Olive Branch - Issue No. 108 - Tuesday, 23 October 2001
Dear Friends, Brothers and Sisters,

MORE ON OLIVE BRANCH and previous ISSUES
at: http://go.to/nonviolence

“We have done it and it was a real success” This is the least that we can say about today’s “Solidarity Convoy for Peace” from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. I would like to share with you some of details and my own first impressions:

-         We didn’t expect so many people will join the convoy from both sides: at the checkpoint, almost 200 cars arrived full of people (at least 1000), from the other side, more 1000 managed to arrive to the same checkpoint and we had to wake with them by foot through the streets of Bethlehem until the Nativity Square (around 4 Kms). When we arrived at the Nativity Church many others joint us and became at least 5 to 7 thousands.

-         We didn’t expect that the soldiers will let us enter Bethlehem even if we have informed them in advance, we where astonished the officer at the checkpoint told me politely: “We will let you enter in peace without any problem”. In fact, it seems they had order not to make any problem with us and even to withdraw completely from all the area, we didn’t see any soldier, any Military Jeep, any tank, even if the night before there was a very heavy battle in all the street of Bethlehem. They knew that it is wise to hid all that in front of hundreds of journalists who joint us with their cameras, since we used to tell them: “If they let us in it is good, if they don’t let us in it is better”.

-         I was very shocked to see the huge amount destruction inside Bethlehem and every where, as if there was a battle field in all the streets, if as the Barbarians passed from there. You barely recognized that this is Bethlehem that we know very beautiful after the rehabilitation of its entire infrastructure for the Jubilee year. I estimate that that reparations of the damages will cost millions… and who will compensate the poor civilian people who are not working since more than one year?

-         The participation of all the Churches Leaders including some Moslems Sheiks was really great and very positive. I was very touched to see the Sheikh sitting nearby the bishops at the alter inside the Saint Catherine Church, and to hear him speaking from that same alter about the Moslem-Christian brotherhood and mutual respect since we are the same people facing the same destiny of suffering and having the same aspiration for liberation.

-         The most important think in this convoy is the message we wanted carry with us from the City of Al-Aqsa and the Resurrection to the City of the Nativity of the Prince of Peace, it is a message of PEACE like the song of the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace to men who enjoy his favor. We wanted to say to our people: “Peace be with you, don’t be afraid, we are with you”. We wanted to say to the Israeli soldiers: “Leave us in peace and you will have peace”. We wanted to say to the Israeli people: “You want peace and security? Make justice to the Palestinian people”. We wanted to say to the whole world: “Please, help both of us to built peace”. And as Moses said to Pharaoh we say: “LET OUR PEOPLE LIVE”.

-         I had a personal experience that I would like to share with your also: I don’t know how I had the courage to jump over a cement block in front of the tomb of Rachel were solider were hidden in their watching towers and I said loudly on the loud Speaker addressing the speech to the soldier: “We came with a message of peace for you, we give you free ticket to leave Bethlehem and to return to Tel Aviv”. We were astonished to see that this main road of Bethlehem in front of tomb of Rachel was also open while is was blocked since more than one year.

-         I am now more convinced than before nonviolence is a powerful strength, and unfortunately our people didn’t use enough. I say always: “the Palestinian people is strong with stones more than weapons, and is stronger with Olive Branches than stones”. Therefore, I repeat again and again that we have to throw our stones and weapons and hold only the arm of the Olive Branch which NONVIOLENCE.

Don’t think after this rosy narration we resolved the entire problem and imposed a solution for the whole conflict, it was just a small drop of water in the ocean of this bloody situation full of hatred and rage. Imagine, that when we left Bethlehem at 3.00 p.m, both sides return to shoot as if shooting is a hobby which is becoming an addiction and they cannot quit it. The hidden soldiers and tanks appeared again from behind the hills to create another hell in Bethlehem and we don’t know if they heard our message of peace, or the order to Mr. Bush: Go our soon from areas “A”. It seems that Mr. Sharon and company didn’t hear or don’t want to hear.

You will find in today’s Olive Branch a lot of other documents which deal almost with the same subject: the situation in the Holy Land. It seems that we became all obsessed with this subject. But it seems also that many people became of interested about this subject and wrote to the leaders of the world asking them to intervene.

1)    APPEAL FROM BETHLEHEM from the Arab Educational Institute.

2)    Letter from Bethlehem (1) from Toine van Teeffelen, which will be from now on a successor to the “Bethlehem Diary.

