breaking news

Ma'an news agency is reporting that the Israelis have apprehended the Islamic Jihad supporter/operative they were looking for.  He actually was at home.  It's still unknown whether or not they'll demolish his family's house, but maybe the Israelis will leave town soon and we can go home.

A co-worker reported to me that that's what Ma'an was reporting -- the article is probably only in Arabic.

Here's the story about the 17-year-old in Ma'an, and in Ha'aretz.

further madness

So I'm stuck in work and I can't go home because the Israeli army is occupying Bethlehem.

We think that the Israelis used the passing of George Habash and the as an excuse to go in and get a wanted Islamic Jihad member, who has been on the run for years.  A co-worker says that the Israelis might have gotten a tip that he was at his family home here in Bethlehem, which may or may not be true.  Anyway, the folks in the neighbourhood say that he definitely isn't there now, but the Israelis have the bulldozer poised to demolish the home, and apparently they're already at work on destroying their front fence and gate, and apparently the guy's 70-year-old paralytic father is inside and obviously can't get out.

Also, the Israelis have closed off most of the major streets in the central Bethlehem area south of and including Paul VI Street, so my co-worker and her sister can't go to their home, where their elderly mother is home alone surrounded by Israeli soldiers.  I myself probably can't go home, because the Israelis have occupied the tallest building in the area and I'd have to pass by it on my way, unless I decided to go the long way backwards around Bethlehem to get to my house.

A 17-year-old was shot and killed earlier today, around 5pm, and another young man was shot in the foot.  They've probably got snipers stationed at windows and on rooftops to enforce the security lockdown, so maybe I'll stay here for the night?

At least we've got a guest house.

George Habash dies, Israel invades Bethlehem

George Habash, the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a close friend of Yasser Arafat, and basically the head of the leftist movement in Palestine, died in exile in Jordan last night from heart failure.  Funerals and memorials are being staged all over Palestine, and especially in Beit Jala, where the leftist movement is very strong.

So around 2:30 today, while I was walking back from picking a few things up at my house, I saw three or four armoured Israeli jeeps roll into town, with a large personnel carrier.  I asked my friend Mike (a shopkeeper in Madbasseh Square) what was going on -- he was closing the metal shutters on his store because he was concerned that local kids would be throwing rocks at the jeeps.  I got inside the ICB and told the guys at the reception desk what I'd seen, and one of them went off to investigate.

For the last hour and a half, there have been spurts of shooting and explosions, mostly of sound bombs, but a few real ones too.  The Israelis are moving around the Bethlehem neighbourhoods -- doing what, I'm not sure.  The kids in the street are out in full force to investigate.  "Bullets, cool, let's go see!" is what my office mate says they were saying.  She also says she thinks the Israelis inside the tanks are more scared than the kids running in the streets -- I guess the kids have been through this before.



"The issue turned into a verbal spat between Egypt and Israel when Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said Israel gradually wants to relinquish responsibility for Gaza, now that the territory's border with Egypt had been blown open.

"It was a position echoed by other Israeli officials, who said the border breach could pave the way for increasingly disconnecting from the territory. However, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking to The Associated Press on the sidelines of the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland, said he didn't want to 'go too far in my interpretation of this.'"



breach in the Gaza Barrier, personal analysis

Early this morning, Hamas militants destroyed a section of the Israeli wall between Gaza and Egypt, allowing hundreds of Gazans to enter Egypt to buy supplies in the towns across the border.  By later in the morning, 2/3 of the wall had been destroyed, with tens of thousands of Gazans streaming across the border.  Reports differed as to whether the Egyptian border security forces actually tried to stop the Gazan influx or not; an article on the International Herald Tribune said that earlier in the day they did, but as more and more Gazans were attempting to cross the border, they became overwhelmed and simply stood back to watch.  I was thinking about this, and how Egypt and Israel are going to deal with this, and had this conversation with a friend:


but you heard about them blowing up most of the Wall at Rafah and tens of thousands of Palestinians streaming across the border into Egypt to buy food and supplies, yeah?

