Pray for Bethlehem Christians

A request from Sister Maria

Sat, 20 Oct 2001

Dear Friends,

Please keep the people of the Holy Land, particularly those in Bethlehem and Beit Jala in your prayers.

As the world's eyes are turned to the events in Afghanistan it appears that the Israeli government is taking advantage of the situation to carry out the devastation and the occupation of Palestinian-controlled towns.

The New York Times reported today that "Israel's cabinet decided after the killing (of Tourism Minister Zeevi) ``to act in the Authority's territories in every place where terror acts are carried out or are planned,'' Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said in a statement."

Would someone please ask the Israeli Defense Minister if the Syrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary located just east of the Church of the Nativity off Manger Square constitutes a "place where terrorist acts are carried out or planned"?

This evening the priest, Fr. Yacoub Issak and members of Bethlehem's Syrian Orthodox Church are huddled in the church basement in fear and isolation (electricity is out, phone poles down). They raced to the church after it's doors were hit by an Israeli missile earlier this evening.(The church is located up a narrow lane in an old section of Bethlehem, heavily populated.)

Damage from Israeli weaponry has also been reported at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in Beit Jala and a tank shell (the Palestinians have no tanks) hit and severely damaged a wall circling the Orthodox cemetery in Beit Jala.

Numerous homes, buildings and property have been destroyed or occupied by Israeli troops in these last 24 hours as they rolled tanks into the streets and lanes of Beit Jala and Bethlehem. Israeli troops have occupied the municipality buildings and central police station of Beit Jala and are shooting from the rooftops at any Palestinians who dare to enter the street.

A number of young (unarmed) Palestinian Christians have been killed or wounded including a 23 year old mother of two from Beit Jala and a nineteen year old who was hit by a tank shell outside his home just south of the Church of the Nativity.

Approximately two hours ago I received news that Israeli tanks had paraded down the main streets of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, and met at the crossroads of these towns. Some of the tanks have turned past Bethlehem University and are less than a kilometer from the Church of the Nativity. Christian men (unarmed) are trying to congregate in front of the Church to prevent Israeli forces from entering and occupying the church.

I am aware that Israeli forces are conducting similar operations in other Palestinian towns such as Ramallah, Tulkarm and Qalquilya. I can only write about events which I can verify after speaking to friends who are at this moment in Beit Jala and Bethlehem and are suffering greatly from these acts of terror and wanton destruction.

Please keep the people of the Holy Land in your prayers and if it is in your power ask the US government to do all they can to force the Israeli Army to put an end to these illegal and violent incursions and attacks on a virtually defenseless civilian population.

In Christ, sr Maria

The foregoing was from a private message sent to the webmaster, and posted with Sister Maria's permission.

Today, Oct 22, Sister Maria responded to the webmaster's request with the following update:

I would be grateful if you placed the letter on your site . I'm not trying to politicize the issue, I'm mostly just grieving for friends, relatives of our sisters, and teachers of mine who are suffering through this horror right now as they cower in their homes.

It might be helpful to note that I wrote the letter Saturday evening, October 20.

Also in case anyone asks our Convents and other properties are in absolutely no danger.

It's amazing though Bethlehem is only 7 miles from the Mount of Olives it is another world, "normal".

Things are calm here and no shooting, danger of any kind, only the hassle of long checkpoint lines.

As of Monday afternoon here the situation is much the same in Bethlehem/Beit Jala. The Israeli tanks are still in position and the people are under curfew. As far as I can ascertain there is very little shooting coming from the Palestinians and in no way in proportion to the firepower of the Israelis.

From what I've heard it appears that the Israelis are simply trying to terrorize the population into submission.

The 28 year old woman who was killed was trying to flee with her two small children from her Beit Jala home (a tank was in front of it) to relatives in Bethlehem. She stopped to try to buy some food and an Israeli gunner from a tank deliberately targeted her and shot her in the arm. As the ambulance arrived! the gunner shot again and killed her.

No one can make sense of these actions. Thank you for your prayers and concern.

END

From the Webmaster:

I told Sister Maria that I prayed for the Bethlehem area Christians in the Fervent Ectenia during the liturgy, and also mentioned them in the Great Entrance, and that I would continue to do so. I strongly suggest that other priests do the same, and that we remember those who are suffering in our private prayers as well.





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