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Friday, March 24, 2017
A church minister reports from Bethlehem
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¬†Rev Sandra Olewine is a Methodist minister based in Jerusalem Almost exactly 24 hours after the Israeli army withdrew from the centre of Bethlehem on early Sunday morning, they returned. I awoke at 03:45 this morning, with adrenaline pumping through my body. I was having a dream - or maybe it was a nightmare - in which the Israelis were returning to Bethlehem. Unable to go back to sleep, I went to the living room to watch some television. Within 15 minutes, I could hear gunfire in the area. For the next hour, every 10 or 15 minutes I could hear shooting. I realized, then, that I wasn't only dreaming. I dozed off and on, but when I awoke at 6 am and there were no cars on the street, I was sure Bethlehem was under curfew again. By 7:00 am I began calling people to figure out what was happening. Sure enough, the whole Bethlehem area was again under curfew ≠ Beit Jala, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, El Khader, and Doha. Everyone was forbidden to move to the street. The army came in relatively quietly this time. According to reports, they took up positions outside of the main churches in Bethlehem and the hospital in Beit Jala first, before they began house to house searches, blocking those places as points of refuge. I looked out my kitchen window and could see one large tank sitting near the corner, its turret pointed diagonally across the street. Again, there are tanks at most major intersections and near the Church of the Nativity and Christmas Lutheran Church. In some neighbourhoods, friends are reporting that they are taking many young men out. Some get sent back and others not. Some are blindfolded and others not. Almost every phone conversation I've had today has contained the question, "how long do you think they'll stay?" The Israeli reports only say `as long as it takes.' To say that people are beside themselves doesn't even begin to describe what folks are feeling. They are fed up. One friend said to me: "Why don't they just completely occupy the cities again. Then at least we could move. The children could go to school. We'll walk under their tanks if we have to." But, of course, the Israeli government has no desire to completely reoccupy Palestinian areas. Then they would have to accept responsibility for education, health and some type of social system again. Frankly, the cost is not something they are willing to bear. These short-term incursions, in and out, of the main Palestinian areas, allows the illusion to exist that there is still such a thing as Palestinian autonomous areas, removing any sense of Israeli responsibility for the well-being of the Palestinian people. Of course, with these incursions, there is no way for schools to operate normally. There is no way for health care systems to operate well. There is no way for any economic support to take hold. There is no way for families to have a sense of normalcy or security. In fact, the only thing these incursions allow for is the deepening of resentment, the building of frustration, the growth of anger. As every security report has said throughout the last 20 months ≠ whether by Israeli or international experts ≠ the Israeli military operations do little more than nurture the seeds of hate which lead to suicide attacks against Israelis. There is no way for Palestinian security to operate in these conditions. There is no way for anything to operate in these conditions. As I listen to tank shells exploding nearby, I can only hope that people again find the strength to hold on, to hold out, to keep their spirits alive. Then, maybe they'll still have some humanity intact when the world finally understands their suffering and moves decisively to end this chaos. Rev. Sandra Olewine United Methodist Liaison, Jerusalem
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