April 20, 2002: This is day 23 of the Israeli invasion and curfew on the twin cities of Ramallah and AlBireh. 120 thousand people have been confined to their homes for three weeks now.
The curfew is lifted for three hours every four days to allow us to buy basic foodstuffs, medicine and other vital commodities. Can you imagine what happens when this huge number of people try to do their shopping all at once within three hours? Although about half of the Ramallah cars have been completely smashed like cardboard boxes by the Israeli tanks, the ones that still run can cause impossible traffic jams with many of the roads blocked or damaged by the Israeli war machine. Lines of people, or more precisely crowds, form outside every shop or market place. Many can only afford the cheapest products and in very small quantities. When people meet each other, they take a minute or two to exchange news about friends and family. Thousands have been arrested, many killed or made homeless. Nothing but suffering, and people trying to pick up the pieces of their broken lives.
At St. Andrew’s we find ourselves luckier than others for more than one reason. There is an inner courtyard where the five children of three families living in the compound can play, though they keep their voices and laughter down so that the soldiers outside in the street wouldn’t hear them. Another reason why we are lucky is that we have access to the church. Three Sundays have gone by while under curfew and St. Andrew’s is the only church that has been able to hold a real Sunday morning service. The congregants, who enter the church through the back door, number about four or five adults and four or five youngsters including Kindy, the 14 year-old boy whose leg is healing from the gunshot wound he sustained.
The reflections for the first Sunday under curfew centered on The Good Shepherd. The second Sunday it was about the real meaning of Freedom, and the third about Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Rev. Kopti linked his reflections with the real life situation we found ourselves in.
We are all getting tired of our long confinement to which is added the constant sound of explosions as the Israeli army continues to explode its way into houses, shops, businesses, institutions, cultural centers, theaters, clubs and the different ministries as well as the municipality. They continue to destroy everything in their way including valuable documents, archives, research work, medical and dental clinics … etc … etc. In short, they are destroying the Palestinian people – their identity, their culture and their memory.
To pass the time in a positive way, Rev. Kopti organized a campaign of voluntary activity for the six teenagers and four children of the compound. They all set out energetically to do some spring-cleaning inside the church, the offices and adjacent youth club, compensating for the lack of exercise under curfew.
The youngsters also used their muscles to unload a truck full of food supplies donated by the church and people of Shefa-Amr, a town in Galilee. They then divided them into portions that were distributed when the curfew was lifted for a three-hour break later in the week.
The families gratefully received the food parcels, but many who crowded outside the gates wee not as lucky. There wasn’t enough for everybody. We can no longer repeat the words: “give us this day our daily bread” lightly. The prayer now takes on a more profound meaning and urgency.
Some parts of Ramallah are still without electricity, running water or telephones. One family called the Pastor to ask for drinking water that he will only be able to deliver in the curfew break. Garbage is piling up in the streets of Ramallah, which is turning into an environmental hazard – especially with the temperatures rising. The damage is extensive and it will take a long time for Ramallah to get out of its state of shock and destruction and return to normal, if ever.
The real tragedy is that of the families who have lost loved ones or whose sons were arrested and taken to an unknown destination. Ra’fat, a member of the youth group, is one of them, please pray for him.
In other parts of the West Bank, especially in Jenin and Nablus, the situation is much worse. A real human tragedy is unfolding over there. The world cannot remain silent. Outside intervention is urgently needed.
We ask for your prayers and action. The Palestinian people have long enough been denied their basic human and national rights. Some of them, in their despair, have resorted to violence. It is feared that after all this, more will be driven in that direction. The only way to stop the carnage is for the world community to recognize their rights and act on the proper implementation of UN resolutions and humanitarian conventions. The key to peace is justice. The Palestinian people are asking for a minimum measure of justice so that they can live a normal life of peace and dignity alongside their neighbors. You can help them achieve this rightful goal by your prayers and action.
In Peace and Grace
Fr. George Al-Kopti