Bethlehem Under Fire
Last night, 30 March 2002, 20 of us stayed in Al Azzeh refugee camp of 5,000 inside of Bethlehem with several families expecting an invasion by the Israeli military. We went two to a house. There is no land to build on, so any new homes are built atop existing ones. At the house I stayed in, we watched Arfat on television most of the night giving a press conference inside his compound in Ramallah. At 10pm he was given one hour to surrender by Israeli military or they would go in shooting. This has not yet happened and he has said he will not go alive.
Television stations showed five dead, shot at point blank range inside Arafat’s compound. The family I was with stays up most of the night and sleeps during the morning daylight hours. The shooting at nights requires them to quickly move from one room to the next, and to always be ready. They do not jump when they hear the popping of F-16s. They simply get up and move as the noise becomes louder.
There was a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The bomber was from Nablus, which is further north from Bethlehem. The families inside of Al Azzeh refugee camp expected Israeli military to invade the camp and disappear all of the men aged 16 to 50 years old.
Israeli snipers continued to fire into the camp throughout the night. They fired at Palestinians and internationals alike as we scurried across roads to get inside of the houses, which are litered with bullet holes. Many of the windows are protected by bags of sand. We met the mother of a 14 year old Palestinian girl who was shot by Israeli snipers as she opened the front door of her house inside the camp two weeks ago. I was expected to address a conference at Columbia University in NYC via telephone at 3:30 am Palestinian time, but my cel phone was unable to function.
All international media has been asked to leave Bethlehem. Now the Palestinian people need all people from around the globe as much as ever. I write this quickly to you all from Dehesha refugee camp because invasion of Bethlehem is now imminent. It is expected within the next two hours. It is now 1:30 pm. We are told that if Arafat is assasinated the Israeli military will fully re-occupy the entire West Bank, of which Bethlehem is a part. We will return to Al Azzeh camp within the hour to stand in solidarity with our Palestinian families as the invasion unfolds.
Yesterday Beit Jala, the town without lights at night that stands across the valley from an Israel settlement fully lit conected by a bridge that only Israelis are allowed to use, was invaded in order to be at the highest point surrounding Bethlehem. Parts of Beit Jala are under curfew. It is still impossible to get to Ramallah, where Palestinians and internationals are asking for assistance. Some are blocking tanks, others defied the curfew by donating blood. As here in Bethlehem, in Ramallah internationals are also riding along inside of ambulences.
We are here in solidarity with the Palestinian people in order to bring attention to the brutal military occupation, sanctions, killings, and daily humiliation Palestinians face at the hands of Israeli military and government. Bethelehem, according to those who live there, is virtually deserted. Streets that once swarmed with life are mostly shut down now. All schools are evacuated. Teachers say they are not afraid. Many Palestinians say all they have left is their will.
We have been thanked and fed and described as peace prophets. Our presence is necessary and deeply appreciated. We request that as many of you who receive this help in any way you can. I can only ask that we all please raise awarness of this situation, work on divestment campaigns, and tell Bush and the US government that their funding of the Israeli military is a terrorist atrocity which must not be stood for. We will update you as much as possible.
Thank you so much for your caring and interest. A suicide bomber has just hit Haifa, which is about 90 km from Tel Aviv.
Kristen Schurr is from New York City.