***image2***Karmen Salim Khalil Nassar is 60 years old and from Bethlehem. Standing outside her restaurant, in the shadows of the Apartheid Wall, Karmen reveals the suffocation of Palestinian life in the city.

“We constructed this building back in 1984. It was in a good area of the city. We opened a restaurant on the ground floor and it was always full. People had to make reservation to find a place to sit.”

Today the building is isolated from the rest of the city, behind the Wall which encircles the neighbourhood. Located in al Kubbe, this part of Bethlehem is now slated for the expansion of the judaized “Greater Jerusalem” and Palestinians are driven with all means to leave their homes. “In the past, even during bad times we were able to save money from the restaurant. With time we started to build more floors so that we could run a hotel in the building. My sons were managing the hotel and we all had a good income.”

Projects and incentives for investment linked to the millennium, and the expected flows of tourists to the area, encouraged the family to take up loans to expand their business and build a multi-story hotel.

Reduced to Rubble

As attacks on Palestinian lives escalated during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, Occupation Forces regularly invaded Bethlehem, laying siege to the city. Karmen’s property was attacked and the top floor used as a military base.

“They destroyed the hedge around our garden and they throw their rubbish everywhere, in the garden and at the house. They transformed it into a dump and they urinated everywhere throughout our house. We felt disgusted, but still, we put all of our efforts and dedication into the property and we will not give it up.

“When the Occupation soldiers came to install their military base on the top of the house, they took my son and hit him. They put a gun to his head and dragged him into the garden and beat him up. In the meanwhile they tied me, so I couldn’t follow them. I tried to untie myself to get my son out of the hands of the soldiers but they put a gun to my throat and told me they would kill me if I moved or did as much as to utter a word. I pushed the soldier away shouting at him: ‘Kill me; this is not a life anyway! This is the only son I have left and I don’t have anyone in this life after him!’” An old woman here fainted from all the stress. When she regained consciousness, she was prevented from seeing a Palestinian doctor.

“Before this happened, we didn’t have any debts with anybody. Now we owe money to the water authority and the electricity company and we are not able to pay our property taxes. We don’t even have the money for to pay the fees for the school for my grandchildren. Sometimes the PA or other institutions give us some money so that we can pay the water bills, but we are struggling to survive now.”

Ironically, the major part of the water and electricity bills are not due to the consumption by Karmen’s family, but due to usage by the Occupation Forces stationed on the roof of the building.

“One day I was alone in the house, when I heard the soldiers banging at the entrance. They were putting nails on it to shut it down. So I went to them and asked them what are they doing. They told me to give them the key for the door stating: “You are not allowed to use the door anymore, it is not yours anymore.” I started shouting for the neighbours to come to help me. So they tied me and left me like this until my son came back.”

The Occupation took all the keys from the family and closed the entrance. Since then, the family has been forced to leave and enter their home through the balcony where they constructed a makeshift staircase. Soldiers have kept the keys, using them to enter their apartment at random, insult the family and urinate in the house.

Destruction by the Occupation has caused damage throughout the building. On one occasion the electricity cables were cut, another time the car was destroyed. All chairs, furniture and equipment in the once flourishing restaurant have been ransacked.

Cooped inside the apartment they inhabit in their building, the family are prevented from accessing the rest of the property and using their garden. The soldiers use force against them any time they see them outside the confines of their apartment. Walking has become perilous as soldiers through bricks from the roof.

The nightmare of life under Occupation

“Until this disaster happened, we were all living together, me, George, his wife and their six children. But since soldiers began to enter the house, sometimes shooting and threatening us, life has become unbearable.

“The children were too anxious to go out of their rooms. During the night they couldn’t sleep. I placed my mattress next to them so they felt safer. I swear they couldn’t sleep all night, with nightmares of the soldiers bursting into the house.

“Most nights the soldiers have parties in the restaurant and get drunk. Then they come and hit the door and insult us, calling us dogs and telling us to get out of the house. They explode small sound bombs to scare us, but I respond to them without fear: ‘We are sleeping in our house; you are the dogs that come and attack us.’ Once they came at night and made us all stand against the wall and they beat-up George badly.

“When the children travelled to school, I accompanied them and held them by their hands until the top of the road, meeting them there when they return. Once, I was alone with them in the house. They were playing in the garden as the soldiers came to the apartment. They wanted to enter, so I started to shout. The kids heard it and started to shout with me and to cry. The Occupation Forces attempted to beat me up. After this time the children insisted that they couldn’t continue living in these circumstances.”

The family finally decided that George’s wife should go and live with the children in another house, while Karmen and George continue to resist the tyranny of the Occupation and not leave the building empty.

“Everything they do is aimed at terrorizing us, but they know now that we will not be afraid of them!”

***image3***Standing Steadfast

“They beat us up in our own house and the next day they come with sweet words to buy it from us”, explains Karmen of the tactics used by the Occupation to lure the family away from their house.

Not being able to continue the hotel and the restaurant in their building, George rents a small restaurant in Bethlehem attempting to procure the family an income. However, the income from this business can in no way feed and adequately support the family.

Wanting to take advantage of the family’s dire financial situation, the Occupation started to send agents to persuade them to sell their property. Once a group of French visitors came to George’s restaurant in Bethlehem. They told him: ‘You have been very successful running a famous restaurant. We want to develop this new restaurant for you’. They offered him money but he refused, then they asked to invest in the restaurant where he could work for them. At this point they wanted him to come and meet them in Jerusalem. They would ensure he would get a permit to enter the city. George became suspicious and refused anything from them.

Karmen noted, “They insisted and came back asking him to sell them his restaurant. They said: ‘We will get the soldiers out of it and together we can re-develop the restaurant’. But George would not sell the building and refused. So they asked to see his children saying: ‘Next time we prefer to see your children. We are sure your children don’t like this life you are having now. We want to talk with them.’”

George’s children are young and the whole family is worried that the many different Zionist agents attempting to deceive and pressure the family into leaving will try to use and destroy the children for their own purposes.

At other times, strangers that didn’t want to identify themselves called to talk about the house, and to see all the documentation demonstrating the ownership. Once, George has even been offered an opportunity to leave the country, take a new passport, a new job and a new wife.

The family have received little help in the daily struggle against the Occupation, their agents and soldiers. Occasional financial handouts from the Palestinian Authority have been made but as Karmen notes:

“They only think we want money. Sometimes they feed us with a bit of money to shut us up. But we don’t want money. We want political support! When George went to a Human Rights organization, they gave him beans, expired ones. Sometimes I feel everything is against us at a moment when we are being attacked from all sides. What else can I say? Everyday a similar story happens here.”

Ignored by the media, neglected by the institutions, families in Palestine are suffering but resisting the Occupation’s drive to expel them form their homes and land. Determined not to relinquish their rights, such sturdy determination leads the way in resisting Zionism.


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