RAMALLAH, West Bank (BP)–To feel what it’s like to be caught in a crossfire — literally and otherwise — try being a Christian in Ramallah.
While Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat sits in the rubble of his compound nearby, surrounded by Israeli tanks, the population of this West Bank flashpoint goes on with life under strict Israeli military curfews.
In the wake of new terror attacks in Israel, the restrictions likely won’t be lifted anytime soon. And the Palestinian Christian minority is subject to the same harsh limits as the Muslim majority.
They can’t leave Ramallah — or their own houses — unless the Israelis lift the curfew. That seldom lasts more than a few hours a day. When the shutdown is in effect, they can’t work. Their children can’t go to school. They can’t go out to buy food — nor can the kids play outside — without the risk of being shot.
Dina Lada, a Palestinian Christian teacher in Ramallah, hasn’t been paid in three months. Israeli tanks have been parked in front of her school for the entire period. Her husband, a dentist, has a clinic in Jerusalem — but can’t get there. His office in Ramallah remains closed most days, but rent still must be paid.
“Yesterday my daughter asked me for trousers,” Dina says. “She needs them. But I told her we must wait.”
Harder than going without new trousers is the fear of what her daughter Aseel, age 8, has experienced under military occupation. Caught playing outside after curfew, she has been terrorized by tanks — and the barrel of a machine gun jabbed into her back.
Aseel has a child’s brutal honesty: “Jesus tells me to love [the Israeli soldiers],” she says. “But I hate them.”
Dina is from Gaza and has family members there, but she hasn’t been allowed to visit them for three years. She missed her sister’s wedding — and her father’s funeral.
“It hurts,” Dina admits. “You always feel you are alone. They kill the hope — both sides, the Palestinians and the Jews. You want to live but you can’t. It’s crazy.”
A few weeks ago, 25 Christians living in an apartment building across the street from a Ramallah church were herded into a single flat, with a single bathroom, while Israeli troops occupied the rest of the building — for four days. Children, old men and women, infants — no one was allowed out until one of the elderly was taken to the hospital.
Though they endure the same restrictions, Palestinian Christians also have been scorned and threatened by some Muslims in the city. Muslim militants accuse the Christians of not being true Palestinians because they have provided no so-called “martyrs” for suicide attacks against Israel.
“To the Jews, we are Arabs,” says one Palestinian Christian leader. “To the Muslims, we are with the West.”
Recently a youth from the church came to Dina and said an angry Muslim had demanded to know if he is a Christian. “I took off my cross and said I am a Muslim,” he confessed, with tears in his eyes. “I denied Jesus.”
“What do I say to him?” Dina asks.
Despite all this, Christians are reaching out to minister to desperate people in the city — including Muslims. For weeks, when the military curfew lifts, they have been distributing food coupons to families around town with the help of visiting Southern Baptist volunteers from the United States.
Dina loves to help with the food distribution. “For me it is a picnic,” she said.
It enables her to do something helpful and loving — for her Christian and Muslim neighbors — in the midst of a crossfire.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BITTERSWEET SMILE, NEW GENERATION OF REFUGEES, AWAITING HOPE and ON GUARD.