COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT INTENSIFIES IN BETHLEHEM
Bethlehem University Struggles to Complete Semester
From November 22, 2002 to December 22, 2002 the people of Bethlehem suffered under 24-hour curfews (military lockdowns; house arrests) for 21 full days (661 hours) with partial curfew liftings on 9 days (59 hours). The curfews were lifted for 8 full days and 2 partial days from December 22-31. In the past few days a new form of punishment is being inflicted with greater regularity, that of announcing curfew liftings and changing them unexpectedly. This is another form of psychological punishment which exacerbates an already intolerable situation brought about by the latest Israeli re-occupation of Bethlehem.
Bethlehem University continues its struggle to complete the semester. However, to plan and to assure remaining class days and a reliable schedule for examinations, is becoming almost impossible. In the past four days alone we have faced the following circumstances:
Wednesday, January 1, 2003: Curfew lifted at 12:30 p.m., re-instated
at 2:00 p.m.—many people were out on the streets, confused, fearful, pressured
to return home.
Thursday, January 2: Curfew lifted. Sudden announcement at 1:40 p.m. of resumption of curfew at 2:00 p.m. --immediate evacuation of campus by teachers, staff and students.
Friday, January 3: 24-hour curfew (loss of valuable Friday classes which meet only once a week). Announcement in evening that curfew would be lifted on the following day. University announces on TV a Friday makeup day for Saturday. Spirits raised at prospect of classes.
Saturday, January 4: During the night the army announces that Saturday would be a day of curfew. No reasons are ever given. Armored Personnel Carriers drive through the streets as soldiers blare out through bull horns the ominous warning, "Mamnuuh Atajawal" ("It is forbidden to go out, to leave your home!").
The punitive actions which the Israeli army continues to impose on innocent Palestinians--families, women, school children, working men—the devastating effects this continuing inhumane treatment is having are taking a terrible toll. A people is being humiliated, beaten into the ground; malnutrition among children is growing worse; a legitimate right to education of thousands of young people is being dramatically compromised; thousands of hours of time are wasted each day—on those rare days when movement is permitted--waiting to get through checkpoints; the morale of a people is being crushed with very little to hope for--just more lockdowns, short-lived liftings, inability to have any control of their lives.
What is being done to the people and to Bethlehem itself--once a revered city of Christendom now reduced to a war-torn, dirty, occupied military playground—is reprehensible, outrageous, unjustified. We at Bethlehem University plead for the right to continue educating young Palestinians and the right for our neighbors in Bethlehem to be able to live, to move, to breathe free air, to work and to educate their children. Can anyone do anything to change this systematic strangulation? End the occupation! End the occupation!
Brother Vincent Malham, FSC
Bethlehem University Community 11 January 2003