3)    Report from Bethlehem, by George and Raed Rishmawi from the rapprochement center between peoples.

4)    DSPR update about the situation in the Holy Land, by  Dr. Bernard Sabella, Executive Secretary, Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees, Middle East Council of Churches, Central Office / Jerusalem.

5)    Occupation Cheats Children from Basic Education, By Dr. Maria C. Khoury.

6)    Letter of Pax Christi International to H.E. Romano Prodi.

7)    Letter of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to the British Government.

I would like at the end of this editorial to thank all of you, especially the journalists, who joint us in the convoy to Bethlehem, and all who couldn’t come and send us hundreds of solidarity letters and joint us in their spirits with their prayers. I really and deeply appreciate your sincere feelings and deep concern.

And let us continue to pray and work for a Just Peace & True Reconciliation.

With my best wishes from Jerusalem the City of HOPE                           Fr. Raed Abusahlia

 

 

APPEAL FROM BETHLEHEM

Arab Educational Institute

21 October 2001

While the world and the Palestinian people are feeling sad and in solidarity with the American people after the recent terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and while we denounce all forms of escalation and killings of innocent civilians in the United States and Afghanistan and elsewhere, the Palestinian people is now living under state terrorism.

 

The Arab Educational Institute, affiliated to Pax Christi, calls on peace-loving people to bear pressure on the Israeli government to stop its reoccupation and assassination policies in the Palestinian occupied territories. In the Bethlehem area, we witness how this new policy of escalation has created a wave of violence and fear, sieges and closures even tighter than already imposed, human rights violations, more economic pressures, food and medical shortages and educational restrictions. More than 30 tanks and armored cars presently surround Bethlehem, fire live ammunition and cause loss in human lives and damage in property. Three days ago three Intifada activists were burnt to death in their car and during their funerals three more civilians were killed. One of them was a pregnant woman who died at an Israeli checkpoint on her way to the hospital. A 19-year old Palestinian from Beit-Jala was shot in his house in the neck by an Israeli sniper. Saturday a young Palestinian woman was killed and a boy who happened to leave the Church of Nativity. Schools have been closed; most people are unable to move, even to fulfil their duty in consoling the families of the deceased. In addition to those killed, more than thirty civilians have been injured, including several ones because of an helicopter attack. AEI had to cancel a two-day workshop organized by Pax Christi on non-violent forms of resistance because the invitees, including the Latin Patriarch’s secretary father Raed Abusahlia, were unable to access the institute’s premises.

 

In its responsibility as an educational institute, AEI calls on governments, nations and institutions in America and Europe to interfere and create an international and peace keeping force to impose a ceasefire and the immediate implementation of UN resolutions 242 and 338 to end the Israeli military occupation and ongoing violations of human rights. Peaceful negotiations must start immediately in order to achieve Israeli withdrawal and a just and lasting peace and reconciliation. A delay in an international intervention to stop the present escalation will lead to a dangerous spiral of violence and to lack of the rule of law in our Palestinian society.

Letter from Bethlehem (1)

Toine van Teeffelen

The “Letter from Bethlehem,” a successor to the “Bethlehem Diary,”  is composed and  edited by

-         Toine van Teeffelen, educational consultant and project manager at the Arab Educational Institute (AEI) in Bethlehem and local coordinator of the “United Civilians for Peace” initiative

-         Susan Atallah, coordinator English at St Joseph School for Girls in Bethlehem.

-         Ala’a Oweineh, student at Birzeit University.

 

Monday, October 22

 

A war came over Bethlehem. On Monday morning early, at a quiet moment when the taxis start driving again over the desolated streets, I dare to leave our house. It feels like the morning after. The windows of the nearby Hodali building at Cinema square are all broken. The street is full of glass, and the stones of the surrounding houses show white bullet holes. There are damaged or destroyed cars along the streets, burnt tyres, garbage holders fallen aside, rocks everywhere, a smell of powder smoke. The bakeries and pharmacies are closed. Today the schools, Bethlehem University, shops and public institutions will be closed too. The Qara’a building near Bab al-Zqaaq, where at better moments the Bethlehemites are used to hold their parties, is severely damaged; some floors are burnt out from inside and outside. Like scenes of Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. During the past days gun battles raged between the Israeli army and young Palestinian gunmen, apparently from all Palestinian factions. Tanks entered into a significant part of the northern section of Bethlehem, including ‘Azza camp, the University Road, and even into the main street Madbasseh. Monday morning early, there is only sporadic shooting. Otherwise, an every silence, passers by watching their surroundings with disbelief.

