It is early in the morning, the third day of the occupation. Should I say: “Good morning” to the family? I take a walk of fifteen meters to peep through a gate. The tank at the university hill is still there.
On the roof of a nearby doctor’s home Israeli sharpshooters have taken up position. I quickly return to the house. Yesterday Jara, my daughter of four, warned me that a tank would shoot me if I took the garbage bags to the street. We are effectively under siege.
Although there is no official curfew, nobody dares leave home. We are in a closed military zone. Once in a while some tanks drive by with intimidating noise, some of them flying an Israeli flag on top. As if any misunderstanding were possible. Only once we heard the sound of an ambulance which, by rare exception, was allowed to pass.
We are here with six people in the home of my in-laws. My Palestinian wife Mary, our daughter of four Jara, newly-born baby boy Tamer, Mary’s sister Jeanet and their mother. We were highly fortunate that Tamer (his name means ‘holder of dates’, or symbolically, holder of life) was born a few days before the beginning of the occupation.
At present no medical help can reach any house in Bethlehem. Mary timely went back home from the hospital. With more pain than usual we read about the baby who died during delivery on the first day of the re-occupation because the mother was not allowed to reach a hospital.
We chose to withdraw to my in-laws’ house to support each other better and also because our own house, a few hundred meters away, is opposite ‘Azza refugee camp and could be searched for armed men. Not that there is no chance that soldiers would search the home where we stay.
At the nearby Bethlehem university, the Brothers’ sleeping rooms were searched and the cafetaria occupied. Also the Freres School, where I am involved in an educational project for Moslem-Christian co-existence, have been invaded and occupied; we don’t know for how long. Near the educational institute where I advise, the little shops and houses coloured in dark green for the occasion of the Bethlehem 2000 festivities, have been severely damaged by soldiers. The tanks demolished several cars in the street, which now resembles a war zone.
The first day of the occupation, Tuesday, went on without electricity. During the evening we lit candles and went to sleep early. In the dark I tell Jara children’s stories, about the jungle and dangerous animals.
Like Tarzan, she jumps from the bed into my arms, stretched like tree branches. I am surprised how well she copes with the situation. She makes drawings which look as if they come from a dream country: nice peaceful houses with birds, and dancing children. She more or less knows what is happening and has her nicknames for Sharon but does not yet feel how extraordinary the situation is in which we now live.
“We have many tanks here, do you have them too?” she lightly asks Mary’s sister who calls from Paris. While I slowly sing love songs for Tamer, the most beautiful baby in the world, Jara breaks the spell, points to the window and asks, “Is that the sound of a tank?”