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Letter from Bethlehem (3)


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Can this HolyLand see peace some time during my lifetime?

Yesterday my mother, my sister and myself were obliged to leave our "secure" home and run for refuge in the neighbors' house on the first floor. Two bullets hit the west wall of our house facing the Nativity Church, right behind where my mother sits. We were lucky the house is an old one and the walls are one meter thick, so the bullets rested inside and didn't come through. Going down to the first floor brought painful and fearful memories of the 1967 war. We used to live in that room downstairs before the owner of our house decided to build an extra room for us upstairs, after my father's death, and take the first floor to rent it to another family. I was six years old then, and all those memories of insecurity and fear came back haunting me.

As usual in any Palestinian gathering, we started telling stories of our experiences during the war, the first Intifada, the second Intifada, and the events of the past week. We were eight adults and nine children in the room, you see, it's safest room in the house with thick walls. The conclusion?

All of us shared our painful memories and in the end we decided to just change the subject and think of something cheerful. Believe it or not, nothing came to our mind. We noticed that the children started to gather around us and listen attentively to our stories, so we decided to just call it quits and play cards with the kids. Then I read them Cinderella to take their mind off of the situation; they felt sleepy afterwards and went to bed. I wish I had a camera with me. Picture this, if you can: five girls were all spread out on one couch whose ages are between five and eight, another 18-month-old boy was on the bed next to his brother and cousin, and the oldest boy of nine was on the couch. You see, the house consists of only one big room that is divided into two parts: a bedroom and a living room, and an adjacent kitchen and a bathroom. Under normal circumstances, those kids would be in their own homes playing with their own games and toys. The daughter of our neighbor (who's a widow and lives alone) and her four kids live near a dangerous area that is exposed to heavy shooting. The other daughter came with her daughter to visit her mother and got stuck because of heavy shooting and couldn't go back to her own home. Also our neighbor's daughter-in-law and her five kids live close to Hindzah area that is reoccupied by the Israeli soldiers. All the adults sleep of the floor so the son comes to see his wife and the kids every morning and goes home in the afternoon because there is no room.

At midnight, when the bombing died down for a little while, we went up to our own house and stayed in the corners of the "safest" room in it.

Many family members have been obliged to separate from each other during the last week in Bethlehem. We know that this month our phone bill is going to be sky high ( but it doesn't matter!) because everybody calls friends and family members to make sure that they are all right. I'm a worrywart and everybody knows it; I'm either pacing the room or calling people to check and make sure that they are safe. Sometimes I worry that anything would happen to them if they answer the phone, so I worry sick about them. I try to busy myself with reading and doing some house chores but more often than not, it doesn't help me. I try to write my feelings down to get them out of my system, but the sound of heavy shooting and bombing makes me sick. I'm not the only one. My friend called me today and told me that she makes her husband and son draw the route they are going to take every time they leave the house to buy food or supplies. She says that she keeps calling them on the cellular phone every five minutes to know where they are. These days I feel helpless and I can't do anything. I feel bitter about what's happening to us and the same question keeps popping out, WHY?

Why can't the world and its leaders do something about this barbarity? Why are the interests of the world more important than human lives? Why can't people realize that no matter how powerful they get, the Almighty God is more powerful? Death is so ugly as it is, but when it's killing it's even uglier. For a whole week now, twenty or more Palestinian youths died fighting for their freedom and dignity. We are glued to the TV to see who got shot and got hurt and whose house was bombed. How do the Israeli soldiers feel about this destruction and their crimes against humanity? Have they lost their humanity, or are their orders more important to implement than the results? I wonder.

Bethlehem, October 27, 2001

Susan Atallah is coordinator English at St Joseph School for Girls in Bethlehem and board member of the Arab Educational Institute

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