As war rages to the east of us, we continue to bury the dead here

The mother of 10-year-old Christine Saadah mourns over the body of her daughter at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, March 27, 2003. (REUTERS/Magnus Johansson)

Early last evening I was on the phone to a friend in the US, when gunfire erupted nearby. It was loud enough that my friend on the other end of the line could hear it. A few seconds later another loud round went off. Moments later I could hear the sound of an ambulance approaching.

The local television station was soon showing a group of Palestinian medics trying to carry away someone who had been killed, a car with the entire back window blasted out, and the trunk riddled with bullet holes. A few Israeli soldiers in uniform kept watch on everything.

The scene was on the hill just four houses up the street from my own, so I immediately called to see if everyone there was all right, figuring any bullets that went over the car could easily have entered the front of the house. Fortunately, everyone there was fine. The early news was that two men had been killed, allegedly men that an Israeli undercover unit was trying to arrest. But, this was not the final story.

Israeli accounts asserted that someone in the first car shot at the undercover unit and then the unit returned fire. Another car approached and the soldiers opened fire on it as well, claiming they feared they were under attack.

This second car contained a young Christian family — a father and mother and their 2 daughters, age 15 and 10. The youngest, Christina Sa’ada, a bright 10-year old and a student at St. Joseph’s School in Bethlehem, was killed instantly. Her sister was shot in the knee and the father in the side.

According to witnesses, the undercover unit put the wounded family in their cars and sped them to the checkpoint, sending them by ambulance to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. Christina’s body was kept at the checkpoint and was evidently not allowed to be picked up until 11:00 pm last night.

The bodies of two of the men that were killed in the first car were also taken away. The third man killed, who just happened to be in the car and was not involved in any political action according to his family and friends, was finally taken to the local hospital.

Many questions must be asked about this ‘operation’, not least why the Israeli unit would let loose a barrage of bullets in the middle of the intersection between a central market area and a residential area on a main transition street, in the early evening hours when many people could be passing by?

Christina’s funeral will most likely not take place for a couple of days, as the father has not yet recovered enough for the doctors to tell him of her death. Marianna, Christina’s 15-year-old sister, is recovering today from the surgery to remove bullet fragments from her knee.

As war rages to the east of us, we continue to bury the dead here. When will it end?

Rest in God, Christina - we’ll miss your bright smile…

Sandra Olewine has served as the United Methodist Church Liaison to Jerusalem since December 1996. She is currently residing in Bethlehem and is serving as pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church while Dr. Raheb is on sabbatical.