By Larry Hales
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 English.
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 of them.
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.