Bethlehem, April 28. (see also:
May 2, below).
We walked right in to Manger Square--"right through
the front door."
The writer in me wants to create some suspense, but
I am ecstatic--my heart continues to
beat at the rate it was when we were walking through.
We were planning the night before and were planning
around another demonstration led
by clergy. Our plan was to walk to the checkpoint
before Bethlehem and protest. This
morning we decided to participate in this action but
to also continue on if the participants
of it were stopped.
Well, we were stopped and the clergy weren't so much
interested in pushing through as
they were in just challenging the checkpoint.
After this action, which lasted only about 30
minutes we decided to take a route through a
monastery. No one expected us to get through this
way either because the soldiers were
very close, and if they were looking, would be able
to see us. But, they didn't and we
continued on into Bethlehem.
The city was a ghost town, it was on curfew and it
was almost completely quiet--at first.
As we walked on, people began appearing at their
windows and cheering us on. It was
very powerful to see these people looking out and
throwing up peace signs, children and
elderly people. Our presence gave them hope and as
we continued we began to see more
and more people, mostly children coming out of their
homes. They wouldn't come out on
the streets but they were coming out.
We stopped after having walked for quite awhile, and
we began to plan for the march on
the Church of the Nativity. No one thought that we
would have gotten as far as we did.
We planned and planned and waited and planned;
finally, some of us decided to talk to
some families that had gathered just in front of
their homes, a few of them were fluent in
They were entirely full of gratitude--they let us
into their homes and served us coffee--
these people are resilient. Their lives are being
put on hold by an occupying force; they
can't go to work; their children can't go to school,
yet, they were so willing to share with
us. Some even invited me to stay with them.
Time began to get short; so, we had to go with the
plan we had, which was for five of us to
cross the barricade with water and food but we
didn't think that we would get through; and
so, we were considering that the action would be
symbolic at best. We waited some more
and finally set on our way with a box of water and a
bag of rice--meant to be symbolic of
course because in the church there is barely any
water, let alone a way of cooking the rice.
People began coming out more. I guess the word had
gotten out. There was a group of
Palestinians just before the barricade and some
walked to it with us, holding down the
barbed wire so that we could walk over it.
When we saw Manger Square we thought the siege had
ended. It was empty except for an
M1 Abrams tank. We walked on and at the halfway
point, Israelis began yelling for us to
stop. These soldiers doing the yelling didn't have
on their Kevlar helmets or their rifles--
they were caught off guard.
We continued on through the yelling and made it to
the door of the Church. When there
we were instructed to sit by Huwaida. We did and the
soldiers threw smoke canisters to
block the press from seeing us. We knocked at the
door and yelled that we had food; the
soldiers looked on, the smoke rising. The tank moved
so as to scare us. The media began
moving so the smoke wouldn't block their view. We
held our hands up while yelling at the
people inside to open the door, then, the soldiers
moved towards us started pulling us up
and throwing the food away from the door.
They were attempting to hold us but we were leading
them more than them us. They tried
to confiscate cameras, but we refused and they
capitulated. However, they did drag some
people. The soldier holding me was telling me how he
didn't agree with what was going on
but that it was his job. He seemed to be a good man.
We were put in one area and Ted Koppel came over and
interviewed Huwaida. He got the
entire incident, all the cameras did despite the
smoke. When he finished we came to the
conclusion to walk out. The soldiers weren't
prepared for this. They tried to stop us but we
defied them and kept on walking 'til we were clear
The action was one of the most spectacular things I
have ever seen, and the people I was
with are some of the most brave people I have ever
known. Tomorrow we will begin to try
and get some people in Hebron and the Gaza Strip. I
will be going to Hebron. More to come.
* Larry Hales is one of two members of the Colorado
Campaign for Middle East Peace who
have joined many internationals in Palestine to
nonviolent resist Israel's illegal military
occupation of Palestine. More on their trip at:
[Note by Gush Shalom: on this day they caught the
soldiers by surprise. But two days later, the soldiers should have been
prepared, but still they did it again and actually got into the church -
which tells something sad about the calibre of the IDF in situations which
can't be solved by brute force alone.]