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The Intruders and Saint Nicholas (Beit Jala)

Contributed by Terra Sancta School For Girls on 11.03.2006:

Micheline Atick

My grandmother started her story: “In 1948 our country had more Christians than now. Most of them emigrated because of the political situation. During the war people in Beit Jala stayed in their houses. Suddenly they saw many refugees coming to seek refuge. They didn’t have a place after they lost their homes, so they came to Bethlehem and Beit Jala to start a new living. At the time there was neither work nor food. Israeli soldiers sometimes turned over carts with foodstuff. It happened that people found pieces of glass in the flour or got sick when they ate bread.”

“During the 1948 war, the night was the time to calm down. Everyone who owned a well gave his neighbor some water. Those who didn’t have a well went to a large public well where they stood in long lines waiting to fill their tank with water. The name of this well is Bir ‘Ona, you can still see it in Beit Jala.”

“Many women used to work during the night; they used to carry big packs of wood on their backs over a long distance. They took the packs to a special place where they could make fire and bake bread for their families. One night and while they were baking their bread, they heard the voices of some intruders whose intentions were to steal some food. The women were so scared that they ran quickly to their homes and stayed there until the morning.

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of the Beit Jala people; people went to the Saint Nicolas church to beg the saint for protection whenever they felt they were in danger. When robbers came, Saint Nicolas stood in front of them and the intruders couldn’t pass. They tried again but Saint Nicolas blinded them temporarily. They had weapons but couldn’t touch them.”

Here is another story about the saint: “Before 1948 there once was a woman who wanted to kill her stepmother. When the two were walking in the street, and the first woman wanted to perform her evil deed, Saint Nicolas enveloped the good woman in a cloud. The evil woman couldn’t see her and passed by.”

“In 1967, people lived a poor but better life than in 1948. They weren’t hungry as in 1948 and lived a normal life. If they didn’t work, it was difficult for them to find work but the United Nations helped them. Some people were obliged to sell their clothes and furniture; they had no choice. The rich people couldn’t give the poor much money because they would end up like them.“

At the end, I asked her: “How do you feel now about the Israelis?”

She said: “What do you expect me to say? They took our lands and they kept them, they killed our people, kicked little kids from their houses, destroyed our country. We couldn’t do anything because they have the weapons and we don’t. Now we have light weapons but not as many as they do, so what shall we do? We throw stones, what more can we do?”

My grandmother started to cry. After a few minutes, she felt better.

From: Your Stories Are My Stories: A Palestinian oral history project. Saint Joseph School for Girls, Bethlehem, Wi’am – Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, Arab Educational Institute-Open Windows. Culture and Palestine series AEI-Open Windows 2001. For more information: nancy@alami.net or aei@p-ol.com

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