Prayers and Speeches, Destruction and Hope on Christmas Day

Dec. 25, 1999
Prayers and Speeches, Destruction and Hope on Christmas Day
by Art Gish

8 p.m. I am real sorry I didn't stay here at Omar Sultan's house in
the Beqa'a Valley today instead of going to the Christmas march in
Bethlehem. As I walk up the road I see lots of police and a large
crowd of people on the road across from the Sultan's house.
Between 150 and 200 settlers are down on the road, singing. A
few of the settlers come up to the house. I learn from the Sultan's
that a few settlers arrived at the Sultan house around 3 p.m.
Around 7 p.m., the big crowd arrived.

8:20 p.m. I can hear one of the Israeli settlers giving a speech.
There is much applause. I take stock of where I am at. I am feeling
calm and peaceful, but I realize this situation could be serious. I
pray for God's protection. I am at peace.
8:30 p.m. I see soldiers on the old road just below the house. I am
tempted to go down and introduce myself, but decide not to. It
sounds like the settler speaking is reading a prayer. There is more
singing, more speeches. I see a large fire about 200 feet into the
field across the road. About ten settlers are there. The fire lasts
about five minutes and dies
out -- maybe it was made of cardboard? There is boisterous

About 25 Palestinians have gathered in front of the house. The
mood is somber and people are expecting the worst, but everyone
is calm.

8:45 p.m. I see the settlers dancing and shouting on the road. They
are holding torches. The flames light up the area. Now I see about
20 settlers running up the hill just north of the house here. No,
there must be 50 running up the hill with their torches. I see police
between us and the settlers. We move up the hill and get within 30
feet of the settlers. The police are filming us and the settlers.
There must be a hundred of them. I go up to a policeman and
introduce myself to him. I tell him I am an American and am here to
observe what is happening. I think if the police know there is an
American with the family here, we will be more safe, and the
police may act more responsibly.

For the moment I think this is not too serious. The police and
soldiers are here. The settlers will not do anything stupid. The
police light a flare. The settlers move up the hill above the house.
It appears they are claiming the land.

Now the settlers are coming down the hill. There is lots of
cheering. I hear the sound of rocks hitting rocks. They are tearing
down the rock wall just 75 feet north of the house. There must be
about 100 settlers all tearing down the rock wall as fast as they
can. This is crazy. We all feel helpless.

I think my only role is to observe. Only the police and
soldiers can deal with this. I introduce myself to more police.
I ask them why they are just watching the settlers demolish
the wall. The police say they are waiting for a bigger force to
come. Are the police really helpless, or are they complicate in
what is happening? Why did they not have more personnel

9:30 p.m. The settlers are moving down the hill. Now they
are on the old road just below the house. A number of us
move down to within 20 feet of them. We are above them.
They start jeering at us and waving Israeli flags. Several
children are with them. The Palestinians remain nonviolent.
They are showing the settlers they are not afraid. It is good
the Palestinians are so self-disciplined. If they threw one
rock now it would be a disaster.

It troubles me that the police and soldiers did nothing. If
Palestinians ran amok like this, destroying Israeli property,
they would have been shot.

Pierre is on the phone, calling Israelis, America, other
contacts. We want to get lots of Israelis, press and others
here. The Sultan's are eager to get lots of people here for
support. We are checking with them before we act.

12:30 p.m. All the neighbors have left. We are sitting
around the fire on the Sultan's porch in silence. This has
not been a merry Christmas. But we have been trying to let
the Word become Flesh.