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Palestine: Politics

The Palestinians are under siege, losing the battle for their land by painful attrition as the settlements hem them in from all sides.

An Israeli military base reduces local homes to rubble from time to time. They show us the evidence: beautiful, expensive homes pummeled into blackened shells by long-distance bombardment. The Israeli explanation is that Palestinians shoot at the base from these houses. Some Palestinians think the Israelis hire people to do the shooting and provide a pretext for attack; but it is just as likely Muslim extremists trying to get the Israelis to bombard Arab Christian homes and pull Christians into the conflict, or even the owners of the houses reacting to more than fifty years of frustration. Many Palestinian families are building additions to their homes as a sign of defiance.

CNN doesn't show what they have to defy. The Israelis confiscate unoccupied land to build settlements; the Palestinians tell us that they plant olive trees rather than wheat because the trees are proof of occupation year-'round. The Israeli military defends settlements, and the government offers settlers generous financial incentives – some, according to our hosts, funded with money sent by the US government.

The pattern of settlement construction seems calculated to further shore up Israeli control of the West Bank. Maps shown to us at the Palestinian-run Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem show a triple trend: settlements and military bases cluster along the Green Line (the border between the West Bank and Israel), around Jerusalem, and along the Jordan River. This, ARIJ says, is intended to push Palestinians further behind the Green Line, to surround Jerusalem and cut it off from the West Bank, and to establish control of the fertile agricultural lands in the Jordan Valley.

Israel has a stranglehold on Palestinian transportation, and thereby the Palestinian economy. Roadblocks, checkpoints, and Israeli-only bypass roads make what should be a twenty-minute drive a day-long ordeal. Whether or not a Palestinian makes it through a checkpoint might depend on the current state of the conflict, his religion (Christians are favoured over Muslims), and the mood of the soldiers on duty. Lately, all-day curfews have cut Palestinians off from healthcare and other vital services.

The stories that come out of the conflict—the ones the Western media ignores—are painful to hear. Children lose limbs or family members to land mines. Ambulances and emergency workers are lost when Israelis attack them to prevent their helping Palestinian victims of the violence. The Israelis shoot firefighters when they try to put out houses set ablaze by bombardment. The Palestinians are not all innocent, of course; they throw stones and fire guns and blow themselves up on busses full of Israeli civilians. As John Howard Yoder wrote in "The Christian Witness to the State": even the smallest and most gentlemanly war strikes more innocent than guilty persons. This is certainly not a small or gentlemanly war—how much worse is it for the innocents caught in the crossfire?

- Jeremy Yoder

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Life in the West Bank

From the moment that we first arrived in Beit Sahour on September 17, we were made to feel as if this were our own home. After more than two weeks of constant traveling, it has been a relief to settle into a community as hospitable and caring as this Palestinian town. Despite some initial nervousness over first meeting our host families, we have found these people to adopt us as their own.

The longer we are here the more stories reach our ears. The importance of family, of education, and of religion are contrasted by the lack of business due to the Intifada, boredom, and the loss of family and friends. As a result of the continuous violence and destruction, over and over again we hear 'there is nothing to do here now.' Yet the idea of home is not easily abandoned.

Every Saturday night there is a huge crowd at the Radio Net Café, gathered to dance, to meet with friends, and to forget for a few hours the stress and fear of life under occupation. This is an escape, although temporary. We ended our night there early after rumours of demonstrations and protests in Manger Square in nearby Bethlehem—a sharp reminder of the overarching shadow of conflict. But for those few hours it is not the topic of conversation and the stories are put on hold.

Compared to many of our cities in the US, Beit Sahour and Bethlehem are very personal. Here people truly are neighbours in a way I have not encountered before. Perhaps for this reason we feel so welcome. We feel safe even in the midst of such unrest. Here we are distinguished as individuals who are here to study, to listen, and to learn rather than directly associated with a government that openly supports Israel.

In Beit Sahour we have noticed that these people are proud, but not prideful. They are proud of their education and the homes they have worked to save from destruction. They are proud of their friends, their neighbors and their religion—the majority here are Christians and want it known. They are proud of their family, a structure which helps each one through his or her despair, boredom, and fear under curfew; they celebrate on every available occasion whether it be birthdays, weddings, or simply a large dinner after church. During our time here we have been accepted into these families, to live as they do, feel as they do, and above all we continue to listen…

- Alethia Bailey