The Israeli Occupation
Up Close and Personal
by Thom Saffold
I just had a lesson in life under Israeli
Occupation—up close and personal.
Beit Sahour is the city where, according to the
Christian scripture, shepherds tending their flocks
one night were visited by angels heralding the birth
of the Prince of Peace. They, too, lived under a
Today, the village is filled with peaceful and
peace-loving people who suffer under an occupation
worse than that of Rome 2000 years ago. The only
violence is the economic violence of the repressive
response to the Intifada (80% of the population are at
least severely under-employed), and the constant
threat of violence from the Israeli military, which
has a base at the western edge of the village.
Today, as so many times in the past 9 months, the
threat became realized.
As I arrived back at my host’s home about 4 pm, people
excitedly told me that tanks had advanced into the
village to the north, and there had been an explosion.
With my video camera and press pass, I asked the taxi
driver to take me to the scene. He admitted he was
afraid, but took me as close as he dared—and refused
With no provocation (I reached that consclusion after
later interviewing over 20 nearby residents), two
tanks, two jeeps and an armored personell carrier
invaded from Area C into Area A of Beit Sahour. Like
the residential areas of most Palestinian villages and
cities, Beit Sahour is divided. The Israeli military
imposes control over a portion of the residential
neighborhoods in these population centers with the
excuse that this is needed to insure the safety of
army bases or settlements.
If there is one thing that I have learned from this
trip—and learned from interviews with Israeli
activists and a settler spokesman, it is that Israeli
society is interested only in protecting Jewish rights
and lives, and do not care if this comes at the
expense Palestinian rights and lives.
Area A is supposed to be under full Palestinian
control. These areas are, in effect, the de facto
State of Palestine and the Palestine Authority
considers it their right to protect the sovereignty of
those lands. Today the Israelis, in effect, invaded
another country, and were, rightfully, resisted.
Again, this has happened to the people of Beit Sahour
and many other Palestinian communities many times.
Palestinian resistance took the form of various
elements of the Palestinian Authority police coming
together at the top of a hill overlooking the
intrusion of Israeli troops. Armed only with
Egyptian-made Kalishnikov automatic weapons supplied
under provisions of the Oslo Accords, they grouped and
deployed on the grounds of the Beith Sahour YMCA,
which is a walled area and near the border with Area
By the time I arrived, I was told the Israelis had
fired a tank once, but I found only the remains of an
RPG—rocket propelled grenade—next to a house that had
been hit. However, a tank had advanced nearly to the
YMCA grounds along with an armed patrol. This was a
civilian street, with houses on either side and
civilians cowering in doorways and peering through
windows. The Israelis were aiming their weapons and
moving the tank turret around menacingly, and did so
for another 20 minutes. When the Palestinians did not
fire on them (I assume that’s what they were waiting
or hoping for), they slowly retreated down the street.
The civilians cautiously emerged from their homes to
I made my way down the hill and took a position near
where the tanks, jeeps and APC had gathered just
beyond the last houses on the street. I was between
the last house and the next one up the street and was
filming the soldiers when gunfire erupted FROM the
Israelis. From the sound (I could not see which
weapon was firing), they fired a light machine gun.
Then a tank began to move, and moments later I heard
the pop, pop, pop of the Palestinians’ small caliber
rifles firing in return. The tank advanced up the
street, but not as far as before, so I was beside it.
The tank gunned its motor and moved its turret around
again. Once more somebody fired from the Palestinian
side. The tank fired a clip from one of its machine
guns and then fired a tank round up the street.
The Palestinians did not return fire, and so the tank
retreated, joined the other war machines, growled a
bit more, and then, finally, the convoy left for the
army base nearby.
Two houses were hit. The tank blast I witnessed tore
a large hole in the wall of a home owned by a family
that had just left for America that morning. It was
hit just under a window, but since the house was
locked, and since the Palestinian police were not
deployed on top of any houses that I could see, it is
hard not to conclude that the house was fired upon at
random. Another home, which did have a PA police
presence, was raked with machine gun fire.
So, my friends, this is a part of the Occupation that
most of us know about, but is not much acknowledged in
our news media. It is something that we MUST tell our
friends, our workmates, our organizations, and the
For those of you coming in August, be reminded that
you are volunteering for dangerous work, but waging
peace involves risk. Talking about peace does not
bring it about. Peace, like war, must be waged.
Please forward this to others, and let people know
about the August campaign. We need as many volunteers
PS: Many of you have asked about what to bring in
August. We are preparing a list and suggestions that
should be out to you within a day.
Ann Arbor, MI USA