Report from peacemakers in Bethlehem

 Around 35 people from different Christian organisations and peace groups are currently in Bethlehem. Aaron Froehlich from the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) from the Quaker and Mennonite Churches, has sent this report. After a day of nonviolence training in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Emergency Delegation, sponsored by Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has now formed three affinity groups and entered the West Bank. One group is staying in Hebron, while the other two spent Thursday together in Bethlehem attempting to bring food to the Church of the Nativity and the families stranded around Manger Square. They joined members of the International Solidarity Movement and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and as a group of about 35 internationals, carried close to a thousand pounds of food staples such as beans, rice, flour and oil into the heart of Bethlehem. Hardly a sound echoed through the narrow streets on the approach to Manger Square. Evidence of the horrific destruction littered the way, however-from charred, bombed cars and broken glass to scattered automatic rifle shells that covered the stone street. At one point, a large bag of bread lay molding on the side of the road, evidence of the strict curfew that has prevented families from getting outside for food. Bethlehem, the "House of Bread" in Hebrew, has been anything but over the past two and a half weeks of invasion. Within a hundred metres of the square, we were barred passage by a group of armed Israeli soldiers. Our initial hope for peaceful negotiations waned as the soldiers continued refusing to let us pass to deliver the food. The group then gathered together and attempted to push slowly forward, but as the tensions rose, the leaders guided us to sit down together in the narrow street. For the next forty minutes, we continued negotiations, sang songs, prayed and talked with the soldiers in the hopes that our presence and witness might make a difference. What began as hard, blank stares softened slightly to include intermittent laughing and joking, although this was a small success as our ultimate goal of delivering food to those in greatest need was consistently denied. The soldiers were undoubtedly listening, however, as we repeatedly pointed out their violation of the Geneva Convention's international mandate to allow the provision of medical care and food to civilians trapped in their homes. The sit-down ended after our group became concerned that our presence might be affecting the ability for families further back up the road to take advantage of the four-hour curfew lift. We were able to distribute food to the houses in the area, as dozens of women and children rushed out to get food for their families. Although the Israeli Army continues to violate the human rights of the civilians trapped in the Church of the Nativity and around Manger Square, our presence made small positive steps. While walking back up the twisting road that climbs away from Manger Square, the soldiers sought to continue the dialogue with us. As emergency delegate Allyn Dhynes put it: "what touched me was the tears in the eyes of both the Palestinians and the soldiers." In this tragic situation, we witnessed today that there are no winners. Hopefully, with continued pressure and presence of international human rights activists, the IDF will find the courage to move beyond the status quo of their "orders" and transform their despair into something constructive. Maybe, then, Bethlehem will once again be fitting of its name. Members of CPT's April 15-29 delegation are: Robert Allenson (Westville,FL), Allyn Dhynes (Tigard, OR), Aaron Froehlich (Albuquerque, NM), Bob Gross (N. Manchester, IN), Elayne McClanen and Clara Sinclair (Sandy Spring, MD), Kathleen Namphy (Palo Alto, CA), Lorin Peters (San Leandro, CA), Steve Ramer (Washington, DC), Bill Rose (Tampa, FL), Ken Sehested (Clyde, NC), Brad Smith (Comer, GA), Harriet Taylor (Germantown, MD), and Mary Hughes Thompson (Los Angeles, CA). CPT has maintained a continuous presence in Hebron at the invitation of the city's mayor since June, 1995.

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