***

No doubt, the Israeli army has been using violence indiscriminately and disproportionally. While leaving the Church of Nativity on Saturday, a young man was killed on Manger Square by ammunition fired from the Ta’amreh area, some three kilometers to the east. The day before, a woman of Beit Jala fled into a shop for safety but was shot in the neck and died. At a checkpoint not far from Bethlehem a woman at the moment of delivery was held up by soldiers and died together with her child. Dozens of people were injured due to shellings directed at civilian apartments and buildings. The Antoniana building for the elderly was damaged, even the Husseini hospital on the road to Beit Jala. According to local TV, a man was injured or killed while standing inside the hospital. Yesterday Palestinian fireworkers could not appropriately extinguish a fire in Azza camp due to Israeli shooting. Few could leave their house due to the ongoing reign of terror. Since the June 1967 war, it has not occurred that one could not feel safe in any place in town. Now, on Monday morning, the people come out and breathe a little, don’t know what to say.

                                                            * * *

Sneaking through little streets, I yesterday visited a press conference held by the mayor of Bethlehem, Hannah Nasir, and Salah Tamari, a member of the Legislative Council of the Palestinian National Authority. Only few foreign journalists were present. Perhaps they were not interested due to the war in Afghanistan, as Tamari said, or because it was difficult to enter Bethlehem safely. The mayor called the Israeli entrance into the PNA areas “state terrorism” and a dangerous escalation, and asserted that this policy was intended to kill the option of re-starting the peace process. I ask him about the need for international observers. The Dutch initiative “United Civilians for Peace,” of which I am the local coordinator, brings in Dutch civilian observers in various Palestinian areas who work for Palestinian and Israeli human rights and peace organizations. However, the press conference is suddenly broken up because of the news that a boy from ‘Azza camp was killed.

                                                            * * *

Israeli tanks were passing by my house, at the entrance of ‘Azza camp, and also by the house of my family in law on the Bethlehem University Road. There was continuous shooting, from Friday on, during both the night and the day. We were forced to stay at home at my family in law’s, me sneaking out at some opportune moments to bring in food from our own house. Mary, my Palestinian wife, was tired of sitting and started walking in the house. Our daughter Jara of almost four, was all the time jumping around, in need to release her energy. When shelling was very heavy, my family stayed in the bathroom. Mary and Jara built a logo house there, to kill the time. Using a plastic filter as megaphone, Jara chanted a rhyme that her school kids had adapted to suit political circumstances:

Battich, Shamaam

Sharon dzahlak fi hammaam

(Watermellon, yellow mellon

Sharon slips in the bathroom).

Fortunately, she still does not know the connection between shooting and pain and injuries. “Leesh wawa?” (Why is there pain?), she asks when she sees the injured people on TV. And when we want to take herb tea while the shooting is going on, she proposes to pick the herbs outside in the garden. No way.

I am calling with the Dutch volunteers and the Dutch press. Friends and family are calling too and we keep ourselves busy watching TV (we’ll see our street on the Qatari Al-Jazira station) and answering phone calls. Jara takes a shoe in her hand as if it is a mobile phone, starts talking loudly, walking emphatically in the room, making gestures with her arm. The local TV appeals to give food and bread to those needed in the area, and there are also calls for donating blood. A journalist asks whether in all those six year I live here I never thought about leaving. I respond that my wife’s family is here. And, when the people leave, what will be left of Bethlehem?

 

Report from Bethlehem
George and Raed Rishmawi

Dear Everybody,

Until this moment of writing this report, I can hear the sound of the bullets in the background.

This has become a "NORMAL" thing to hear since four days.

While the world is busy watching the "War against Terror" Israel is waging a war against civilians in Palestine in one of its cruelest attacks against Bethlehem Area and other areas in Palestine.  I am sorry that I can not report to you about the situation in other areas, because I do not have enough information, but, I will try at least to let you know what is happening in Bethlehem area.

The Israeli tanks entered Bethlehem two days ago.  The tanks are destroying cars and property of people and shooting its bullets killing and injuring people randomly.  This is called terror, but, it looks like this is a legal terror, because it is not included with the list of the Targets that the USA defined as terror that should be eliminated.

