From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Commentary: A nation under siege

Date 26 Feb 2001 15:35:48

Feb. 26, 2001 News media contact: Tim Tanton·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: A photograph of the Rev. Alex Awad is available.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The Rev. Alex Awad and his wife, Brenda, are missionaries
with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, serving at Bethlehem
Bible College and East Jerusalem Baptist Church. After six years of repeated
applications to the Israeli government, Awad, a Palestinian American,
received an official visa for his missionary work in 1995.

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Alex Awad

Ten Palestinian men were standing by the wall at the Israeli checkpoint
north of Bethlehem. I couldn't see their faces because the Israeli soldiers
made them stand facing the wall with their arms above their heads. The fault
of these men, who ranged in age from 25 to 35, was that they had sneaked out
of Bethlehem to go to Jerusalem five miles away to find a day's work.
However, they were caught before they could sneak back to their homes in

When my turn at the checkpoint came, I showed my U.S. passport. The soldier
smiled at me and wished me a nice day. I passed through the checkpoint
without humiliation, but that Sunday evening I kept wondering what happened
to the 10 Palestinian men. How long did they have to stand out in the street
with their arms over their heads on this cold February night? 

They were definitely luckier than the two Palestinian construction workers
who were killed by settlers on their way to work in an Israeli settlement
near Bethlehem, and perhaps more fortunate than those caught by Israeli
soldiers trying to sneak in through the fields and consequently brutally
beaten up. Some, instead of getting home that evening, had to stay that
night in a hospital treating their wounds. 

These heartbreaking scenes could be witnessed on the outskirts of every
Palestinian city and village. All major Palestinian cities and towns have
been under a stricter siege for the last four months, since the latest wave
of violence began. Approximately 3 million people are trapped in their
cities and villages. They are not allowed to travel to Israel, and
frequently they are not allowed to travel to other Palestinian cities. In
some cases, such as in Hebron and in Beit Jala, Palestinians cannot even
travel by car from one neighborhood to another within the same city.

One must ask the question: Is the siege a security measure or is it a crime
against a whole population?

Israelis claim that the closures are necessary to stop Palestinian
terrorism. In reality, the closures increase hate, bitterness and mistrust,
which lead to increased acts of violence and revenge that snuff out the
lives of many innocent Israelis and Palestinians. 

Over and over again, it has been proven that the siege is a collective
punishment imposed largely upon a Palestinian population that is not engaged
in acts of revenge and violence against Israelis. The few Palestinians who
plan violence against Israel know how to avoid checkpoints and army camps,
and they enter the heart of Israeli cities with unusual skill and ease.
Closures do not stop terrorists; they only stop hard-working Palestinians
from getting to their jobs and fields. 

The siege is having a devastating effect on every aspect of Palestinian
life. Take, for example, what is happening in the city of Hebron. Because of
the presence of 100 Jewish families there, all 40,000 Palestinian
inhabitants of the city are under strict curfew. This means that no
Palestinian vehicle can go in or out of the city during the curfew, not even
ambulances that may need to transport critically ill or severely injured

A case in point is Sawsan Ahmad Jaber, a Palestinian woman who was in a
coma. Her mother could not find an ambulance to take her to the hospital, so
Jaber was placed in a garbage truck and driven over rough roads for hours
before reaching the hospital. In normal circumstances, the drive to the
hospital would have taken five minutes. Jaber received the needed treatment,
but another citizen of Hebron was not as fortunate. Ahmed Abd Alkhader
Sbitani, who found an ambulance to take him to the hospital, died because
Israeli soldiers refused to let the vehicle pass through the checkpoint.

The closures are slowly strangling all aspects of Palestinian life:
economic, social, educational and even religious.

As pastor of a church in Jerusalem, I can see how the closures stand in the
way of freedom of religion.  Palestinian Christians who wish to worship in
Jerusalem cannot cross Israeli checkpoints to get to their churches. The
Arabic Sunday night service at our church died out because Palestinian
Christians couldn't come from Bethlehem or Ramallah to attend it. Only a
small fraction of Muslims from the occupied territories who attempt to
worship at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem make it through Israeli checkpoints.
In protest, many conduct worship services near the checkpoints.

A serious casualty of the siege is the education of Palestinians on all
levels and especially that of schoolchildren. Kawthar Salam, a reporter from
Hebron, reports: "As of today, 41 schools are closed; three of these schools
have been turned into military bases. Israeli soldiers use the schools to
fire live ammunition, plastic bullets and tear-gas canisters at Palestinian
stone throwers. This means that 14,000 Palestinian students are denied an
education. Now they stay in homes that are much like prison cells. These
children are being abused. But they are getting a different kind of
education; the Israelis are teaching them hate and violence. This is not
good for our children, and it is not good for the future of our coexistence
in this land." 

At Bethlehem Bible College, where I serve as dean of students, we often
suspend or cancel evening classes because teachers and students cannot make
it through the checkpoints.  

The true purpose of the closure is to break the will of the Palestinian
people and to bring their leadership to its knees. In this way, the Israelis
aim to force the Palestinians to make major concessions in ongoing peace
negotiations. A whole nation is severely punished and bruised in order to
accommodate the expansionistic passions of another nation. 

The closure of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is a crime that must be
stopped.  Peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians cannot
be realized as long as one side of the divide functions as the jailer of the
other side. 

Men and women who yearn for peace and justice in this land must act to stop
the closure of the Palestinian territories and pray for an end to this evil

# # #

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