Monday, 13 November 2000

Dear Friends,

I have lot of thinks to tell you, since many events are taking place each day in this hot spot of the world. Let me summarize the most import things and present you the included documents:

1) Yesterday, Sunday 12, 2000, I was part of the Christian and Moslem delegation who met the Un commissioner of the Human rights Mary Robenson in order to brief her about the Israeli violations against the Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem. We stressed about the freedom to worship in the Holy Places and the free access to Jerusalem, since the Holy City is closed to local people, Christians and Moslems, and only opened to tourists, pilgrims and Israelis. Attacks against the civilians in Beit Jala Beit Sahour and Ramallah every night, which is forbidden even in times of war. We noticed that she was touched of what she heard and seen during her round in the Palestinian Territories. She told us that she will write a very strong rapport but she cannot promise anything because decisions are taken by the political level. The members of this delegation were Mufti Akremah Sabri, Sheik Kurrash from Al-Aqsa Mosque, Dr. Mustafa Abu Suai. Bishop Aris from the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate, Dr. Harry Hagopian, Mr Ramzi Zananiri and myself. Soon after this meeting she went to Hebron and we heard that settlers attached her.

2) Another Christian delegation from Jerusalem went to Doha in Qatar, in order to take part in the Islamic summit with the Palestinian delegation. This was very important to show that we are an integral part of the Palestinian people. In fact, Archimandrite Atallah Hanna from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, pronounced the speech of the Christian delegation, which explained the Church’s position of all what is happening, which is with the peace fruit of justice. Bishop Jerasio from the Greek Orthodox Church, Bishop Lutfi Lahham from the Greek catholic Church,  Bishop Sawerios Malki Mourad from the Syrian Orthodox church, Bishop Riah Abu Al-Asal from the Anglican church.

You will find in today’s E-Newsletter many documents and articles:

1)      As usual, our Friend Toine van Teeffelen writes us his BETHLEHEM DIARY (4), and this time he guides us with another Dutch group in Bethlehem and the area, you know very well that few pilgrims are coming because more than 3000 groups cancelled in these two months, it is a real disaster for the tourism sector in the Jubliee year.

2)      Attacks on Beit Jala are continueing against civilians, but also against cultural centers such as this story of Inad Children's Community Theatre Shelled Again. Why I am telling you this story? Because we visited this theatre with the Patriarch when it was shelled the first time, where we saw children training in order to entertain the other children scared in Bethlehem era. If you can help in the reconstruction of this theatre, please contact us, or contact the young people who are working struggling continue this great artistic work.

3)      Fr. Peter Madros, one of our priests, sent us his speech during the celebration “Light a candle for Peace” which took place in the Tantur Ecumenical Institute on November 5, last Sunday, in Arabic and Hebrew. The event's initiative was that of the "oldest" israeli Peace activist, Amos Mokedi. Participants: Palestinians and Israelis; Christians, Muslims and Jews, tired from war and violence.

4)       Not only Beit Jala is shelled but also Beit Sahour, more than 120 housed were harmed, burned partially damaged or destroyed. Therefore some of these families live in other parent’s houses or decided to live in the "Shepherds' Emergency Refugee Camp - 2000", as a sign of protest against the shelling of their houses.

5)      Dr. Mary Khoury, writes us another time about “The Tragedy in the Holy Land”, but this time how this actual situation is affecting our students at schools, since she is working in our Latin Patriarchate schools.

I know that you receive a lot of materiel in these days, but I hope that you will have a short time to read what we send you, and also to send it to your mailing lists or to react. I know very well that many of you did this and are doing a great job..  For this reason, you will find a letter from one reader, that I would like to share with you and an example. I cannot here but to thank you all for that.

Best wishes to all of you from Jerusalem.

