Nine years ago, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) invaded Bethlehem as part of an operation across the West Bank cities. They tried to capture “wanted” Palestinians in an attempt to stop the operations against Israel at that time. On April the 2nd, the Israeli troops surrounded the Nativity Church where around 220 Palestinians and monks resided. As it is the holiest site in Christianity, Israelis were not able to storm the church because of the public opinion.
You may have read stories or news reports about the church’s siege but this is a personal story.
I remember I was a school student. For around 39 days, schools were closed due to the imposed curfew by the IDF. Of course, any student would be delighted not to go to school. But this was different.
What did curfew mean at that time? To me, curfew meant defying the IDF. How? Well, I live on the main road in Bethlehem which the tanks and military vehicles used in order to go to the Nativity Church. As teenagers, my neighbors and I used the streets to play traditional games or ride our bicycles. We were good listeners. Whenever we heard the sound of a tank, we ran to our usual hiding places for fear of detention.
The siege and curfew on Bethlehem tightened the relations among the people. Neighbors used to get together nearly every night to play cards or to chat or even to share meals as Palestinians are known for their hospitality. It’s true that everyone was worried about the church and the people inside, but we were trying to get out of the huge jail that Israel tried to impose. I remember we used to go through the fields to reach some of our relatives. Spending our time going here and there was amazing, yet there was something missing. As devout Christians, my family and I used to go to the Nativity Church every Sunday to pray. However, the Israeli siege on the church prevented us from our weekly prayers.
The Israeli army used to lift the curfew on the city for a few hours some days. We used these hours to go get food supplies in order to survive the next days under curfew. Even though they lift the curfew, they stayed in the city streets like jailers watching over the people.
One Friday during the siege, I woke up in the early morning to a terrifying sound that shook our house. It felt like an earthquake but a bit different. We realized that an Israeli tank was destroying our neighbor’s car that was parked just beneath the balcony of my room.
Another experience with the Israeli tanks was when I was going back home after a long day out. Of course curfew was imposed. But what I didn’t realize was that two tanks were parked just in front of my house. I walked about 10 meters where I was blind enough not to see them. When I got home and looked through the window’s reflection, I saw the tanks and I felt like crap. But then, it felt good defying the armed soldiers who were causing all the trouble in my city.
I barely remember how I felt when I visited the Nativity Church after the siege that ended on May 10th but I remember seeing the destruction caused by Israeli fires.
The scenes of tanks and memories of those days will never fade from my memory. I hopefully will live to tell my experiences during the second intifada to my children just as my parents narrate stories about the Naksa (setback or the six days war in 1967).
Here’s a report to refresh your memories about the siege. [in Arabic]
Here’s another report that unveils how the Palestinians survived inside the church during the siege and the negotiations that resulted to end the siege.