I am writing this with a very heavy heart, as Israel's broadest incursion into Palestinian areas (6 of 8 West Bank cities) continue to worsen at its 4th day. Israeli army has already advanced into population centers and commercial districts of Bethlehem area (pop. 130,000) with over 30 tanks. I'd like to share the information from my friends in Dheisheh refugee camp, because it's so hard to know what's happening from regular news coverage.
Israeli tanks began rolling into Bethlehem district (Area A: Palestinian Authority-controlled area under the peace agreement) late Thursday night. They immediately occupied the entrance of Bethlehem area, by taking over Intercontinental Hotel and Paradise Hotel, Aida Refugee Camp, followed by the occupation of Azzah Refugee Camp the next morning. There has been shelling, bombing, and shooting throughout day and night, thrusting the entire area into a war zone. Apache helicopter gunship and F- 16 fighter jets hover in the sky continuously. No work, no school, and no sleep for the children and families of Bethlehem.
As of yesterday afternoon, from what they knew there were at least: 4 tanks at Bab al-Zqaq (main intersection of the town), 2 in Cinema Square (the center of main shopping area), 2 in Beit Sahour village, 3 in upper part of Beit Jala village (number for the lower part unknown), 4 in Doha village, 4 surrounding Azzah camp, 3 in Aida camp, 2 on the road leading to Nativity Church, 2 near Palestinian security building, and 3 at al-Khader village. The only locality remained unoccupied is Dheisheh refugee camp.
It seems Israelis have positions themselves at strategic hilltops throughout the area. It is extremely dangerous to move from an area to another, for tanks are everywhere and open spaces such as intersections are directly exposed to snipers that overlook entire area from high positions. Anything that moves can get shot at. Last night, friends of mine on errands became a target of tank shell, which narrowly missed their car.
The tanks and soldiers have been firing indiscriminately into houses and people, resulting in 15 deaths so far: 3 on the first, 4 on the second day, 4 on the third day, and 3 yesterday. Many of them are women and children. Some of them were killed in their homes, while getting off a car, standing in front of a friend's house, etc. Today, a man was killed inside Hussain Hospital, the main hospital of Bethlehem, which came under attack of tank fire. In the past days, reaching the hospital has been almost impossible, for tanks are blocking the road and have been firing at ambulances. A friend of mine, an ambulance driver for UNRWA was shot at. The numerous injured people have been taken to ill-equipped local clinics, if they are lucky enough to reach there.
The situation in the two occupied refugee camps are the most horrific. People are placed under house arrest. It's extremely dangerous to go outside, for shootings are taking place inside of densely populated and crowded camps. Several houses were already destroyed from tank shells and by being caught on fire from shooting.
Dheisheh has become a center for the area's Muslim funerals, for it's the only place remained unoccupied and safe (relatively speaking) for public gathering. They are resilient people and are coping with the situation with amazing strength, but not without fear of what the next day may bring, as tanks have been advancing deeper and deeper in the area, closer to Dheisheh. Below is a letter from my friends Jehad, Rashid, and Yasir from Dheisheh's Ibdaa Cultural Center. At the end of this message is President Bush and Collin Powell's contact info and sample letter of protest.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Jehad Abass"
Sent: Sunday, October 21, 2001 10:17 AM
Subject: What is going on? What the hell is going on??? Freedom!
Bethlehem Date: 21/10/2001 Time: 2:00 pm
It's the third day under occupation in Bethlehem. I woke up at 9:00am and dressed to go to the funerals. These were the funerals of four martyrs who fell yesterday. After we buried them, another two martyrs were added to the list.
The shelling and bombing does not stop. And the tanks are moving in to capture the whole of the city of Bethlehem. Already, all the strategic areas are under Israeli military control: they are on every mountain around Bethlehem, on every high hill, on every tall building.
Although Aida and Al-Azza refugee camps are still under occupation, Israeli soldiers continue firing toward these camps, causing lot of injuries. And the helicopters have started firing toward the Palestinian Authority Police Center.
And the tanks are moving over here. slowly, slowly.
After they completely occupied Beit Jala, the two camps (Aida and Azza) and the city center of Bethlehem, they reached Al-Hussein Hospital. They then refused to allow the ambulances to reach the hospital. So the ambulances had to take the injured to another hospital, a hospital in al-Khader Village. It is a small hospital and it already has a lot of injured people to care for. There is no room for more injured.
