BY: Rev. Sandra Olewine

United Methodist Liaison - Jerusalem

Curfew Lifted in Bethlehem Area - Day 15 - 6 December 2002

This morning around 07:30 an announcement appeared on one of the local television stations that curfew would be lifted in the Bethlehem area today from 11:00 am – 4:00 pm.  Thirty minutes later a similar announcement appeared on another station.  Vendors would be allowed to set up at 09:00.  As my colleagues and I made our way to the office a little before 09:00, already people were out.  No one was waiting until 09:00 or 11:00.

By 09:30, the International Center of Bethlehem and Christmas Lutheran Church were bustling with activity.  Church council members came to get work going on refurbishing the church office and to try to get more done on the installation of the new heating and air conditioning system in the sanctuary.  A few of our participants in the Youth Leadership Training Program came to help move books and furniture from one office to another.  ICB staff came to continue work on all our various programs. Center artisans arrived, dropping off work they had completed at home and to pick up more supplies. Outside, it sounded almost normal as cars and people passed.

But, the sense of normality was rudely disturbed around 10:40.  Suddenly, the sounds outside were overwhelmed by the sound of a blaring jeep siren.  Into Madbassah Square came one jeep and out jumped four soldiers.  Shouting from the loud speaker, once again, that curfew was in place.  Initially people seemed to ignore them, walking calmly by.  Then, the soldiers got out of their jeeps, pointed their guns and threw a number of sound bombs.  Bedlam ensued.  People were running into open shops, vendors left their goods unattended and the Square emptied within minutes.

One could see faces peering from shop fronts.  People again took refuge inside the entrance way to our Center.  After about 10 minutes, the soldiers and the jeep proceeded down the street on the south of the Church, still calling out that curfew was in place.  Some folks came out of shops and began rushing away.  Some store owners began to move their goods back inside their stores

At first, no one was sure whether the soldiers meant that the lifting of curfew had been cancelled completely or not.  But, as the soldiers moved further into the Suq, and didn’t come back, everyone figured this little episode was just to scare people.  Why?  The only possible reason for the soldier’s behavior was that people had come out earlier than they were ‘supposed’ to.  So, for being in the market 20 minutes before the ‘official army time’, women, children and men who were trying to get vegetables, clothing or just out for a walk after 5 days, were terrorized for 15 minutes, just to show who was in control.

But, Palestinians are remarkably resilient.  Within 10 minutes of the soldiers leaving, the area was again bustling with activity.