                                                                                                Fr. Raed Abusahlia



November 6-13, 2000

Toine van Teeffelen

Tuesday a Dutch tourist group visits Bethlehem. I was previously informed that the tour leaders wanted the group to become familiar with “the Palestinian side of the story.” The regular guide of the group, a Dutch speaking Israeli, was not happy with the visit but succumbs to the group’s demand. We converse by mobile where to meet, which is a complicated issue since Israeli soldiers now tend not to allow tourist groups to enter Bethlehem. Using a detour the group succeeds in coming through the backside of Beit Jala. There, near the checkpoint, they leave the Israeli bus, and move into a Palestinian bus. The Israeli guide stays behind, she is formally not allowed to enter the Palestinian Areas, and justifiably concerned that the Palestinian tourist police at the Church of Nativity may recognize her. She urges to keep the visit short, but privately the tour leaders tell me that it doesn’t matter when we are back late. First we go to a souvenir shop, which is on the way to the Church. The owner had urged us to come early, since the shop is located opposite Rachel’s Tomb and later in the morning stones may be thrown. The tourists take pictures of the stones on the street - silent witnesses of the clashes from previous days. “Why don’t they remove them,” asks one. Others laugh at her. The souvenir shop owner tells me that we are the first group since six weeks to enter his shop. Unlike other shops, he did not dismiss his employees or send them away for an unpaid leave. To my surprise, the tourists buy some considerable pieces of olive wood products - the Dutch are locally known to be “stingy” tourists.

After a tour through the Church of Nativity we look for a quiet place to discuss the political and social situation in Bethlehem. We decide to sit down in the grottos of the Holy Innocents and St Jerome’s. Usually these areas are crowded but now the church is empty and silent. I tell about living in Bethlehem in general and the last weeks in particular. The tourists ask questions, among other things, about Arafat’s “double speak”: “Almost all in the group are of the opinion that Arafat says in private something different than when he speaks in public.” I answer that this is probably the case with most political leaders, including Barak. In a tense political and military situation in which leaders have to be accountable to different constituencies and face different pressures, they usually speak with different voices. Who knows which deals Barak has made with the orthodox party Shas which now gives him a safety net? The people nod. Other questions follow: “Why don’t Palestinian parents care more for their kids going out on the street? (My answer: by far most parents care a great deal for their kids and are very worried but cannot control them). And especially: What can we do? I tell that setting up grassroots contacts with Palestinian schools and kids would be a good thing to do. Palestinian school and university students are often quite isolated and long for more contacts with people abroad. It gives them a chance to tell their stories and it makes the Palestinian image more human.

The group leaves town. Driving through Beit Jala, one of the tour leaders picks the mike and tells the group that while the Dutch usually take a long detour to avoid places of unrest, this group wanted to face reality and went exactly to the places that were bombarded. Enthusiastically the group says goodbye. That same day the Israeli guide leads them to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial, and later to the beach resort Netanya. A remarkable combination of visits.

On Friday, I meet Suzy, Karishma and Sawsan. We talk a little about the difficulty of setting up meetings for teachers and students. Traveling requires planning. You have to take care to avoid demonstrations and funeral processions, and especially the women teachers and students have to be at home before dark. The day before Fuad started a meeting by saying, in a business-like manner: “Let’s finish quickly, before the bombing starts.” He laughed immediately afterwards, realizing how absurd the announcement must have sounded. People live on the edge and have all the time their ears wide open to detect the beginning sounds of shouts, shots and sirenes. Conversations are interrupted: “Do you hear that sound?” Suzy tells that her students warned her to dress not in a very Western way, otherwise people on the street would think that she is a foreigner or an Israeli, and she would face troubles. She now wears an elegant dress embroidered in a national-Palestinian style.

We discuss the latest news. The day before a local Fatah leader, Houssein Abayat, was killed in Beit Sahour in a helicopter attack. Two women who happened to be there were also killed. Suzy tells how students at her school almost panicked when the radio news came through. A colleague took her out of the class to inform her and immediately the students started to shout “what happened?” The school had previously made the arrangement that in case of emergencies the older students would go to the younger ones to calm them. Suzy points out that when they are responsible for calming down others, they should be calm themselves. That message worked. When the news became public, some students turned out to know the women who were killed. One of the women was a relative of a student at school. Later that day, I read the Israeli paper Haaretz on the incident. It quotes a spokesperson of the Israeli army who says that the attack was “professionally” done from the “tactical” point of view. At most, there was a “strategic mistake” in timing, as the attack happened at a moment when Arafat was in Washington to meet Clinton. That had given Arafat a diplomatic edge. As for the women bystanders, their death was “unavoidable.”

