:Last update from the Holy Land and Bethlehem area
Date: 3/8/2002 11:43:29 AM Pacific Standard Time
From: latinpat@actcom.co.il


Dear friends, Brothers & Sisters,
 
I am sure that you are aware that the whole Palestinian areas are under Israeli Military attacks and today Bethlehem area was the new target.. Until now more than 50 Palestinians were killed, most of them are civilians.. It is real war... which should have an immediate end soon, because if it continues we will not know what will happen.... more massacre will be committed by the government of Sharon and his army.. Therefore, I ask you to stand firm with us and do what ever you can in order to help..
 
I send you some last updates about the situation and I will send more tomorrow, especially a message signed but the 13 heads of churches in Jerusalem addressed to the public opinion of both peoples and to the world... another call signed by them will be addressed to the diplomats of foreign countries in order to make more pressure on their government to stop this tragedy.
 
Please pray for us
 
With my best wishes from Jerusalem                 Fr, Raed Abusahlia
 

ISRAEL CONTINUES ITS WAR ON PALESTINIAN CIVILIANS

Invasion of Bethlehem area

Update from Badil Center in Bethlehem
 
 

Update (8 March, 10:30 a.m.):
Military Attack and Invasion in the Bethlehem  Area: Irtas and al-Khader villages; towns of al- Doha, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, Beit Jala; Aida,  Azza, and Deheishe refugee camps

In the early morning hours of 8 March, Israeli F- 16 bombers attacked the Bethlehem police and
security compound for the third consecutive day. These bombing attacks have resulted in massive
damage to Palestinian homes, shops, schools, and  public institutions within a radius of 500
meters from the declared target. The F-16 attack  was followed by heavy shooting from Israeli
tanks and gun-ship helicopters, which lasted  until 6 o'clock in the morning. No Palestinian  shooting occurred before or during the Israeli  attack.

The current Israel invasion of the Bethlehem  area began with tank incursions from the  southern (Irtas, al-Khader, al-Doha), eastern  (Beit Sahour), and northern (Jerusalem) borders  of the district, where the Israeli army took up  positions in strategic locations, many of them  in private Palestinian homes. The tank incursion  was accompanied by heavy shelling and shooting  from gunship helicopters, which have so far  resulted in three Palestinian deaths and at  least 12 injuries, especially in the refugee
camps of Aida and Deheishe. The Palestinians  killed are: Suleiman Al-Dibbs (37) and Ibrahim
Al-'Araj (24) from Aida refugee camp, and Sa'ed  Al-S'oud 'Id (17) from Deheishe refugee camp,
all of them shot by helicopter fire. Among the  persons seriously injured is also the secretary
of BADIL's Board, Mr. Adanan Ajarmeh, a resident  of Aida camp employed at the al-Moqassed  Hospital in Jerusalem, who sustained chest  injuries from helicopter fire.

Since the morning hours, the Israeli assault has  focused on Aida refugee camp in the northern
part of the Bethlehem district. Israeli ground  forces have launched house-to-house searches  following the model of the recent attack on the  refugee camps of the northern West Bank (Balata,  Jenin, Nur Shams, Tulkarem). Israeli soldiers  took up position in the camp's school operated  by UNRWA and in several private homes, and are  causing major damage to civilian homes and  properties. Deheishe refugee camp located in the  southern part of the district is encircled by  tanks, however ground forces have not yet  entered the camp.

The Israeli government already declared that it will continue the massive military assault on the Palestinian people,  irrespective of the half-hearted international  protests and diplomatic efforts to stop the  current escalation. The latter includes  yesterday's decision by the US administration to  renew the mission of General Tony Zinni to bring  about a cease-fire based on the Tenet-Mitchell  plan which has been proven  ineffective since  the summer of 2001.

