11 Internationals Join Trapped Palestinians
May 2, 2002
11 Internationals Join Palestinians Trapped In Church Of The Nativity
At about 6 p.m. today (ME time), a group of 24 international activists slipped past Israeli Defense Force roadblocks to enter Bethlehem's Manger Square. Running across the square, 11 were then able to enter the besieged Church of the Nativity through service doors to deliver food to the 200 Palestinians who have been trapped in the church for almost a month. IDF troops caught and detained the other 13 activists.
"We took them completely by surprise," says Kristen Schurr, an activist from New York City, who adds that she did not notice any shots fired at the group. None of the activists were wearing protective gear, in solidarity with the many Palestinians who do not have such equipment and have endured beatings at the hands of IDF troops since the Israeli offensive in the West Bank began at the end of March. One journalist also entered the church with the activists, who include US, Swedish, UK, and Irish nationals.
Schurr says the activists wanted to enter the church to deliver food to the trapped Palestinians, many of whom are sick and starving. They also wanted to call international attention to the fact that, while the Israeli government has restored some freedom of movement to Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat, the Israeli siege of the Church of the Nativity continues. She said the activists plan to remain in the church - one of the oldest and most important Christian shrines - until the Palestinians are allowed to leave without being arrested. The effects of fierce fighting at the church were apparent when the activists entered, Schurr says. Fires are still burning, and the dead bodies of two Palestinians, killed by IDF gunfire this morning, remain in the church. However, the trapped Palestinians cheered the internationals when they entered. "People seemed excited, and very happy to see us," says Schurr.