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BETHLEHEM, ISRAEL - 8 March, 2002 - The intensity of the "war" raging on in the Holy Land is not sparing anyone from its severe consequences. Innocent people, from both sides, are falling prey to the stubborn policy of Mr. Sharon whose narrow perspective on the conflict makes brute force essential in the process of bringing "Peace with Security" to his own people. On the Palestinian side, the perpetration of violent acts and suicide bombings that mostly leave victims among civilians are presented as a response to Israeli military incursions, targeted assassinations and incursions into populated refugee camps and other localities with often tragic consequences to the civilian population.
Israelis and Palestinians are thus intertwined in violence and counter violence. The cycle is vicious and appears unending. The logic behind the use of organized military force and individual acts of violence is a distorted one. It will not get us, Israelis and Palestinians, anywhere. On the contrary, the longer this vicious cycle continues, the more unlikely that we will be able to reach a workable solution for our common problems that involve not simply questions of peace and justice but also of how we are going to live side by side, in neighborly and normal relations, in the future.
As I write, the Israeli forces are encircling at least three refugee camps: Dheisheh and Aydah in Bethlehem and Nur Shams in Tulkarm in the northern West Bank. Friends from Bethlehem inform me that already five people have been killed: one woman who apparently resisted the entry of soldiers into her home was shot dead in Dheisheh refugee camp.
The director of al Yamamah hospital in Bethlehem, Dr. Ahmed Othman, was killed, according to a friend, when he was touring the various departments of the hospital. Soldiers shot him because he was not supposed to be moving inside his own hospital. All staff were prohibited by the Israeli soldiers from leaving their quarters.
The fear of friends with whom I spoke is that the entry of soldiers into the refugee camps could result in serious casualties among the civilian population that has nothing to do with the ongoing fighting. Besides, there is a concern that the contemplated actions of the Israeli army in Bethlehem and elsewhere would mean that thousands of families would have nothing to eat in the next couple of days.
A friend from Beit Jala informs me that people were caught unprepared with the latest Israeli incursion. Accordingly, they have not made plans for additional provisions for food or medicine. One concern that Palestinians have is the fact that Israeli soldiers are shooting at ambulances indiscriminately and, that in so many cases, bona vide ambulances are not allowed to get to those injured or ill. Dr. Mustapha Barghouti from UPMRC reports that the Israeli military have denied entry to ambulances into Nur Shams refugee camp in Tulkarm where there are 70 injured, some seriously.
In Gaza, the news is not any better. This morning as I came into my office, I called Mr. Constantine Dabbagh, the executive secretary of the Gaza Near East Council of Churches office, as I normally do. His voice appeared low and sad as he informed me that General Al-Masri (Abu Hmeid), the Palestinian high-ranking security officer in charge of coordinating with the Israelis, who was shot dead by Israeli forces in cold blood was a good personal friend of his.
In describing him, Mr. Dabbagh said that he was a pragmatic man who wanted to contribute to ending the vicious cycle of violence. The Israeli radio earlier on had reported, in Hebrew, that Abu Hmeid was killed as he was driving to positions where there was gunfire exchanged with the purpose of working up a cessation to the exchange. The killing of Abu Hmeid was part of the unfortunate events that unfolded in the Gaza Strip during last night and this morning. These events saw the infiltration of a Palestinian gunman into a Jewish settlement Yeshiva (religious school) in Gush Kativ in the Gaza Strip who started tossing hand grenades into a filled classroom and shooting that ended up with the killing of five Yeshiva students, all 18 years old and with injury to at least a similar number of students. As a result of this tragic incident, the Israeli army went out in force to retaliate, resulting in the killing of Abu Hmeid and 18 other Palestinians between security personnel and civilians.
From the best of sources, usually the Palestinian security personnel are stationed at Palestinian checkpoints for the purpose of ensuring public order and safety within the Palestinian population. Their killing, in all likelihood, was the result of shooting in cold blood as happened with General Abu Hmeid.
It is indeed sad that we are losing our young and best, on both sides. This is recurring daily. The pain and the trauma hitting all of us here is continuous. Both Israelis and Palestinians are in need of healing. This will not happen without a serious movement on the part of the international community and specifically the Powers, if they are still out there. Meanwhile, we appeal to you from DSPR/MECC[Department of Services for Palestinean Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches] to address immediately your governments, churches, media and various constituencies on the following:
I ask you, on behalf of DSPR/MECC[Department of Services for Palestinean Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches], to keep all of us here in the Holy Land in your thoughts and prayers. May our politicians be guided to become statesmen so as the cycle of violence would stop and the prospects of healing and peacemaking would advance.
- First, immediate withdrawal of the Israeli military forces from all refugee camps in Bethlehem and Tulkarm and to insist on the Israeli government to refrain from entry into populated Palestinian areas at any time.
- Second, to call for the start of immediate negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides in order to affect a truce on the ground and to proceed to examine the elements of a permanent solution.
- Third, to impress on the Israeli government that holding the Palestinian civilian population hostage would not succeed in advancing the proper solutions to outstanding problems between the two sides.
- Fourth, to appeal to both sides on the need to desist from acts of military nature and violence in order to give space to politicians to work things out.
- Fifth, there should be no hindering of entry of medical; food and other needed commodities and services to populated Palestinian areas under siege.
BERNARD SABELLA came to the US to study at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, and he did his doctorate in Sociology at the University of Virginia. He teaches Sociology at Bethlehem University and his sociology textbook is the most widely used in the Arab world. Dr. Sabella is Executive Secretary of the Department of Services for Palestinean Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches. This is Dr. Sabella's second article for The World's Magazine.
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