 

Appeal from the department of the Palestinian refugees

in the Middle East Council of Churches in Jerusalem

Dear Friends, Partners and Colleagues,

The intensity of the “war” raging on in the Holy Land is not sparing anyone from its severe consequences. Innocent people, from both sides, are falling prey to the stubborn policy of Mr. Sharon whose narrow perspective on the conflict makes brute force essential in the process of bringing “Peace with Security” to his own people. On the Palestinian side, the perpetration of violent acts and suicide bombings that mostly leave victims among civilians are presented as a response to Israeli military incursions, targeted assassinations and incursions into populated refugee camps and other localities with often tragic consequences to the civilian population.

Israelis and Palestinians are thus intertwined in violence and counter violence. The cycle is vicious and appears unending. The logic behind the use of organized military force and individual acts of violence is a distorted one. It will not get us, Israelis and Palestinians, anywhere. On the contrary, the longer this vicious cycle continues, the more unlikely that we will be able to reach a workable solution for our common problems that involve not simply questions of peace and justice but also of how we are going to live side by side, in neighborly and normal relations, in the future.

As I write, the Israeli forces are encircling at least three refugee camps: Dheisheh and Aydah in Bethlehem and Nur Shams in Tulkarm in the northern West Bank. Friends from Bethlehem inform me that already five people have been killed: one woman who apparently resisted the entry of soldiers into her home was shot dead in Dheisheh refugee camp. The director of al Yamamah hospital in Bethlehem, Dr. Ahmed Othman, was killed, according to a friend, when he was touring the various departments of the hospital. Soldiers shot him because he was not supposed to be moving inside his own hospital. All staff were prohibited by the Israeli soldiers from leaving their quarters. The fear of friends with whom I spoke is that the entry of soldiers into the refugee camps could result in serious casualties among the civilian population that has nothing to do with the ongoing fighting. Besides, there is a concern that the contemplated actions of the Israeli army in Bethlehem and elsewhere would mean that thousands of families would have nothing to eat in the next couple of days. A friend from Beit Jala informs me that people were caught unprepared with the latest Israeli incursion. Accordingly, they have not made plans for additional provisions for food or medicine. One concern that Palestinians have is the fact that Israeli soldiers are shooting at ambulances indiscriminately and, that in so many cases, bona vide ambulances are not allowed to get to those injured or ill. Dr. Mustapha Barghouti from UPMRC reports that the Israeli military have denied entry to ambulances into Nur Shams refugee camp in Tulkarm where there are 70 injured, some seriously.

In Gaza, the news is not any better. This morning as I came into my office, I called Mr. Constantine Dabbagh, the executive secretary of the Gaza Near East Council of Churches office, as I normally do. His voice appeared low and sad as he informed me that General Al-Masri (Abu Hmeid), the Palestinian high-ranking security officer in charge of coordinating with the Israelis, who was shot dead by Israeli forces in cold blood was a good personal friend of his. In describing him, Mr. Dabbagh said that he was a pragmatic man who wanted to contribute to ending the vicious cycle of violence. The Israeli radio earlier on had reported, in Hebrew, that Abu Hmeid was killed as he was driving to positions where there was gunfire exchange with the purpose of working up a cessation to the exchange. The killing of Abu Hmeid was part of the unfortunate events that unfolded in the Gaza Strip during last night and this morning. These events saw the infiltration of a Palestinian gunman into a Jewish settlement Yeshiva (religious school) in Gush Kativ in the Gaza Strip who started tossing hand grenades into a filled classroom and shooting that ended up with the killing of five Yeshiva students, all 18 years old and with injury to at least a similar number of students.  As a result of this tragic incident, the Israeli army went out in force to retaliate resulting in the killing of Abu Hmeid and 18 other Palestinians between security personnel and civilians. From the best of sources, usually the Palestinian security personnel are stationed at Palestinian checkpoints for the purpose of ensuring public order and safety within the Palestinian population. Their killing, in all likelihood, was the result of shooting in cold blood as happened with General Abu Hmeid.