Hamas blew up the fence that Israel had built around Gaza, between Gaza and Egypt, so the Gazans (who have been under Israeli military siege since June) could get out and buy the supplies that have been all but blocked from entering Gaza

they started working on it really early this morning, and Egyptian border forces tried to keep people from coming through the break in the wall, but later in the morning there were tens of thousands of people trying to get through, so both Hamas security on the Gaza side and Egyptian security on the Egypt side just stood around and watched

but seriously, Gaza is a humanitarian nightmare
something was bound to happen sooner or later from Gaza
you can't keep people locked up without food, water and electricity forever

which is what was happening in Gaza, with the Israeli closures
 I'm just astounded that no one really stopped them
 like, it's not as if Israel has any qualms about bombing stuff

if they really wanted Gazans to quit going to Egypt, they would have just gone in and bombed the heck out of Rafah
 I think that this is Israel's way of saving face

they said that they didn't have troops stationed at the crossing between Gaza and Egypt, that it's Egypt's responsibility to control that bit, and that they'd expect Egypt to do something about it

I don't know what kind of internal pressures the Israeli government was under, but one side was probably like, "no, keep the Gazans inside until they die" and the other side was like "no, this is inhumane", so the easy solution was to "let them escape" into Egypt, and relinquish all responsibility
 a really similar thing happened in a West Wing episode, actually!

so it'll be interesting to see how Egypt plays this
 if they welcome the Palestinians (who are buying all sorts of supplies in the border towns), then the international community will have a positive impression of Egypt
 but this'll piss off the Israelis
 as well as making Egyptian border security look inept


I've been glancing at news stories on this during the day, and so far I haven't read any substantial response from Israel.  Predictably (and not altogether unjustifiably), they're concerned about what else might come back into Gaza besides much-needed supplies, but apart from that I haven't seen much comment on this incident from the Israelis in the international media.  Weird, isn't it?


strike in Bethlehem

There's a general strike on in Bethlehem today because of the 19 people killed in Gaza yesterday.  Most of the shops on the main street are closed today, and those that are open have only one of their shutters open so that they look mostly closed.  George at the supermarket said that one of the top Hamas guys in Gaza lost two sons in the attack yesterday, though I read an article that says only one of his sons was killed.  ( http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hf4YYgkM1f8SKSsRIunj0gtS-PJQ)

The article also mentions a sniper from Gaza killing an Israeli civilian across the border, and Hamas's armed wing launching a load of rockets into Israel, but it doesn't say if one incident preceded another, or what.

I went to a talk last night by Sam Bahour, a self-described "business activist" who touched on the danger of separating the West Bank and Gaza not only in the international mindset, but in the Palestinian mindset as well.  Gaza is in dire circumstances (daily incursions by the Israeli army, food and energy shortages, complete border closure) and if the West Bank gives up on it in order to save itself (in international negotiations, a blunt summary is that Fatah rules the West Bank and gets the carrot, while Hamas rules Gaza and is getting the stick), then what happens to the million people living there?


who's running the housing ministry?

So apparently the Israeli Housing Ministry has more power than the Israeli Attorney General and Condoleezza Rice put together?





"you'll be happy to hear..."

From The Guardian:  

Bush acknowledged that the checkpoints across the West Bank caused "massive frustrations" to the Palestinians. "You'll be happy to hear that my motorcade of 45 cars was able to make it through without being stopped but I'm not so exactly sure that's what happens to the average person," he said.

My friend Eric dropped me off near the King David Hotel yesterday, where I was to participate in a craft bazaar on behalf of the ICB, because no one with any Palestinian heritage was getting in or out of the West Bank.  It took us 15 minutes to get down there, and it took him an hour and a half to get back, because Israel closed Road 1 from Jerusalem to Ramallah, cutting Jerusalem in half and preventing people from getting across town.  Apparently it was too foggy to fly Marine One to Ramallah, so the presidential motorcade (which cars were imported from the US, along with 300 staff members, including housekeeping and catering staff to replace the hotel staff during his stay) drove up to Ramallah instead, while Jerusalem traffic sat at a standstill.

This is nuts.  I don't know if it's the president's security that mandates that all of these considerations be taken, or if it's the Israelis who arrange all this (for the sake of showing off, or as an excuse to harass Palestinians), but this is just NUTS.  It'll be a wonder if he ever gets invited back!

Full Guardian story here.

On the other hand, Bush did AGAIN call for a halt on settlement expansion, and Olmert AGAIN said okay, so maybe this time they'll mean it.


President Bush's visit to Bethlehem

President Bush is due to arrive in Bethlehem today, we think, so
obviously the whole town is shut down as a security measure.

Seriously. No West Bankers are allowed in or out of the city.