Suzy tells about an 11-year old girl at her school whose house in Beit Sahour was largely destroyed. In front of Bethlehem TV, the girl pointed to the areas below the staircase which were full of bullet holes. “We were happy that we did not hide there, as others do.” Asked about her opinion of the Israelis, she says: “The Israelis are a cruel people, but I ask God to forgive them, since they are human beings.” The interviewer didn’t know what to say. Suzy and Sawsan exclaim that they are proud to be former students of St Joseph. Suzy decides to ask for the videotape with the interview and to later on discuss it with her older students. However, she suddenly realizes that the video room has lately been transformed into a First Aid room.

Daily life is full of what is euphemistically called “the violence.” It is as if that violence has not spread just physically but also into people’s minds and feelings. Students make a game out of who is able to collect the highest number of bullets in the streets and the gardens. Karishma tells about another game: “At break time (11:00) these kids aged about 10/9 years instead of playing football and things now play Israeli soldiers and Palestinian martyrs… They act it all out… It’s quite entertaining actually – I watch from my balcony – until you think what makes them do it. They gather in a big group maybe 30/35 kids and pick up one kid who plays the dead martyr and then yell “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) and chant some phrases that are normal during marches for martyrs… and they go about the whole school shouting like this!” I wonder if the boys’ sturdiness just serves to suppress their fears. There are so many cases of kids of that age who now do it in their pants, during the day and in the night. Suzy tells that the other day she was standing nearby a five-year old girl who watched an Israeli helicopter flying over town. The child, from Palestinian and Bulgarian parents, sang softly in an improvised way “Tayyala, tayyala” (“tayyara” is plane, but she cannot pronounce the “r” well), “Please drop your bombs and I will know what to do with you.”  My own Jara of almost three, otherwise apparently not affected and usually laughing all the time, this week put a plastic bag around her head - like the hooded Fatah youngsters on a parade - and said “I am a gun,” imitating the sound of shots.

The weather is at its best. Insofar as possible, people try to collect the olive harvest. The olive tree is the “sacred tree” here, a symbol of life. These days, settlers have started shooting into the olive fields near Beit Jala and it is not safe anymore to pick olives there. Like others, Mary gives a bottle of olive oil to the priests in the Church of Nativity, and prays for her family.  “Never, never did I think that once I would consider leaving,” she says.


Inad Children's Community Theatre Shelled Again

"Inad Theatre" <>   Beit Jala - Nov 8 2000

Last night, 7 November 2000, Inad Theatre, the only children's community theatre in the southern part of the West Bank, and  its neighborhood were shelled from the Israeli  settlement of Gilo for the second time in two weeks. When the theatre was shelled the first time on 21 October 2000, damages were caused mainly to the second and third floors of the building. This time it was worse as more damage was caused to the three main entrances of the theatre. Two missiles hit one of the main gates, causing a large hole, but they did not penetrate the soundproof wall built behind it. The three gates, including the main entrance to the theatre and the sign outside were riddled with bullet holes. The floors above the theatre were also damaged. Fortunately, fire did not break out inside the theatre, but several bullets were found on the stage and the floor of the theatre.

Over a hundred houses in the theatre neighborhood were damaged in some way or another. Bullets and missile shrapnel hit water tanks, walls, windows and cars of residents. The shelling continued for almost three hours on Beit Jala and Aida Refugee camp.

The Nazzal family, whose home had been previously shelled, escaped their house during last night's shelling. Neighbours who tried help the family were injured by shrapnel. According to eyewitnesses about eight Palestinians were injured in the attack, one of them a little girl who lives next door to the theatre. Several homes caught fire and were badly damaged. The Kasieyyeh home, which was shelled last week, was totally damaged this time, along with the house next door.

Residents of Beit Jala are in a state of anger, fear, frustration and despair having been under shelling for the ninth time in a matter of weeks. Watching your home being destroyed after working so hard and spending your life savings is devastating. It is more than anyone should have to endure.

Children are scared to come back to the theatre, especially after being caught under bombing on Wednesday 1 November 2000.  Parents will not send their children again to the theatre. They will be scared for their lives. We are also not sure whether we would feel secure enough to have children at the theatre, knowing they would be at risk.

We at Inad Theatre strongly condemn the Israeli raids on Beit Jala residential areas. We appeal to our friends, supporters and artists worldwide to join those seeking peace and call for an end to these vicious and inhuman attacks on civilians and residential areas.

Nicola, Khaled, Manal, Abeer, Sami, Raeda, Hazem, Rami, and Marina (Members of Inad Theatre)


Fr. Raed Awad Abusahlia