The Palestinians tried to resist and send the Israeli troops and tanks away, but they are still there, some sources are talking about destroying two tanks, and killing two Israeli soldiers and injuring others, however, Israel did not confirm the news.

So far, 15 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli Occupation within the past four days.

I have to mention an important fact is that Bethlehem area was quite for more than a week since declaring the cease fire.  However, things started again after Three were assassinated in Beit Sahour with a car-bomb (Atef, Jamal And Issa Obayyat).  Prior to that, Ahmad Obayyat, from the same area was stepped to death by some civilian Jews in Jerusalem as he was working in a hotel.

Then the Israeli soldiers started to move in Bethlehem which made people to resist them.  While resisting, Abdul Kader Abu Srour from Aida refugees camp was killed.  However, Maryam Sabayheh was not doing anything when she was shot to death by the Israeli soldiers.

The Soldiers continued their way towards Bethlehem destroying property of the people.  Shooting randomly at the houses of the people.  Mousa George Abu Eid was inside his house when he got a bullet that left him dead.  Later Yousif Obayyat 15 years old, whose uncle was killed one day before, was very angry and he ran into the military checkpost that was set up recently in Bethlehem and stabbed one Israeli soldier but did not kill him, however, the soldiers shot the kid and killed him.  Aysheh Odeh from Deheishe refugee Camp was also killed by an Israeli bullet while being outside of her home without any reason to be shot.

Yesterday, Rania Kharoufeh, from Beit Jala, went out to buy some things and milk to her two kids, came back home in a coffin, because she was shot in her neck by an Israeli sniper.  Shortly after that, Johny Thalgieh, 19 years old, was also shot dead in Bethlehem while being in the Nativity Square.

Today, Mohammad Barqa'a  from Bethlehem was killed while standing outside of his house he was shot in the neck, and died later in the hospital, the man is deaf and he is a father of five kids.  Officer Nahed Al-juju was resisting the tanks when he was shot dead by an Israeli bullet.  Not a long time later, the tanks that all the others could not stop, fired a shell on the Beit Jala hospital killing Issa Fouzi Hlayiel and injuring a doctor there.

The hospital is always calling people to donate blood from all the different blood types.  It is a serious situation here in Bethlehem area.  Well, not only Bethlehem area, but this is what we see along the day.

By this, SO FAR, 12 funerals were made today, and there will be three tomorrow.  There is nothing on the local TV stations but the funerals and the Israeli tanks and pictures from the hospital of the Martyrs and blood and people crying and screaming.

What would our kids be when are raised to see these pictures and live this situation?  we ask you all to act to put an end to this terrorism.

I should not forget also the UN and the Red Crescent Ambulances that were shoot and 2 of the team were injured.

Below is a list of the Martyrs between 17/10/2001 to 21/10/2001 in Bethlehem area only. (the above mentioned ones)

  1.. Ahmed Ebyiat  - Killed while going back from his work – Jerusalem – Wednesday 17/10/2001
  2.. Atef Ebyiat, Assassination by a car-bomb– Thursday 18/10/2001
  3.. Issa Ebyiat, Assassination by a car-bomb– Thursday 18/10/2001
  4.. Jamal Ebeid Allah – Assassination by a car-bomb– Thursday 18/10/2001
  5.. Musa George Abu Eid – inside his house, Friday 19/10/2001
  6.. Abed Alqader Abu Srour – Aydah Refugees Camp Friday 19/10/2001
  7.. Mariam Subaih – El-Khader Village, bullets by a tank – Friday 19/10/2001
  8.. Rihab Nofal, a pregnant, was going to the Hospital, and they prevent her till she die – Friday 19/10/2001
  9.. Rania Kharoufa, a mother of two kids, bullets by a Helicopter (Apache), was trying to hide from it – Friday 19/10/2001
  10.. Aysha Odeh – Aydah Refugee camp – bullets inside home – Friday 19/10/2001
  11.. Joni Yousif Thaljiah – At the Nativity Square – Saturday 20/10/2001
  12.. Yousif Mohammad Ebyiat – Bomb clashes – Saturday 20/10/2001
  13.. Mohammad Sulaiman Baraq’a – Al-Azza (Beit Jibrin)  Refugees Camp – bullets in the neck in front of his house, he is disabled "deaf" father of five kids- Sunday 21/10/2001
  14.. Nahed Hussain Aljuju – Officer in the Palestinian National forces – While fighting. 21/10/2001
  15.. Issa Fouzi Abu Hlayiel – Bomb at the square of the hospital – Sunday 21/10/2001
DSPR update about the situation in the Holy Land
The situation here continues terrible. The right in Israel is on the ascendancy and seems to perceive the latest measures by the Israeli army in the towns and cities of the West Bank, including Bethlehem, as a reflection of Sharon's commitment to the rightist positions. Therefore, in the rally that was held last night in West Jerusalem 80,000 Israelis from the right and settlement blocs called on Sharon to declare the Palestinian National Authority an enemy and to deport Arafat out of the Territories. Thus, the assassination of Zeevi, the Tourism Minister, has made Sharon go over and undertake measures that put into doubt the sovereignty and "relative" independence of the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has undertaken a series of measures including the arrests of tens of activists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that declared its responsibility for the assassination of Mr. Zeevi. This appears to be not satisfactory to Mr. Sharon who insists that the PA hand over those responsible not only for the act itself but also those who are in the leadership of the Front. This is a most difficult demand and Sharon and the Israeli government know quite well the implication of this on the  internal Palestinian makeup. Thus, the demand seems made to justify the reoccupation of the West Bank towns and cities and the carrying out of arrests and assassinations by the Israelis themselves. That this is so is reflected in the spontaneous rejection of Sharon of the American request for immediate withdrawal from the West Bank towns. The American administration has also asked Israel to refrain from entering the Palestinian areas in the future.

