In 2004, I wrote an article about the story of Nabil Saba, a man from Beit Jala whose family was expelled in the early 1970s to make way for the Israeli settlement of Har Gilo. When I first spoke to him some 11 years ago, confiscation of land for the Apartheid Wall was well underway.
“The Wall has taken the land from the people of Beit Jala”, Nabil told me. “They have put us all in a prison. There is no land left for Beit Jala. We are in cantons, ghettoes, now.”
Visiting Beit Jala last week, this grim assessment is only confirmed. There is no more room. If people are building, they are building up; the price of land and property continues to rise, and the town, like so many other communities in Palestine, has no solution to apartheid’s tightening noose. Read more
Sitting in the Beit Al Liqa’ garden, with the late evening sun bathing the grass in a soft glow, and children making the most of the adventure playground, it is easy to forget that this is Beit Jala, in the occupied West Bank. Newcomers would not be aware, for example, that only a few years ago, Israeli missiles and shelling rocked this little Christian town, and that its residents were often under strict curfew.
This little corner of tranquility, Beit Al Liqa’ (meaning ‘House of Meeting’), is a ministry in the Bethlehem district established by Johnny Shahwan, a local Palestinian, along with his German wife Marlene. Together, they have lived and breathed their calling to the local community for over 10 years, witnessing their Christian training and community centre go from strength to strength. Read more
From Nabil Saba’s terrace there is a clear view of the Wall snaking its way around Beit Jala. Sitting underneath his family’s vineyard, enjoying the protection it offers from the afternoon sun, the peace is sometimes interrupted by the sound of construction work.
For Nabil, history has a habit of repeating itself. At the beginning of the 1970s, he was still living with his family in their ancestral home on Ras Beit Jala, the highest point in the town. But in 1972 the Israelis came to the house and offered to buy the land from Nabil’s father.
“We refused. So almost every day and night they would come to the house, to threaten us, to intimidate us. They would take me and my brothers to jail. They falsely accused us of supporting the guerrillas with 300 dinars, which was a lot of money in those days. They beat my brother in jail.” Read more