What will happen? There is shelling everywhere. How we can do the funerals of the martyrs?? While we are thinking of that we hear that there is another martyr - he was killed just a moment ago!
"Oh my God!"
He is 26 years old, a man born into suffering. The man is from Azza camp. He can't hear or talk as other people can. He went outside his home in Azza to buy bread for his family. When the soldiers saw him they opened fire on him. They had shouted at him to go to them and to produce his ID but. he was not able to hear them so he just went on his way. and they opened fire. The man didn't hear the commotion behind him and the bullets which were fired towards him. Suddenly he felt a 500mm bullet strike his back. He just fell and took his last breath with his normal silence. But in his eyes there were obviously a lot of words which he wished to say; but the main word was "FREEDOM!"
We do not wish to live under these conditions. We hope our future will be better than our fathers'.
I want to live in freedom!
Freedom to be able to choose where you want to live; freedom to be able to have all your family members able to sit and enjoy meals together; freedom to live your lives normally - without checkpoints, without shelling, without shooting, without martyrs, without funerals, without demonstrations.
Freedom to live without fearing that soldiers may arrest you, or that they may shot you just because you are a Palestinian or a "refugee", freedom to hear music rather than the sounds of bombs and shells, freedom to not lose your friends in "clashes", freedom to not feel that you are in a big jail, freedom to have nobody to control your life, freedom to know that you and your family will be safe - today and tomorrow - because you live in your own country.
We will continue our struggle until the day we have our freedom!
Because freedom is the light which will end all this darkness!
Jehad Abbas and Rashed Abu-Alia and Yasseir al-Qaisi Ibdaa Culture Center Dheisheh Refugee Camp Bethlehem, Palestine
Make your voice heard: Contact info and Sample letter
* President George W. Bush The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: (202) 456-1414 Fax: (202) 456-2461
* Secretary of State Colin Powell E-mail: email@example.com Phone: (202) 647-4000 (202-647-5150) Bureau of Near East Affairs Fax: (202) 261-8577
October 20, 2001
Dear Secretary of State Powell,
I am writing to urge you immediately to intervene to stop Israel's rampage against Palestinians in the occupied territories. Israeli attacks are escalating and the death toll is mounting despite strong statements from the United States that these attacks should be halted. It is clear that words alone do not stop Israel's government, and it is now time for the United States to take a stand.
The United States cannot be both for a Palestinian State, as the President has recently affirmed it is, and also for allowing Israel to rampage freely and indefinitely through the occupied territories murdering people, destroying property, building settlements and besieging and impoverishing the entire population. The United States cannot both be for peace and negotiations and at the same time unconditionally supply the very weapons with which Israel makes war against a defenseless civilian population under occupation.
The United States cannot be for law and order and at the same time do nothing to oppose Israel's use of death squads armed with American weapons to carry out extra judicial executions.
Since October 18 at least 20 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli occupation forces who have now taken over parts of six Palestinian cities. Dozens of Israeli tanks now control Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Ramallah and Al-Bireh and their residents are under constant bombardment.
Today, 23 year old Rania Kharufa died after being hit by shrapnel from a tank shell which exploded near her house in Beit Jala.
Aisha Abu Odeh, a mother of eight was mowed down by Israeli machine gun fire at the at the door of her home in Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem and witnesses said tank fire killed 17-year-old Yusef Abayat on the street. Yesterday, 35-year-old Mariam Sbeh was killed according to media reports.
On 18 October 2001, 10-year old Riham Nabeel Ward was killed by live ammunition to the chest while attending school in the German Area, Jenin. Riham and other students of the Shahidayn Al Ibrahmiyyeh Basic Girls School arrived for class in the morning and found Israeli tanks and soldiers positioned near the school following an Israeli incursion into the area the previous night. Israeli soldiers opened fire while the students were attempting to take cover on the floor of one of the classrooms.
Israel is gravely violating the Fourth Geneva Convention which protects civilians in wartime. Time is short, Mr. Secretary and enough lives have been lost. In the interests of everyone, in the interests of peace, I hope the United States will act now.