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Bethlehem nuns suffering under a little-noticed siege

A group of women religious is living through a siege similar to the one that occurred at the Basilica of the Nativity, but this time around there has been little media attention.

The religious belong to the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Most Holy of the Garden in Bethlehem, who house children and elderly people.

One of their members, Sr Jacinta, explained that the new problem began when the basilica siege ended. Bethlehem, in effect, had disappeared from the media's radar screens.

The religious institute is five minutes away from the basilica. And the Israeli soldiers who besieged the church are now posted in front of the house of these "suspicious" religious, whom the Israeli army believes "offer hospitality to the Palestinians."

"We have been shut in here for two months," Sr Jacinta said. "The building is surrounded by tanks. At 5 o'clock every morning, the military men begin to shout: 'There is a curfew, no one can go out; circulation is prohibited.'"

"At regular intervals, they fire cannons or machine guns, it depends," the nun said. "They probably think there are Muslims in here. Instead, just the five of us are here, the nuns, with the children and elderly we look after."

When international attention was focused on the Basilica of the Nativity, the situation was better.

"The soldiers let us breathe," Sr Jacinta said. "If there were cameras, they relaxed the restrictions. They would allow filming to calm things down. It wasn't much, but it served to supply ourselves with necessities."


19 Jul 2002