April 15, 2002
AN APPEAL To The Orthodox Christian Women Of America

Dear Sisters,

I am a nun of the Convent of St. Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem (Gethsemane)
and am responsible for the administration of the Orthodox School of Bethany,
a school for Palestinian girls just outside Jerusalem.

We have a small boarding section and care for Orthodox children from Beit
Jala and Beit Sahour, towns located next to Bethlehem. Many of the sisters
of our Convent are from Beit Jala. I am not spreading propaganda but am
simply reporting what has been happening to friends and acquaintances of
mine -- Christian women, women with children, with elderly parents to care
for, women such as yourself who are now suffering greatly here under siege
from Israeli forces.

The situation has degenerated here so much, so quickly that I can't possibly
recount all the horrors going on. I'll start with the latest event. Dr. Hala
K. is an Orthodox Christian woman from Beit Jala. Her husband, Dr. Nasser K.
works at the Husseini Hospital in Beit Jala and is a former president of the
Orthodox Club of Beit Jala. A few hours ago I got off the phone with Hala.
She had just returned from a clinic her and her husband have in Bethlehem,
not far from Manger Square, near the Lutheran Church and the Syrian Orthodox
Church of the Virgin Mary. Hala and Nasser had received news that the clinic
they operate had been damaged by Israeli soldiers, so taking advantage of
the fact that the Israelis had lifted the curfew for a couple of hours and
people were free to leave their homes, they raced to the clinic. They did so
even though they had to leave their children home alone (Israeli soldiers
have entered their new home in the middle of the night three times in the
last month, once stealing all the money from the house, and another time
strafing the house with gunfire, miraculously only slightly wounding one of
their daughters). When they arrived at the clinic - what they saw crushed
them. Hala, in a voice more full of shock and absolute amazement at man's
inhumanity to his fellow man than any feelings of revenge or anger,
described to me over the phone what she found:

The clinic is in a building that houses other professional offices, doctors,
dentists, lawyers, etc. As they raced to their offices they could see that
the doors of all the various offices had been blown open. They entered their
clinic, the door had been blown open with some sort of explosive device, the
waiting room had bullet holes all over the walls, the rooms were in a
shambles, the soldiers had defecated on the floors and most of the equipment
had been damaged. Most painful of all to Hala (she is trained as a
gynecologist and in fact when she was first married she had an opportunity
to study at Columbia University in New York City, but the newlyweds chose to
stay in Palestine) was that the soldiers had destroyed her ultrasound
machine, a machine that cost $20,000 and was used in her care for pregnant
women. During the last two weeks while the Bethlehem area has been under
siege three of Hala's patients have delivered their babies - AT HOME, it was
impossible for them to reach a hospital or for a doctor to reach them
because of the Israeli tanks and jeeps in their streets. Fortunately in her
cases the babies and mothers have survived though there have been
complications. There are reports that some newborns have died during these
past two weeks in Bethlehem because they were unable to receive medical
attention. Nasser and Hala have four children ages 5 to 16.

They now live in a beautiful new home on the eastern side of Beit Jala, near
Talitha Kumi Lutheran School. The last time I was able to visit them, about
one and a half months ago, they were proudly and busily planting flowers and
shrubs around their new home. (Over the past year and half their original
home in the center of Beit Jala near the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas has
been peppered with bullet holes, shattered windows and water tanks, and an
outside staircase blown threw by an Israeli shell. Many of the homes on that
street have suffered a similar fate. Nasser's elderly mother and a single
sister are still living in a home in that part of Beit Jala, as is the
family of three of our boarder girls and the elderly mother and a sister of
one of our nuns. For over two weeks now -starting Saturday March 30, the day
before Western Easter, these people in Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and Bethlehem
have been confined to their homes, as Israeli tanks and jeeps parade the
streets. From a number of sources there I heard that two days ago the
soldiers announced that people could leave their homes for two hours to try
and buy provisions. Barely half an hour after the time of the supposed
lifting of the curfew the soldiers began shooting tear gas into the people
in the market area.)

I first came to know Hala after her original home which is near to the home
of one of our nuns was damaged by Israeli gunfire back in October, 2000.
During the past year and a half I did what I could to help the people of
Beit Jala. One project was to help Hala and a number of other Orthodox
Christian women in the town who had voluntarily devoted their time to
establishing an after school program for the children in Beit Jala. They
found a building they could rent and established a library and an area for
games, music and arts and crafts activities for the kids. They are trying to
keep the program going twice a week after school and every day during the
summer. During the time of the conflict here it has been hard to raise funds
to hire a young person to co-ordinate the programs as well as pay the rent
and fund the activities. They only ask for five shekels (about $1) a month
from each child, and often waive the fee for those that can't pay. About 80
children participate in the program. Needless to say there have been no
activities for the last month because of the Israeli army incursion into
Bethlehem. I have attached photographs of some of the women involved in the
program (all have been confined to their homes for the last two weeks, lucky
if once every two days the Israelis let them step outside for a couple of
hours to run to a store for food and medicine), as well as some photos of
damage done over the past year and a half by Israeli troops to homes of
people in Beit Jala.

Two more bits of information I received today.

I was informed by a friend that a 24 year old Christian woman with a one
year child was shot dead by Israeli soldiers this morning. She was the
relative of a woman we know who runs the Spafford Center, a facility for
special education, some of our boarders take classes there.

