Bethlehem Nuns Suffering Under a Little-Noticed Siege

Mary-Most-Holy-of-the-Garden Institute Houses Children and Elderly

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, JULY 17, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- A group of women religious is living through a siege similar to the one that occurred at the Basilica of the Nativity. But this time around, there has been little media attention.

The religious belong to the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Most Holy of the Garden in Bethlehem, who house children and elderly people.

One of their members, Sister Jacinta, explained that the new problem began when the basilica siege ended. Bethlehem, in effect, had disappeared from the media’s radar screens.

The religious institute is five minutes away from the basilica. And the Israeli soldiers who besieged the church are now posted in front of the house of these “suspicious” religious, whom the Israeli army believes “offer hospitality to the Palestinians.”

“We have been shut in here for two months,” Sister Jacinta said. “The building is surrounded by tanks. At 5 o’clock every morning, the military men begin to shout: ‘There is a curfew, no one can go out; circulation is prohibited.'”

“At regular intervals, they fire cannons or machine guns, it depends,” the nun said. “They probably think there are Muslims in here. Instead, just the five of us are here, the nuns, with the children and elderly we look after.”

When international attention was focused on the Basilica of the Nativity, the situation was better.

“The soldiers let us breathe,” Sister Jacinta said. “If there were cameras, they relaxed the restrictions. They would allow filming to calm things down. It wasn’t much, but it served to supply ourselves with necessities.”

Now, life in this small community is tied to the television.

“The local stations have been intercepted,” the nun said. “We must watch one specific channel: It shows cartoons, but every now and then they are interrupted and a message appears that gives us the schedule of times to go out” — which, in general, amounts to three hours once a week.

The priest who celebrates Mass for the community comes in a Red Cross car, but is often held at the control post.

The greatest worry are the elderly. “They haven’t seen their relatives for months,” Sister Jacinta said. “They are obliged to stay inside here in this heat. It is increasingly difficult to get medicines.”

Sister Jacinta explained that occasionally she tries to take them outside. “With wheelchairs and crutches in view, and staying as quiet as possible,” she added.

As regards the children, registration has started in schools for next year, but no one is able to preregister.

“The government repeats that if the preliminary registration is not handed in, no place will be saved,” the nun said. “However, here, as in the whole of Palestine, parents have not worked for two years — the factories are destroyed; activities stopped. It is a lot if they are able to buy food.”

The nuns say that they have often appealed to international organizations. “But Caritas and the Red Cross have to help the Muslims, and rightly so,” Sister Jacinta observed.

“The result is that Christian communities, ours and all the others spread over Palestine, are marginalized from everything,” she added. “And what is most wounding is the unbearable silence.”

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