Published on Friday, April 5, 2002 in the Hartford Courant
Don't Sit By And Watch Mideast Murder
by Amy Pagnozzi
The photograph wasn't taken more than a week ago: Sister Naomi Zimmermann dancing with a tiny Palestinian lad at Holy Care Family Center in Bethlehem, waist bent, ecstatically following his lead.
Is the boy still alive?
We don't know for sure.
Rolling tanks, exploding mortars, and volleys of gunfire from hovering helicopters have turned the town of Bethlehem into a bloodied trench, where people don't dare stick their heads out their doors.
Not when the Israeli Defense Force is shooting on sight.
Sister Naomi and the other nuns who worked at the school with the traumatized children of Palestine have been moved to a secret location in Jerusalem, where they remain under lock and key.
Sister Suzanne Gross, administrator of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist's Homecare and Hospice Care in Meriden, would love to call her friend Zimmermann, a Southington native. But with the IDF seizing anything and anyone they declare suspect, "just making contact could potentially place them in danger," she said.
Although there are daily reports from the Franciscan convent's mother general regarding the nuns' physical well-being, Gross expects their being forced to abandon their mission has caused them untold emotional distress.
As recently as Christmas, when booking international flights in the wake of the World Trade Center attack was difficult, the nuns assigned to duty in Bethlehem were antsy to go "home."
"They loved working with the people there. They missed the children and their parents. They couldn't wait to get back," according to Gross.
Even during good times, non-Israelis live from paycheck to paycheck. Now even that is gone.
"Whereas before we were working to help people get washing machines and water tanks, we are now dealing with purely survival needs," Sister Marie Grech reported to her community a week ago.
"Buying food, paying for school and electricity ... with the fathers not working, there is no income coming in. ... People feel they have no future."
It's not just a feeling, either, but reality - the culmination of Ariel Sharon's "grand plan" - if that's what you'd call actions inspired by the Israeli prime minister's atavistic lust for blood, power and land.
Just days ago, Sister Rose Mesa, director of the Holy Family Care Center, told her order: "The biggest time bomb we need to deal with is the people's desperation to survive."
Given the ever-increasing number of Palestinian suicide bombers, observing how many native resisters of Israel's oppression choose to dig in their heels further rather than succumb to fear, the nun's words might seem prescient.
But as of yet, nothing remotely unpredictable has occurred in the Holy Land - indeed, it's as if Israel has been following a day-timer, showing up for appointments and taking care of this Palestinian business once and for all.
Or so they would have us believe.
The IDF may have effectively shut out documentation of its alleged war crimes by Western journalists, but several dozen civilian keepers of the flame still remain, watching their every move.
They report that at least 30 injured Palestinians remain in hiding inside the chapels of Manger Square, including the Church of the Nativity, deprived of medical supplies and food, but too afraid to wander out for fear of being killed.
The birthplace of Jesus Christ, a centuries old destination for pilgrims of the Christian faith, has become a final resting place for one and all.
And yet George W. Bush, our church-going president, waited until yesterday to finally call for Israel to reverse its appalling incursions.
Shame on us all, that so few of the dozens of international peace activists bearing witness to war crimes in Bethlehem and Ramallah are American.
There are 34 in Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah currently being fired upon by the IDF.
"There is a dire shortage of food and no water," said one activist who identified himself only as Huwaida, adding that medical supplies are urgently needed.
No kidding! The IDF has been targeting Palestinian ambulances and their operators for so long, I finally busted the bank to donate $300 to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, a member of the International Red Cross. (You make the donation to the International Red Cross, earmarking the recipient country).
But in recent weeks, the bloodletting has reached the point where mere money cannot staunch it.
On Thursday, just one ambulance from the entire fleet got past the Israeli checkpoints that crisscross the occupied territories, forming a lethal net that ends up snagging more pregnant women than suicide bombers.
It's kind of like the American fisherman who inspired so much wrath for having caught the occasional dolphin, bits of Flipper tainting our tuna salad - except we're talking about humans.
Shame upon us all, for pretending we are merely witnesses of human history instead of players in it.
It's our billions of tax dollars that have enabled the IDF to turn doctors into diggers, creating mass graves in the parking lot of Ramallah Hospital for the patients they could not save, due to the military's refusal to permit surgeons to operate upon critically wounded patients.
So fair warning: unless you want to continue as an accomplice in a murder for hire plot, write your president, your senator, your representative. Tell them this is not how you want your tax money spent.
Meanwhile, if you haven't already stopped buying Israeli products, you can join the rapidly growing move to boycott Israeli goods. A good place to start is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BoycottIsraeliGoods/.
Shalom and salaam.
Copyright © 2002 by The Hartford Courant