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Bethlehem Celebrates Christmas

Rafah Counts the Dead

by KRISTEN ESS

Christmas Eve Day, 2003 Rafah to Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine

Israeli occupation forces left the center of Rafah, although as is normal the Israelis remain at the border they have created. The Wall the Israelis are building with armoured machines is overshadowed only by its many sniper posts. Israeli soldiers remain daily to shoot and shell into the homes at whatever is the latest point in the "border." The line changes as the Israelis demolish more houses, turning what once was the center of the city into the border.

The Israelis killed ten Palestinians in Rafah yesterday. Forty Palestinians are in the hospital. The number of demolished homes is yet to be determined as Israeli tanks and bulldozers have just left the Yibna Camp where they attacked heavily yesterday. Palestinian medical and search crews are beginning to dig through the rubble looking for bodies, as several people report fears that there is a family still inside one of the demolished houses.

Israeli occupation forces not only destroyed more people’s homes, but demolished the UNWRA (United Nations Relief Works Agency) Clinic as well. The Israelis continue to target the United Nations unchallenged.

The UNRWA says they need 20 hours to count the demolished houses because the number is large. Israeli soldiers are shooting at people who are trying to get their furniture from their demolished homes.

The Israeli military regularly targets Palestinian infrastructure, such as the sewage system. Also they regularly cut the electricity and destroy telephone service, as they did yesterday.

Early this morning in Rafah, as thousands of people came out into the streets and headed to the most heavily hit areas, a young man passed a damaged UN ambulance. His shoes stuck into the ground flooded by a light rain. He said, "Really, I hate it when it’s like this."

In view of the international media, Manger Square is filling with Palestinian Christians and journalists to ring in the opening of the Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem. Revered by Christians as the birth place of Jesus, the Church of Nativity would be a prime destination if it were not for the Israeli occupation. But this year is a far cry from last in Bethlehem. Under the rain in 2002, one day out of Israeli imposed curfew, with the tanks and jeeps staying just out of cameras way, demonstrations against the occupation went on throughout the day. This year, kids are playing drums in marching bands and young men parade in front of the peace center playing bag pipes.

Local journalist Nassar Laham has taken the stage in Manger Square. "Today we are in solidarity with the people of Rafah. We must not forget what are brothers and sisters are going through."

The Israeli government still prevents President Arafat from attending ceremonies in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem by confining him to the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The 26 Palestinian men exiled to Gaza after trying to defend Bethlehem and the Church from Israeli invasion in April 2002, remain in exile to this day.

The names of the people the Israeli military killed yesterday in Rafah are: Khalil Kasas, Ali Hussein Najar, Ahmed Najar, Iad Ibrahim Najar, Khamis Anwar Ra’ai, Wiam Musa, Ala Baloul, Ala Al Haj Ahmed, Mohammad Mustafa, and Asad Alati. The names came in spurts yesterday, as if the Israelis killed a few people at time, waited an hour, and started killing again.

@ KRISTEN ESS 2003

www.palestinenet.org/english