Christian town under siege

 The Christian town of Birzeit, home of Birzeit University, woke up this morning to find itself cut off from the rest of the West Bank. At 1am local time, heavily armed Israeli military occupation forces raided Surda, the town that serves as the main entrance to the city of Birzeit. The Israelis dug a deep trench in the main road linking Ramallah with 50 villages and towns including the city of Birzeit. They also sealed off the entrance via Jifna and the Jalazoun refugee camp has been completely sealed. In addition, the Israelis cut all telephone lines to the town thereby preventing any communication with the rest of the West Bank and the outside world. The occupation forces also cut the water lines to the city and surrounding villages thus creating a public health crisis for the 70,000 inhabitants of the isolated region. The complete closure denies access to basic necessities such as water, food supplies and health care services. According to eyewitness reports of resident in the area, the damage is extensive and will require substantial time and resources to repair. Everyone in the town is prepared for a long siege. The Israelis allowed just one road to remain open to Ramallah via Surda and remains the only means of communication to the rest of the surrounding villages. The Christian Birzeitis hurriedly shopped for food and heating gas anxious about what will happen next and fearing that the Israeli occupation forces will cut off the town's electricity. Fr. Iyad Twal, the town's Catholic priest and Latin Church Pastor said that cellular phones are the only means of communication with the outside world. "This is the first day Sharon will take power, God help the souls of people in the days to come," Fr. Iyad said as he pleaded for Americans to raise their voices in protest. "Please keep our brothers and sisters in your prayers and raise your voices to put an end to this brutal occupation, and let the people live!!!" The town of Birzeit is well known as the host to the leading Palestinian institution of higher learning, Birzeit University. As the siege of the town progresses 6000 students, faculty and staff are prevented from reaching the University Campus. In addition, communication facilities have been cut off and thus the University has no means of maintaining contact with the outside world. Digging trenches to cut off towns appears to be the newest tactic to suppress the Palestinian uprising. A trench was dug completely around the ancient town of Jericho thereby isolating the town from the rest of the West Bank. Jericho, too, had only one entrance. A military checkpoint prevented Jericho citizens from leaving or entering. Such tactics are a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights primarily published as a result of Nazi persecution of the Jews in Germany. We have just heard now that, in addition to the tank trench, there are four tanks surrounding the town and they are ready to shoot. They are not even allowing pedestrians to cross from Birzeit to Ramallah (and vice versa) on foot. The Society of St. Yves (the Catholic Human Rights Centre for Legal Resources and Development) is planning to appeal to the Israeli High Court to stop these measures of collective punishment as soon as possible. These measures are not only a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, but they produce nothing tangible for Israel or Israelis. They also do not increase security nor hasten the possibility of a negotiated settlement. The village of Bir Zeit does not suffer alone. All of the surrounding villages are cut off from one another. For example, the village of Aboud has been cut off from Ramallah, where people must go for work, health care, and education, for the last two weeks. "Even ambulances have been forbidden entry," says our parish priest Abuna Aktham Hijazin. We are calling upon all of our friends all over the world to make their voices heard to exert the utmost pressure upon their governments and the government of Israel to stop these illegal measures of collective punishment. Otherwise, we face disaster.

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