Bethlehem Sees Its Worst Week of the Intifada

Violence Forces Catholic University to Close Down

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, MARCH 11, 2002 (ZENIT.orgFides).- This famed biblical town is desperately awaiting a return to calm after the most violent week since the intifada began.

Speaking to the Vatican agency Fides, American Christian Brother Vincent Malham, president of Bethlehem´s Christian University, launched an appeal: «In this tragic situation, we beg the international community to help pressure Israel to withdraw its soldiers from the Palestinian Territories and to resume peace talks.»

The Bethlehem University, funded also by the Vatican, closed March 7, fearing for the safety of students because of Israeli attacks.

During the night of March 8-9 a wire-guided missile was fired at the campus´ newly inaugurated Millennium Hall blowing out windows and window frames. The impact also damaged the nearby Institute of Hotel Management and the Social and Cultural Center.

Brother Vincent, of the Brothers of Christian Schools congregation, which runs the university, was angry.

«The Israeli army says it is aiming at Palestinians militants hiding in this area,» he said. «But this is ridiculous: The militants move at ground level and the missiles strike the upper levels. There is no fighting on the campus. Our community of 12 brothers is under shock. Our home was nearly hit. The violence must stop. The university must reopen.»

«Bethlehem is a terrifying place,» he continued. «Schools, the university, shops and institutions are closed. The streets are empty. The people are concerned about medicines, food, access to hospitals and care.»

«We are trapped behind the checkpoints,» he added. «Until yesterday, Israeli tanks patrolled the town. I don´t know whether they are still there today. I know there are forty tanks around nearby Beit Jala, which is under curfew.»

The religious said: «The world does not realize what is happening to the Palestinian people, who only want freedom and a normal life. We do not approve terrorism and we urge the Palestinian people to put an end to every kind of violent response.

«But they are now desperate, they feel they have been abandoned. There is urgent need for international pressure to put an end to the violence. We ask the Churches to do more. We note with sadness the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land. The massacre must be stopped or the Holy Land will soon be a land without Christians.»

On Sunday, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the Nativity.

On Saturday, the leaders of the Christian Churches in the Holy Land launched an appeal to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. In a statement they said: «We are deeply saddened to see more and more grieving widows, mothers and fathers on both sides […] is this the future we want for our children? […] We believe that the peoples of Israel and Palestine are called to be partners in a history making peace.»

The Church leaders remind the Israeli government that «Israel´s security depends on freedom and justice for the Palestinians» and they call for «peace with justice.»

More than 1,400 people (1,100 Palestinians and 300 Israelis) have died over the past 18 months of intifada, or uprising. Last week saw at least 150 victims. In a spiral of massacres and reciprocal acts of retaliation, Palestinians attacked civilians in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, while the Israeli army searched for suspects with arrests and killings in Palestinian refugee camps.

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