The Israeli government led by Sharon is asking that the Palestinian Authority undertakes the implementation fully and without question of all the security demands made by Israel. This is not possible, even when there are "normal" conditions simply because the National Authority cannot be an extension of Israeli police and security. Of concern is that top military personnel in Israel are also making statements that interfere with the political echelon and its decision making processes. Thus, from all accounts the right in Israel is in a very strong position now to continue with its policies and activities aimed at destabilizing the Palestinian National Authority and to encourage the government and the military to undertake activities that would render thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians exposed to the evils of a renewed military occupation.
 

Unfortunately, the mayor of New York City fell into the trap of addressing the rally of the Israeli right, via satellite, and he spoke of the democratic values to which both the US and Israel subscribe apparently to the wrong audience. It is expected that such an American public figure who has been admired for the way he conducted himself and his city during the crisis following the September 11th terrorist attacks on the twin towers should have refrained from extending legitimacy to the rally of the Israeli right.

Some in the Labor Party, meanwhile, have warned that they would leave the Israeli government if the army stays in the West Bank towns and cities after the accomplishment of its specified tasks. How long would this take, nobody mentioned including those in Labor who contemplate the option of quitting the government. But clearly the right in Israel needs to be countered by the Center and Left of Center. The show of strength by the Israeli right in Jerusalem last night should not go unanswered. Peace loving people in Israel, Palestine and elsewhere should insist that this is not the way out. International legitimacy provides a basis upon which all peace loving people can join together to drive home to Mr. Sharon and the right in Israel the terrible consequences of their policies. Violence, on all sides, needs to stop, the occupying Israeli forces should withdraw right away and negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis should start immediately.

With best wishes,

Dr. Bernard Sabella
Executive Secretary
Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees
Middle East Council of Churches
Central Office / Jerusalem
 
 

Occupation Cheats Children from Basic Education

By Dr. Maria C. Khoury

The Israeli army is cheating us one more time from our basic right to education in this land. The only hope Palestinian children have for any future is a good education to be viable members of their society and of the world community. But unfortunately the Israeli Occupation continues to rob children out of their basic rights to a fundamental education. The Bethlehem area has not had school for the last four days. Schools can not open until it is at least safe on the streets. With Israeli military tanks choking up the city of Bethlehem since last Wednesday, gunfire everywhere, and the boom of tank shells day and night does not indicate a peaceful and just solution in sight. Teachers in the area report shooting from midnight to six in the morning. It is impossible for children to sleep through the night and the majorities have to leave their beds and sleep in lower areas of the house and away from windows or glass that might shatter in the middle of the night.

The Bethlehem area is suffering and seeing the worst this week but the Ramallah area also has areas under curfew where Israeli military tanks are blocking students from entering Birzeit University. The university has been officially closed since the Israeli Tourist minister was killed last Wednesday. People are denied freedom of movement even for going to work or going to the hospital. All members of the Palestinian society are punished when Israel feels pain. But who is keeping the score when over 700 Palestinians have been killed this year. Who is punishing the Israelis for the collective punishment they carry out? This collective punishment is absolutely wrong and punishes an entire group of people who most of them want to live in peace and harmony and co-exist side to side with their neighbors.

