Oct 26 2000

Inside Beit Jala

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

Beit Jala is a special town for me. I went to the Hope School at the top of the hill there, and a number of my relatives and in-laws still live in this predominantly Christian town, west of Bethlehem.

Many of the original citizens of Beit Jala have emigrated to Chile and other Latin American countries and the town is relatively quiet. A settlement, Har Gilo, was built on the top of the Beit Jala mountain, near the Everest restaurant and hotel.

A large section of the townspeople’s land was confiscated during the years of occupation, to make room for the Gilo settlement and the two tunnels that connect the Hebron road with Jerusalem, bypassing Bethlehem and the Daheisheh refugee camp. 

The town of Beit Jala has become the center of attention during the past few weeks, as a number of gunmen have been firing weapons – from the outskirts of the town – towards the Gilo settlement, built entirely on Palestinian lands taken over by Israel in the 1967 war.

Israelis who consider Gilo a neighborhood and an integral part of their capital, reacted angrily to the shooting from Beit Jala, and began an excessive retaliatory action aimed at trying to crush any form of long-term Palestinian resistance.

The Israeli army and air force were brought in to begin shelling this civilian town.

A loud-speaker in the Har Gilo settlement called on people to evacuate their homes, but not everyone heard the calls. At 6 p.m. on Sunday, 21 October, the shelling began.

Im Yacoub, an in-law of mine, told me that her family and others crowded in the nearby Orthodox club, in the hopes that the shelling would not target a Christian location. Another set of relatives, the Nazals, stayed at home in the belief that the shelling would not reach them. Basma Nazal and her sister Suna live near the St. Nicolas Church in the Al Deir quarters. An offer by my brother to have them stay at his Bethlehem home was turned down. The Nazals told my brother Danny that his home, which is close to the Har Homa settlement that is being built on Jabal Abu Ghneim, is probably just as dangerous.

By 11 p.m. the shelling which had been targeting other areas, came suddenly close to the Nazal home. Apache helicopters began flying overhead. The two Nazal sisters and their families quickly left the house and, 15 minutes later, a shell landed on the bedroom of Milad, Nazal’s four-year-old son. Another shell fell on the kitchen, starting a fire and leaving this room a charred wreck.

The two families were not hurt, but a cousin, Samer Nazal, was injured. An ambulance, which came to rescue Samer, was shot at by Israeli automatic gunfire. A doctor in the ambulance was hurt, leaving the ambulance driver to aid both Samer and the doctor.

Not far from the same location, a theater was hit and slightly Palestinian actor Khaled Masou. The 10,000 residents of Beit Jala were placed under a tight siege.

International law, which deals with issues regarding the laws of war, specifically forbids what happened in Beit Jala. While the Geneva Convention and other international laws permit a military force to react to sources of fire against them, it strictly forbids targeting civilian populations.

Reactions to a military attack, according to these conventions, must be aimed specifically at the areas attacked, and be in the same proportion. Israeli political and military officials threatened to react disproportionately, and carried out these threats.

In reference to the events in Gilo, the Israeli chief of General Staff said on the radio that the army would react in a forceful way to any attempts to disturb the normal lives of Israelis.

For 33 years the State of Israel and its illegal occupation of Arab lands have disturbed the lives of Palestinians. And now that a few Israelis, living in a settlement built on confiscated Palestinian lands, have a hard time going to sleep, Palestinian homes have to be shelled, ambulances shot at, and collective punishment placed on an entire people.

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