This morning I was able to reach by phone Simon S., a friend from Beit
Sahour, who has done many construction projects for our Convent and School
as well as many other Christian institutions in the Jerusalem area. An
Orthodox Christian and the father of five children, including a teen-age
daughter and two teen-age boys (more fluent in Greek than I (!), they attend
the Jerusalem Patriarchate school in Shepherd's Field and have visited
Greece twice), Simon is the kind of man that one would describe as "the salt
of the earth." Besides the work he is hired to do he is always ready at any
time to run and help any hapless nun who calls him, "Simon, the water pipe
broke." "Simon, we can't fix the door handle." "Simon,." and before you hang
up the phone Simon is there to help. Not forty years old and as meek a man
as you will ever meet, Simon was nearly killed during the last Intifada
(late 80's to early 90's) when Israeli soldiers dragged him out of his car
and beat him badly. His only crime was trying to get home from work, but
foolish him, the Israelis had said the curfew had already begun and what was
he doing driving around. After that experience Simon's constant prayer and a
hope that he often relates to us is that he will live long enough to see all
of his children reach adulthood (the youngest is four).

Ever the eternal optimist when I spoke to Simon two days ago he was sure
that things would be better and somehow he would be able to get to Bethany
on Monday to do some work for us. Simon is scared now. I could only talk to
Simon on the phone today -- he didn't make it to Bethany today and we don't
know when he will. He sits huddled in his home in Beit Sahour (Beit Sahour
is Shepherd's Field-here lived the shepherds who heard the angels announce
Christ's birth and even today 2000 years later their descendants live in
this town, men as gentle and hard-working as those shepherds of Christ's
time) with his wife and children, praying that the Israeli soldiers will not
enter his house or that some emergency will force him to leave the house. He
knows to well what can happen. Saud El Hayet is a man like Simon, a kind man
Simon called him, an Orthodox Christian man with five children from Beit
Sahour .. . Saturday Saud got in his car when the Israeli soldiers said the
curfew had been lifted to try and get some provisions for his family. As he
was driving towards his home soldiers were on the road, Saud was scared and
turned his car from the soldiers - they shot him dead. A 60 year old woman,
a neighbor witnessed it all, and shocked by the horror of the act, died
there on the spot. These are women and men just like you or I and NOW they
are in dire need of your help -- as an Orthodox Christian woman living in
the Holy Land I appeal to you to use all your resources to help them.

Get on the phone and ask your Congressmen and Senators why the United States
government is backing this invasion of Israeli forces into sovereign areas,
why so many innocent civilians are being terrorized in their homes, their
towns and livelihoods being destroyed by the Israeli government all in the
name of stopping terror?

Ask your representatives why are Israeli forces being allowed to damage
Christian churches all in the name of fighting terror? I know for a fact
that many Palestinians have been seeking refuge in churches, not only the
Church of the Nativity. For the most part they are not "terrorists" but
policemen and parishioners of these churches, husbands and brothers trying
to defend their homes.

From information we have, only seven of the men in the Church of the
Nativity could be considered dangerous or "wanted men" by Israel. The
majority, both Muslim and Christian, are men of the Bethlehem area,
well-known to the clergy inside the Church.  Men taken in by the clergy
because they know that they are people only trying to defend their homes
from an occupying force.

Once this bloody incursion finally ends many here will be in dire financial
straits, not having work, and having many expenses as they try to rebuild
their damaged homes, businesses, etc. I hope at that time the Orthodox
Christian women groups in the US will be generous in providing assistance to
their fellow Christians in the Holy Land who are suffering tremendously now.

And above all pray. As I hear from friends from Bethlehem, Ramallah, etc and
see the wanton destruction that has gone on, I and they have no rational
explanation for why all this is taking place. The destruction being carried
out by the Israeli forces now makes no sense and will certainly not bring
them any security. My only comfort is that as I try to stay in contact with
friends now under siege I marvel at how meek, humble and long-suffering they
are in the midst of their trials. I think of F.S., an acquaintance from
Ramallah, an elderly man now, who is considered the dean of Palestinian
lawyers, sitting penned in his home, listening in his home that lies just
around the corner from the main street of Ramallah where his legal offices
are, listening as the Israeli tanks and helicopters carry out the
destruction of the town he has lived in for the past fifty years.

And when I call this distinguished, capable man barred by twenty-year old
soldiers (most likely immigrants from Ethiopia or Russia) from walking the
streets of the city he has known as home for far longer than those soldiers
have been alive, he speaks meekly and matter-of-factly: no, no water
running, just a little left in the tanks, but he is grateful, the Israelis
gave them two hours to go out for food, though he laments, no fresh bread,
the bakeries (those not destroyed) had no time to heat their ovens. And in
his sweet, quiet voice the man who can outwit anyone in court knows no legal
argument, no rational mind will help now, and he gently finishes our
conversation, "Thank you for calling habibie (dear one), and pray, all we
can do his pray."

So please you too pray for all the good people of Palestine, people that are
no different than me or you. From: "Fr. John Reeves" To: "Srs. Martha &
Maria" Subject: Re: Verification Date: Mon, 15 Apr 2002 10:47:49 -0400
Mother Agapia: Please pray for me. I will continue to try to get the
attention of church authorities here in the states to the atrocities taking
place. Thank you for whatever you might be able to do. Blessings, Fr John