On Wednesday morning we woke up to a beautiful sunny day and gave glory to God that the two major checkpoints into Ramallah had been finally uplifted so it was not a two-hour drive to school from the village. For the first time this school year we did not have to see children getting out of one taxi at the checkpoint, carrying their heavy backpack which sometimes feels like it has rocks in it from the heavyweight books, walking quickly in front of soldiers, armed jeeps and tanks and picking up another taxi on the opposite side of the checkpoint (after a long wait of course) just to make it to school. The smile on children’s faces making it to school that day was like kids being in Disney World for the first time. It was a great sight and a welcomed change. However, quickly throughout the day rumors spread that the Israeli tourist ministry was killed.

There has been no quality education in Ramallah since that day. Even when the children make it to school, the teachers can not because the Israeli army has invaded all Palestinian areas. How sad that even the bullets have reached the Holy Nativity Church in Manger Square. How sad that people continue to die. It is very confusing to me what terrorism the international community is trying to fight these days when I see Palestinian children on a daily basis traumatized by the Israeli army. It is very confusing to me who the terrorists really are when my own children say “Mama, what if Sharon does like Sabra and Shatilla again” It is really confusing to me that an entire nation of people has suffered a catastrophe of the worst type since l948. It is so confusing to me when small children and university students cannot get their basic rights to education in the Holy Land. I can only take comfort in the words of Reinhold Niebuhr “God grant me the s! erenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

If you are a reader that can make a difference in the Holy Land by contacting your government officials for a just and peaceful resolution, the children of this region are in grave need of your help.

 

Letter of Pax Christi International to H.E. Romano Prodi

 

To H.E. Romano Prodi

President ofthe European Commission

Wetstraat200

B - 1000Brussels

Reference:  616PLKE                                Tuesday, 23 October 2001

Dear President Romano Prodi,

After the assassination of the Israeli Minister for Tourism of last week, Israeli forces and tanks intervened the City of Bethlehem and other places of the Palestinian territories. The Israeli military intervention may continue for days if not months.

Pax Christi International has some direct partners in the Holy Land. H.B. Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is the International President of our movement; and the Arab Educational Institute in Bethlehem is an Affiliated Organization with Pax Christi International. Our organization has a good contact and relationship with peace and human rights organizations in both the Israeli and the Palestinian communities. Earlier this year, a fact-finding visit was organized by Pax Christi International in which, as the main conclusion, a greater contribution of the EU in the peace process was emphasized. The EU should be not only a “payer” but also a “(political) player”!

Given the dramatic recent events in the Holy Land, and given the fact that a delegation of the European Union will visit Israel and Palestine in short time, we urge you the following:

- The EU should call for an immediate end of the Israeli intervention in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories.

- The EU should call for an immediate end of all forms of violence from all sides.

- The EU and other actors within the International Community should ensure the protection of the civilian population.

- The EU, the USA and the United Nations should press both parties to comply with all international resolutions and implement them immediately.

- The EU should call on the Israelis and the Palestinians to return soon to the table of negotiations in order to reach a just, comprehensive and durable solution based on the United Nations Resolutions, the international legitimacy and the concluded agreements.

We are afraid that the reoccupation of (cities at) the West Bank and the Gaza Strip endangers the future of both nations, and the stability of the region.

Yours Sincerely,

Etienne De Jonghe

International Secretary

 

Letter of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to the British Government
23 October 2001

Rt.Hon Jack Straw MP,

Secretary of State,

Foreign and Commonwealth Office,

King Charles Street,

London,

SW1A 2AH.

Dear Mr. Straw,

Israel-Palestine
The significance of the Prime Minister’s meeting with President Arafat only a week ago cannot be over emphasised. It not only indicated Britain’s commitment to the emergence of a “viable” Palestinian state but also HMG’s renewed commitment to find new ways of bringing about peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians in the deeply tortured Holy Land.  HMG will, without doubt, be greatly dismayed by the recent course of events in Israel-Palestine. Breaking the cycle of violence is now of even higher priority for the international community.