Pastor Mitri had to cancel a workshop in Jerusalem today because he
can't get out of the city, and our Ajyal programme had to cancel its
annual trip to the Galilee. Ajyal is our community care programme for
the elderly, so imagine, a bus full of little old ladies told that
they can't go to the Galilee because they're a security threat.

Adding to the frustration is the fact that many people in Bethlehem
have travel permits only for a limited time (most of them until the
20th... one-month travel permits from the Israeli government are
issued to many Christians around Christmastime, with the notable
exception of those involved in the media or in political activism,
some of whom have been denied permits for the last 3 years), and the
fact that the Israeli authorities said at 7pm last night that the bus
of senior citizens could go, and then at 10pm changed their mind and
said that they couldn't. The Ajyal coordinator had to get on the
phone to 100 seniors at 10pm and tell them that the trip would be
postponed until they were allowed out of the city again. They think
maybe Monday they'll be able to go.

In the meantime, we hope that the President enjoys his tour of
Bethlehem. Hopefully he'll get a better idea of what the town is like
than most tourists, who are bussed into Manger Square for an hour and
then bussed out again to their hotels on the Israeli side of the Wall.
Tony Blair stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel here in Bethlehem
(where I played billiards on my birthday -- swank place!), so maybe
the President and his entourage will stay for a while, and tour the
Wall to see Banksy's murals or something.

Bush said that his visit here is "more religious than political", but
as far as we know he hasn't made appointments with local church
leaders or anything, so his agenda is anyone's guess. I wonder how
long he'll want to spend down in the grotto at the Church of the

It really struck me at Christmas (and again at Orthodox Christmas)
that people come from all over the world for a once-in-a-lifetime
experience of seeing and touching the place where tradition says
Christ was born, and I walk past it all the time and am free to enter
and sit for as long as I like, whenever I like. It really is sort of
crazy that I live here, isn't it? There still exists in my mind a
disconnect between the "Bethlehem" of Bible stories and the Bethlehem
where I live, and I'm not sure how to reconcile the two. What is it
like for the monks who live and serve in the Church of the Nativity?
What is it like for the kids who grow up in the neighbourhoods around
the Church of the Nativity, and play in the sanctuary? Growing up in
(and physically next to) the church I suppose changed my relationship
with the church and church life (not sure if it's somehow decreased
the mystery and sanctity of the church in my mind, or if it's just
made me more comfortable with it and more ready to be a part of it),
but rollerskating in the basement of Grace Lutheran Church in Denver
and playing hide-and-seek in the sanctuary of the Church of the
Nativity are sort of two different things, aren't they?


from Al-Jazeera's English channel, on Nablus

From my friend Dave in Dublin


I watched a good documentary this evening, called “Two Schools in Nablus”. It was broadcast by the English language version of Al Jazeera. It shows what both teachers and students have to endure on a daily basis in Nablus.


One part of the documentary reminded me what Ziyad told us about when his family went to try and visit him in prison. A girl in the film has a brother in an Israeli jail; her parents are not allowed to visit him for security reasons, so she goes to visit him once a fortnight. Although she is only allowed to see him for 45 minutes, the actual round trip (including the checkpoints; searches; questioning etc) takes 15 hours! Appalling.


You can watch the documentary on You Tube in four parts:

Part 1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtziKpJi2Wk

Part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FL7Xifg3d4

Part 3 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoZPNZN1gEw

Part 4 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXp7UmzfSHA


Also posted the link on Facebook for those of you who use that.


I don’t know how to get Al Jazeera (the English language version) in Ireland, but they actually put a very large amount of their reports and features up on You Tube. Most days there are new reports from Palestine put up, covering the situation there. They cover more from Palestine than, say, BBC World or CNN.


Their “homepage” on You Tube is: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=AlJazeeraEnglish where you can browse their videos, and see all the new ones. If you have nerd-like tendencies like me you can subscribe using an RSS reader too to get the new content.


Regards, Dave

Nassar family in LA Times

Received this from Chuck:

The following article reviews struggle of a Palestinian family to retain their land from encroaching Israeli settlers. The story of the Nassar family, members of
Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, is told in more detail in Imm Mathilda: A Bethlehem Mother’s Diary by Alison Jones Nassar with Fred Strickert, a book issued a few years ago by Kirk House Publishers, Minneapolis. To order ($15) go to www.kirkhouse.com ... enter Catalog, then Global Issues.

West Bank Struggle Rooted In Land, By Richard Bourdreaux in The Los Angeles Times, Dec. 27, 2007