies and cannot sit still.
We still cannot know who and whose houses have been hit, because local TV stations and mosques have been asking people to sit in a safe place in their homes and to stay away from windows. I do not think anywhere is safe."
Back at home in Beit Jala this morning, I searched the web for reports on last nights events. The ones I found, including those from Arab and other alternative sources which we had used over the last few weeks, were disappointing. None told the entire story of the bombardment of Beit Jala, so for the first time I felt the need to write something myself. This is simply the story of one family on one night in Beit Jala. Unfortunately, it is repeated in towns throughout Palestine. We will continue to strive to find alternative sources, articles and reports to add to the Sabeel site. Check them out at www.sabeel.org, and join us in prayer and action for an end to the massacre - statements and prayers are on the site.
Dan Richards in Beit Jala
PS It's 7pm Thursday night and the bombardment has just begun again.
The electricity has just gone off.