It is indeed sad that we are losing our young and best, on both sides. This is recurring daily. The pain and the trauma hitting all of us here is continuous. Both Israelis and Palestinians are in need of healing. This will not happen without a serious movement on the part of the international community and specifically the Powers, if they are still out there. Meanwhile, we appeal to you from DSPR/MECC to address immediately your governments, churches, media and various constituencies on the following:

First, immediate withdrawal of the Israeli military forces from all refugee camps in Bethlehem and Tulkarm and to insist on the Israeli government to refrain from entry into populated Palestinian areas at any time.

Second, to call for the start of immediate negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides in order to affect a truce on the ground and to proceed to examine the elements of a permanent solution.

Third, to impress on the Israeli government that holding the Palestinian civilian population hostage would not succeed in advancing the proper solutions to outstanding problems between the two sides.

Fourth, to appeal to both sides on the need to desist from acts of military nature and violence in order to give space to politicians to work things out.

Fifth, there should be no hindering of entry of medical; food and other needed commodities and services to populated Palestinian areas under siege.

I ask you, on behalf of DSPR/MECC, to keep all of us here in the Holy Land in your thoughts and prayers. May our politicians be guided to become statesmen so as the cycle of violence would stop and the prospects of healing and peacemaking would advance.

Dr. Bernard Sabella

Executive Secretary

DSPR Central Office

Jerusalem

+972-2-6271716 Fax

 

Tell the world...

By: Huwaida Arraf

Four-year-old Ahmed Khader’s heart raced with fear; the children of the neighborhood told him that we were the Israelis back in his home.  The eight of us were not occupation soldiers.  Rather we were foreign civilians (5 Americans, 2 Belgian and one Irish) who had come to the Balata Refugee Camp to express our solidarity with the people who had been invaded, terrorized and pillaged on a 4-day raid of their home – a refugee camp – by the Israeli military.

The Israeli Armed Forces had just pulled out of the camp that very morning of Monday March 4, 2002 when we arrived, and Ahmed, who had been locked in one room (8' X 10') with other members of his family for the 4 days of the Israeli raid, feared that they had returned.  Ahmed’s aunt explained that we were friends, and the boy cautiously warmed up to us.  Ahmed wouldn’t talk about what had happened to them.  He did however admit that he was scared, that he “wasn’t brave.”  Four days earlier, armed Israeli soldiers had broken into the Khader home and ordered the 3 women (including one pregnant and one elderly) and the three children aged 4-9 years, that were in the home, into one room.  They then proceeded to take over the rest of the home.  For the next 24 hours the women and children sat in the room, without food, without relief.  And since the Israeli army had cut the electricity in the entire camp, little Ahmed and his family sat in the dark.  The soldiers did once give the family the option to leave, but promised them that they would never come back.  Already refugees and with nowhere else to go, the family stayed.  The next day the soldiers gave permission to the women and children to go to the bathroom and for one of the women to quickly make sandwiches for the kids….

We walked into a small, meager home, where an elderly woman was sitting on the floor – a static-filled television set the only piece of furniture in the small room.  The woman turned to us crying as news of Bushra Abu Kweik and her children’s killing*  was being reported on the television screen.  “They’re killing all of our beautiful children.    They already took our homes and now they come after us in our refugee camps…”  I asked her if the Israeli soldiers had come into her home and she pointed to the gaping hole in the wall behind me… **

Everyone in the streets wanted us to see the damage that had been done to their homes and shops.  It was not possible to see it all.  Balata is home to approximately 22,000 Palestinian refugees who had been forced out of their homes in 1948, from towns and villages in what is now called Israel.  All had been abused and traumatized again by the Israeli Armed Forces.  Everyone had a story.  All of the homes we saw were severely damaged - windows blown out, walls dynamited as soldiers moved from home to home, and some homes completely destroyed….

