Magazine article Newsweek

From Olive Oil to Sniper Fire: How a Quiet, Mostly Christian Town Became a Battle Zone

Magazine article Newsweek

From Olive Oil to Sniper Fire: How a Quiet, Mostly Christian Town Became a Battle Zone

Article excerpt

Beit Jala, an ancient jumble of Palestinian homes on a hill opposite Bethlehem, used to be a quiet place. When my wife and I lived there in 1993 and 1994, Israeli forces dominated the town from an outpost on top of the hill. Direct confrontations between local Palestinians and soldiers, however, were rare. On two occasions we saw masked Palestinian teenagers, in the narrow alley beneath our bedroom, spray-painting anti-Israel graffiti on the stone walls of the houses. And on one dark night we were startled from bed by the sharp bang of gun butts against our door. Israeli soldiers were rousting young men from their beds to wash the graffiti-covered walls. By the standards of Israel's occupation, it was a small humiliation; compared with many other people in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, the people of Beit Jala slept well in those days.

Now Beit Jala is a front line in a low-intensity conflict edging toward guerrilla war. The predominantly Christian town once known for its olive oil and a popular grilled-chicken restaurant now is famous for the tracer rounds that light up the darkness in nightly news footage. For weeks Palestinian snipers have used Beit Jala as a base to shoot at the nearby Jewish neighborhood of Gilo, and the Israeli Army has responded with rocket, missile and machine-gun fire. The people of Beit Jala have become bystanders to their own ruin, caught between the often harsh and corrupt Palestinian leadership and the insidious domination of Israel.

Anger and confusion have become as much a part of the landscape as stone and dust. People here will tell you that seven years of peace talks have brought them nothing. Israel has expropriated much of Beit Jala's land since it captured the West Bank in 1967, and the town continues to be squeezed; Gilo, the target of recent sniper fire, sits largely on land expropriated from Beit Jalan owners. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.