Jerusalem Journal
Friday, January 19, 2001
By Sister Mary

This past week I received an e-mail written by Mr. Jerry Falwell about the Christians of Beit Jala. The message seemed to have some misleading statements about the Arab Christians, the town, and about a persecution going on in Beit Jala. It seemed worth checking out and so yesterday I took a service van to the Israeli checkpoint outside of Bethlehem, and then a taxi to Beit Jala to get some information from the residents of that town. I shared with them some of the "facts" Mr. Falwell had in his message and then asked them if this was their experience.

Mr. Falwell stated:

    1.  "...he [Yasser Arafat] has transformed Beit Jala from a once peaceful and prosperous village into a nest of terrorist gangs whose sole purpose is to provoke a massacre of that town's Christians residents [sic]."

In response the residents of Beit Jala themselves told me:

        "No, not Yasser Arafat.  He is very good and helps people. He is not trying to kill the Christians."

        "Yasser Arafat does not want to kill me."

        "No, no, no, the PLO is not trying to kill us. The Tanzim, young men with small guns who come here and shoot at the Israelis, are not associated with Yasser Arafat. He told them not to shoot so we wouldn't get hurt, but they did it anyway."

        "We are tired of the Tanzim. We don't talk to them. When we see them coming, we hide. They are a problem, but they are not trying to get me killed."

        "Yasser Arafat is not the cause of the loss of peace here in Beit Jala. He really wanted peace."

        "Yasser Arafat is not the problem. Yahud [Jews] are the problem and I don't blame Yasser Arafat for what happened to us."

        "Yasser Arafat likes the Christians. He is married to one and they come to the Church in Bethlehem every Christmas."

        "Yasser Arafat knows that we are educated people because of good Christian schools. He does not want to get rid of us. He does not want to kill us."

        "The war between the Muslims and the Israelis is the problem and we are lost in the middle of it."

        "Someone wants to kill the Christians and doesn't want us here."

        "We are afraid of the Israelis."

Mr.  Falwell stated:

    2.  "Beit Jalla [sic] is in shambles. Most of the fancy homes are destroyed."

The responses from the residents of Beit Jala:

        "No, we are not ruined. Not all the fancy houses are gone. We have many. All our houses are made of our stones and all of them are beautiful."

        "Some of the large houses on the hill that faced the tunnel road are very damaged. The Tanzim shot from the trees just beneath these houses, and the Yahud then damaged these houses."

        "Both the Israelis and the Tanzim are responsible for the damages. The Tanzim shoot with only small guns, but the Yahud came in a plane and shot my house."

        "The Tanzim must not shoot near our houses. They should go to the army camp and shoot there, not around our houses."

        "Responsible? I don't know who is responsible. But I know the Jewish soldiers broke my house from 300 meters."

        "It was the bombs and rockets of the Yahud that damaged houses, especially a big bomb from an airplane."

        "Come look at some of our other fancy houses."

        "There is a very fancy house on the top of the hill near Everest restaurant. It is still there and you can see all the way to the Herodion."

        "I know the Yahud want my land and that they are very strong. But this is the land of Jesus. I am a Christian and I belong to my land."

        "Houses can be fixed." Some of us have started in the inside."

A couple of women begin laughing and I asked them why they were laughing.  They answered:

                                                        "We are so isolated.

                                                          The world is broken."

Mr. Falwell stated:

       3.  "The best people have been forced to flee...."

The responses from the residents of Beit Jala:

        "Yes, some of the important people have left because the Jews have made it impossible to live in this town."

        "People left because their houses were shot and badly damaged and it was not safe to live in them.  Rockets and bulllets were passing

            through their windows and into their houses. The Tanzim didn't do that because they only had little guns."

        "People feared for their children and left. The children are afraid. My eight year old son cannot sleep at night and I must stay with him. He is afraid that a bomb will find him."

        "People left because of the road closure by the Jewish soldiers we are not free to go out.  If we go out after dark the settlers from Gilo shoot at us and the soldiers don't stop them. I blame the Jews that I can't go anywhere."

        "People left because there is no work for our husbands because of the travel restrictions, and because tourists do not come to  Bethlehem where so many of us worked."

        "People were afraid of the Yahud and the Tanzim.  Jews are bigger -- they have planes, bombs, rockets and bigger guns.  People left because of what the Yahud were doing to them."

        "I feel that all the presidents have used us to play with."

Mr. Falwell stated:

        4.  "To date at least, the PLO terrorists haven't been able to get any of their Christian hostages killed by Israeli return fire."

I asked the residents of Beit Jala if they felt like hostages and if so, who was holding them hostage.

Here are their responses:

        "The Yahud make me a hostage in my own house. I cannot go anywhere. The roads are closed for us and we did nothing wrong."

        "I don't know why the Jewish want to do this to me. If Ariel Sharon wouldn't have visited the mosque in Jerusalem, there would be no problem."

        "I already told you the PLO were not trying to get me killed."

        "The Yahud control the roads and they make me a hostage until they open the roads."

        "In this time we must pray to God for peace. Every person in this town is in need of help."

        "When will relief come? Only God knows and everyday I pray."

I then asked if anyone would like to say anything to Mr. Falwell. One man said:

        "Mr., you are lying because Yasser Arafat does not make this. He likes the Christians. You must think, what is the truth? You must find the true reason of the problem. Come, I will speak to you face to face. And I will show you what we don't have because of the Yahud.  But we do have Christ, we are Christians who live here and we don't understand why you tell such lies about the situation."

So I spent my time this Thursday gathering information from the gracious residents of that beautiful hilltop and valley town. The people living there think that they have a better grasp of the facts than someone does a continent away.  I have to wonder when was the last time Mr. Falwell visited Beit Jala. I guess it could be a good lesson in not believing everything that you hear. I'm glad that I went to Beit Jala to see for myself and listen to the experiences of these Christians.

If anyone has Mr. Falwell's address, would you be so kind as to forward this to him? He had a great deal more to say, but I covered as much as I could in a day.