While the bombing of Afghanistan continues, the world is also watching events in Israel and the Occupied Territories. As Israel is pressed to reach an accord with the Palestinians, the Israeli military continues its forays into Palestinian-run areas. One such incursion was carried out two weeks ago, after members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) assassinated Israeli tourist minister Recchavam Zeevi.
Sandra Olewine, a minister with the United Methodist Liaison, sent a series of panicked dispatches this week as the Israeli army occupied Bethlehem.
bethlehem, october 23 -- after fourdays of being trapped inside by the Israeli incursion, this morning brought an opportunity to stand in the warm sunlight and share condolences with grieving families. We began a long march through the streets of Bethlehem toward Manger Square, along some of the roads that had seen the greatest battles over the last four days. In each speech (during the walk) we heard words for peace and justice, not for one people but for all people in this land. During apostolic delegate Pietro Sambi's remarks, a small contingent of young women -- some relatives of Johnny Thaljiya, the youth killed on Saturday -- began to softly chant, "We want peace. We want peace."
OCTOBER 24 -- Just about an hour ago, the church building shook as three large explosions occurred in the direction of the cinema (about 300 metres from the church). Within a few minutes, word came in that shells or rockets had hit the Holy Family Hospital.
Senior Sophia, one of the directors, explained that three rockets (they're not sure whether they were tank shells, missiles or rockets) hit the hospital at once. The intensive care room, laundry room and another building in the complex were hit. There is much broken glass.
In the orphanage section, there are currently 50 children in residence, ages infant to four years. The children began screaming and crying. In the midst of the firing it's impossible to move the children, so they are now sleeping on the floor in the corridor. The walls are very thick and protected from flying glass.
I just called Senior Sophia and she said to me, "The babies are vomiting. Can we talk tomorrow?"
For the love of Jesus, can someone please do something to stop the Israeli army bombardment?
OCTOBER 25 -- A number of times in the last 13 months I've been beyond words to describe what is happening. Today is another of those days. With increasing pressure in the last 24 hours by the U.S. and European Union on Israel to withdraw its troops has come increasingly harsh tactics by the Israeli forces.
Word came of an attack on a small village northwest of Ramallah, Beit Rima, in which it seems that at least seven to 10 people have been killed. The village is evidently still under full occupation by Israeli troops and under a tight curfew. No one from outside can get to it.
This afternoon in Bethlehem, evidently, an Israeli tank with a bulldozer blade has been demolishing storefronts along the eastern edge of 'Aza refugee camp. Gunfire and shelling have been occurring around the cinema area and south of the Church of the Nativity off and on all day. And this afternoon, a man in his 50s, a member of St. Catherine's Catholic Church, was killed in Bethlehem as he drove his car, apparently hit by a sniper's bullet. There have been at least two other Palestinian deaths today, bringing the number of killed to around 13 to 15 today.
OCTOBER 26 -- It's 9:30 pm. As I write this, shells are again hitting the area in and around Bethlehem University. Throughout the evening and night,for three nights in a row there have been periods of heavy shelling. The shooting and shelling seem to move back and forth from one side of the old city of Bethlehem to the other. Much of the new infrastructure that was put in place in Bethlehem over the two years prior to 2000 is now severely damaged or ruined, particularly the streets. The tanks leave deep ruts and ridges in the pavement.
Families' businesses along Manger Road near Aida camp are heavily damaged. The worst damage is to the people themselves. As I lay awake listening to the shells explode and the machine- gun fire burst through the night, I can hear the crying and screaming of children in the homes near the church. As words of another casualty come in, I watch my Palestinian colleagues' shoulders drop and faces become lined with indescribable sorrow. There is no relief for the pain.
OCTOBER 27 -- It's 8:20 pm in Bethlehem. It was to be our last night living with the invasion of Israeli forces. Tomorrow was a day to begin picking up the pieces -- of businesses, of homes, of lives. But just a short while ago news came that Israel has decided to postpone its withdrawal.
This is the regular recipe here -- the powerful get to decide when to do what. International pressure is consistently put on Palestinians to stop the violence, to be passive, to live with the occupation for a while longer. The powerful get to decide when it's time to have negotiations.
This is what Israel has done throughout the Oslo years. Delaying troop withdrawals, building more settlements, expanding control over occupied East Jerusalem and its environs. When the powerful get to decide, what are the occupied supposed to do?