Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Modern day Bethlehem is a far cry from the scenes of Christmas cards. Life is controlled by the Apartheid Wall and checkpoints. Martyr pictures cover the walls of the narrow streets and alleys of Dheisheh refugee camp, many killed by the Israeli army simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I witnessed not only huge suffering and struggles, but also the energy and vitality of young kindergarten children in the refugee camp. My heart simultaneously breaks and bursts with happiness as I think of those bright, beautiful, radiant children. Some of them will not make it. Some will not survive the bullets of the Israeli army. All of them will be humiliated by the army, and many will be arrested.
We visited a school in Al Khadr, near Bethlehem. It is one of many schools whose life and safety has been completely disrupted since the construction of the Apartheid Wall begun. The Israeli army bulldozed one wall of the playground, and now position themselves close to the classrooms, harassing, threatening and intimidating the children. The army frequently enters the school, breaks windows and disturbs the education of these boys. Last year the Occupying army killed two students in the school itself.
Five or six schools in that district alone face similar problems. In Anata there have been several occasions of students and teachers being attacked with tear gassed and rubber bullets whilst they are in the school. The Wall has been built through their playground. In the village of Sarra, near Nablus, the army has been throwing sound bombs as the children leave school. International presence has, for the time being, deterred the army from returning.
We picked our way through the rubble of a bombed out Palestinian house in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. From the remains of the second floor you see a snap shot of the Occupation. On top of the hill opposite, Gilo, an illegal Israeli settlement; to the right the Apartheid Wall under construction; below us a Settler only road; and under that a tunnel for Palestinians to use.
As an international solidarity worker the thing that makes it all bearable is the incredible spirit of the Palestinian people. To be with people who retain even a shred of hope and resilience in this situation is incredible.