In the narrow streets and alleyways of the camp, people could be seen clearing away rubble.  An elderly dark-skinned man began talking to me.  “I lost my son, my mother and my home, but I still thank God.  I have my humanity.”  Although I was running late for an appointment I stepped into what remained of this man’s home where I was introduced to his 12 daughters.  A week earlier, Abdallah’s son was killed by Israeli forces surrounding Nablus.  Abdallah’s mother died two days later.  The next day, the Israeli Army entered his home.  “I tried to speak to the soldiers in Hebrew as I’ve worked in Israel for over 30 years and know Israelis and Hebrew well.  One soldier saw a poster of my slain son on the wall and put out his cigarette butt in between my son’s eyes in the photo.  He called him a terrorist and said he deserved to die as we all [Palestinians] do.”  Abdallah’s daughters quickly forgot their reserve and began hurling questions, statements and accusations at me:  “The American president says we’re the terrorists, but who’s doing the terrorizing?”  What kind of people would steal the gold off a woman who has so little?  On top of taking our homes, killing our sons and coming after us in our refugee camps, they take women’s gold!  You tell them.  You tell the world that we’re not the terrorists.  We want our freedom and we will not give up our land.  Never.”  “I’m glad my mother died when she did,” said Abdallah.

I want to tell the world what I see.  I want to scream out against this injustice and madness, but who’s listening?  The refugees who I met in Balata asked me to be their voice, but is the world willing to listen?

I’m attaching a couple of photos from our visit to Balata.  If you are a journalist and would like more information or help with arranging an interview with anyone in Balata or any of the foreign civilians that visited Balata, please contact me at +972-52-642-709 or by email at huwaidaa@yahoo.com.

If you would like to help the residents of Balata in their efforts to rebuild their homes, and with the costs of the programs that are being established to work with the traumatized children, you can send donations to:

 Bank:  Arab Bank
Acct name: Popular Committee of the Nablus Governate
Acct No: 445000

You may also contact Ms. Samar Hawash at +972-9-238-3384; +972-9-239-1843; or +972-59-719-785 or by email at pwwsd@zaytona.com

Thank you for listening.

 

 

Witness to destruction

By: Adam Shapiro

The first thing you notice at the entrance to the Balata Refugee Camp is the overturned, burned out car stuck in a huge man-made crater in the ground.  But this was the battleground of the previous three days, as the Israeli Army sacked the camp and destroyed homes, cars, property, and lives with wanton abandon and without much purpose.  Other than to attack and terrorize a people who have nothing in this world and who have already been made homeless – and who have remained refugees for over 50 years.

Inside the camp, this alleged “hotbed of terrorism” the group of us eight internationals were met and greeted by the residents with inquisitive looks, “salaam aleikum” shouted from time to time, and lots of little kids running up to us to see who were these strangers.  All tried to make us feel welcome and when they learned that we were there in solidarity with the people of the camp and wanted to take pictures to show the world, we were pulled in many different directions at once to witness what the Israelis had done.

What they had done was obvious, and it was all over the camp.  Immediately noticeable, at eye level, was the black spray paint on the walls – arrows, numbers, Hebrew writing and stars of David, markings the soldiers made to allow themselves to navigate through the crowded camp.  Permanent markings of the three days of hell the camp endured.  We later found these markings inside people’s homes as well, painted on the walls.

Thirty homes were destroyed in the camp, but hundreds more effectively ruined and damaged.  The camp is densely populated and some alleyways between the buildings are barely wide enough for me – an average sized male – to pass through.  Other structures are just built wall-to-wall.  When the Israeli army took down a building – allegedly looking for weapons or rockets (no evidence of any found) – it meant that the neighbors’ buildings also were damaged.  The first place I visited was a destroyed home.  Next door, the building was still standing, but upon walking in, I discovered that the neighbor had lost his wall.  The home was also damaged by the demolition and the home utterly unusable.  If each house demolished results in the two or three neighboring buildings also being damaged beyond use, then the result is between 90 and 120 structures affected.  Each structure contains at least two (and usually more) apartments, housing anywhere from 10 to 40 people.  Therefore, at minimum, 900 people were left homeless by the home demolitions in the camp – this is the calculus of Israel’s war on the Palestinian people.
Walking through the streets of the camp, destruction was all around us.  Peering down alleyways, we inevitably spotted the chunks of stone, the twisted metal and the broken piece of furniture that indicated a home was demolished.  Cars had been set ablaze and riddled with bullet-holes – the carcasses lay in the streets as added testimony to the siege.  Every house we visited had a story to tell.  Some were simply shot up, others had tear gas thrown inside, while others were invaded and occupied by the soldiers.

