Bethlehem Hasn't Escaped Misery of the Barrier

Security Wall Dividing Families and Lives, Says Religious at Hospital

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, JAN. 21, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Women religious who run the Caritas Baby Hospital here have called attention to the daily ordeal to which the Israeli security barrier exposes the Palestinians.



The Franciscan Elizabethan Sisters of Padua described their plight in a statement by Sister Gabriella Mian, published this week in VID, a religious communities Web page.

"From the Baby Hospital, situated in a strategic place of Bethlehem, near Rachel's Tomb, at the border between Israel and Palestine," wrote Sister Mian, "from day to day we see the slow changes and the feeling of the strange atmosphere that the city is taking on. Some families are staying trapped on the inside of the wall, being totally isolated, deprived of regular access to normal services without the permission of Israel."

Israel is building a massive complex of walls, fences and watchtowers in the West Bank to keep out terrorists. The largest segments of the barrier -- it's about a third finished -- are made up of razor wire, trenches and electronic sensors.

"In front of our hospital between the hills torn apart from the scrapers, on the land confiscated from the people of Bethlehem, runs barbed wire connected to an electric current, supervised by cameras, infrared sensors and alarms: It is there to stop any attempt to get close to the Jewish settlement of Abu Ghneim, built on Palestinian land," Sister Mian stated.

"A highway is already in phase of construction: a road reserved to Israel, on Palestinian land, on Bethlehem land. The town of Samiha, of our neighbor, a teacher at the school for nurses at the Baby Hospital, risks being swept away to make room for the highway," the religious continued.

Numerous checkpoints stop people between villages and sometimes even within their own villages, she said. This disrupts social and family relationships, and keeps farmers from tending to their fields and their harvest. Olives full of precious oil are left to rot.

Not even the women religious, non-Palestinians, are spared at the checkpoints.

"It is enough to be coming from the direction of Bethlehem to be suspected of terrorism," Sister Mian wrote. "Sometimes we are forced to wait up to an hour and a half, or more ... like all the others, in order to cross the border which takes us to the road for Jerusalem. We can only approach when the soldiers allow us by signaling to us. If there is any sign of impatience, they make us pay by waiting longer."

"Only a few meters away we see a line of young men facing the wall with their arms spread: They are those trying to leave Bethlehem to go and seek work, but to leave a special permission is required by Israel, and Israel only gives these to very few older men," Sister Mian concludes.