With this letter comes an Appeal from the 13 Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. Its calls attention to an “intolerable” state of affairs which has developed following the IDF’s prolonged incursions into Palestinian Territories since the regrettable, retaliatory assassination of the Israeli Minister of Tourism.

As of Friday 19 October, The Heads of Churches said, “tanks are everywhere; buildings have been sieged; some areas are under curfew and there is extensive shooting”. “We are particularly concerned about Bethlehem....with Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, Aida Refugee Camp, Al-Bireh, Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, and Gaza. The restrictions on movement preventing people going to work, attending school and even university, mean that Charitable Institutions, Hospitals, etc...are placed under great strain to care for residents and patients. Children everywhere are being traumatized.”

On Friday also church contacts in Bethlehem wrote, “Palestinians in the Bethlehem area have become almost used to being trapped in our town, particularly in the last 13 months of the Intifada. But, now, not only are we trapped, we also face the turret of a tank no matter which direction we look. (The Israeli occupation forces report they have deployed 30 tanks in the area now.) Life has come to a stop... There is no time to feel, to weep, death comes upon death, and destruction follows destruction.  As the shelling becomes louder and nearer, as we listen to the wailing of the ambulance sirens going nearby, we urge you not to leave us 'orphans.' Do not forget us in our time of trial. Pray for us, but in these days, more importantly, contact your government officials urging them to intercede before more people are killed.”

This week, these same (Lutheran) contacts have written, “In the last 3 days, the people of Bethlehem are going from funeral to funeral, the sounds of the calls to prayer from the mosques and the sad bells of mourning ringing from the churches fill the air of Bethlehem. Manger Square which was renovated as a place to welcome the new millennium and visitors from around the world is now transformed into a site of mourning, as the numerous families grieving receive their condolence visits there in these days.

Yet, in the midst of all this death and destruction, the world beyond seems ignorant of the reality in which we are living. Just yesterday evening one of our friends called from Germany asking about us. She said she was worried when hearing in the news that "some bullets were fired in the air of Bethlehem." Well, yes, some bullets definitely were in the air.... But, this hardly describes the situation in Bethlehem. What is worrying us is that within less than three days sixteen people have been killed, mostly civilians in their home. And as

we write this, just 300 meters from the church, tank shells are exploding and heavy machine guns are firing.

Everyone is asking now, "How far will Israel go with this aggression?" Yesterday evening even the local public hospital in Beit Jala came under attack. The hospital director reported that it was hit at least five times within less than an hour. A young man was killed in the premises of the hospital and later, Amjed Abu Emya, the anaesthesiology technician was injured. Tanks were positioned at the entrance of the hospital for a number of hours…..”

There is no need to say more. I hope we can be assured that the British Consul-General’s office is in very close touch with the situation, particularly in the Bethlehem neighbourhood, and is able to offer more than moral support to those caring for the injured and traumatized.

I would also wish, at this critical time, to put it to HMG that the failure of the Israeli authorities to admit any parallel and connection between their assassination of Palestinian political leaders in the West Bank and Gaza and the assassination of the Tourism Minister is quite unacceptable. Furthermore, when did the Israeli Government last hand over Israeli citizens to face justice in Palestinian courts for their acts of violence and terrorism in the West Bank? Whither the Israeli Government’s perception of justice and equity?

Would you not further agree that the Israeli Government must be aware that it would now be political suicide for President Arafat to hand over anyone to the Israeli authorities when the fear is that person would be unlikely to experience justice or fair treatment and would be more likely to be tortured and generally mistreated. Of what relevance is the fact that such an agreement was part of the Oslo agreement when the Israeli authorities have themselves declared the Oslo agreement and the peace process dead?  The Israeli Government’s “righteous stance” could be construed as politically mischievous at best but could just as easily be interpreted as being c            onsistent with a long-determined plan to ensure the stillbirth of a Palestinian state, despite some of Mr. Sharon’s recent pronouncements.

I hope that in your reply you will able to indicate the current steps which HMG is taking with other interested parties to bring sufficient pressure to bear on the “intolerable” situation in Israel-Palestine so that an Israeli withdrawal is secured and negotiations resume in the search for peace and justice on the basis of UN resolutions.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Renshaw

Coordinating Secretary for International Affairs
cc.        Ben Bradshaw MP, Minister of State

            Christopher Prentice, Head of Middle East Department, FCO

.           CTBI Middle East Delegation, March 2001

            Ecumenical contacts in Israel-Palestine

 

 

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Fr. Raed Abusahlia

Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
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