We visited one home that had been occupied during the entire siege by Israeli soldiers.  Upon entering the house, the soldiers offered to allow the family to leave, but promised them they would never come back to the house.  The family stayed – three children (aged 4 to 9), two young women (one pregnant) and an elderly woman.  The man of the house – PLC member and leading figure in the camp, Hussam Khader – was not home for fear of his life.  The soldiers forced the family into one room – approximately 8x10 feet – and made them stay there the entire three days.  For the first twenty-four hours, not a single person was allowed to leave the room at all – not for the bathroom, not for food, not for water.  The soldiers ransacked the entire place – taking money and computer disks, breaking furniture and emptying drawers, ripping apart passports and overturning children’s beds.  We knocked at the door of the home when we arrived.  As we entered the sitting room, we heard child whimper – little Ahmed (four years old) was afraid we were the Israelis coming back to the house.  He is traumatized by the experience and needs to be near his mom and aunt constantly.  But he is tough, and before long he was playing with my camera.  He told me to follow him upstairs and there he showed me how the soldiers had ransacked his room.  He was amazed by the sight and asked me why the soldiers did this to him.

The last home we visited in the camp was located on the main street, near the cemetery.  A ground floor apartment was located adjacent to a store.  The main gate of the store was blown apart and the glass from the window lay in the street.  The back wall of the small store was torn down and you could see directly into the apartment behind – but there was not much to see.  Walking into the house we were unable to step on the floor directly – it was covered with clothing, broken dishes, broken furniture, etc.  The electricity was cut, so we had to poke around in the diminishing light until a portable fixture was brought in.  The lit room revealed the full destruction – even the washing machine was not safe from the brutality of the soldiers.  A fully veiled young woman (only her eyes showed) boldly came up to me and asked if I spoke English.  I replied that I did and that she could speak to me in either English or Arabic.  She explained that she was the oldest of four children in the house – 14-years old – and that her father was dead.  She led me over to where the kitchen had been and searched in the broken glass for something.  Finally, she pulled up a picture frame with a photo of her father in it and explained to me that Israeli spies had killed him in 1994.  In a flash she was back in the pile on the ground looking for another photo – that of her grandfather, also dead.  Now holding both pictures, this young Muslim woman, proud to know English and proud of her family, calmly explained what had happened when the soldiers came – how they had to flee and spend the night outside the camp in the nearby fields.  For more than fifty years they had been refugees, and now Israel wanted to attack them again.  But, she told me, struggling with her emotions and her sense of dignity, “they must know we are strong children and we won’t leave this land, my grandfather’s land.  We will return to the land which they occupied in 1948.”

These refugees, like those in the other camps, have lost everything and live with virtually nothing.  Now, day after day, the Israeli army is going after them in a pogrom deliberately designed to provoke and to strike terror in the hearts of an entire people.

Like little Ahmed Khader, the world must ask, why are the Israelis doing this?

---------------------------------------------------------------
Fr. Raed Abusahlia
 
Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
P.O.Box  14152 - Jerusalem 97500
E-mail address: latinpat@actcom.co.il
Personal e-mail: nonviolence@writeme.com
Patriarchate's Homepage: http://www.lpj.org
Personal Homepage: http://go.to/nonviolence
Fr. Labib's Homepage: http://www.al-bushra.org
My brother's Homepage: http://go.to/samipage