Dispatches > The Buzz

'We really need peace here'

As war in Iraq approaches, Westerners in Israel start clearing out; meanwhile, anti-terror crackdowns in Palestinian areas create difficult, frustrating conditions

Issue: "Attacking the future now," Feb. 22, 2003

The few Americans remaining in Israel are evacuating. Hotels here are desolate. Only a small handful of guests dined with former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres at the King David Hotel restaurant on a recent night. The historic Old City-home of the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre-is now a ghost town. All nonessential U.S. government personnel and families have been ordered to leave immediately. El Al, Israel's national airline, faces a severe cash crunch as the usually heavy flow of tourists and businessmen slows to a mere trickle.

I'm here to interview former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now the nation's foreign minister, and Natan Sharansky, Israel's deputy prime minister, and other government officials. (The Flash Traffic report based on those interviews appears on page 10.)

They tell me that Israel's top priority for now is to arrest terrorist leaders and operatives. A series of attempted suicide-bomber attacks has been narrowly foiled by Israeli security forces in recent days.

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But the threat of further attacks led Israeli officials to impose new curfews on the West Bank and Gaza. This shut down Arab shops and businesses, prevented Palestinians from working or shopping in Israel, and further harmed an already devastated Palestinian economy.

The level of frustration with Yasser Arafat, the terrorists, and the Israeli presence is palpable. A colleague and I were planning on visiting a group of Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. But the day before we were to make the 10-minute trip from Jerusalem, a Palestinian sniper shot and killed an Israeli in front of the Church of the Nativity. Israeli security forces quickly saturated the tiny ancient town, sending in troops and two tanks. The sniper got away. The largely Christian population found themselves under the most intense military presence since last summer.

"Please pray for us," Rami Sarras, a Palestinian Christian, told me by phone from Bethlehem. "The conditions here are very difficult. We cannot leave our homes without the threat of being shot. I'm trying to follow Matthew chapter 5. I'm trying to love my enemy and pray for those who persecute me. It is difficult, but I'm trying. Last year, I went to the Israeli checkpoint and gave a soldier the 'Four Spiritual Laws' [Bill Bright's summary of the New Testament message of salvation]. I know that the only way for there to be true peace is for Israelis and Palestinians to be totally changed by the love of Jesus Christ."

Five years ago, Mr. Sarras, 26, was throwing stones and venting his rage at Israeli soldiers. But since becoming a born-again Christian at a coffee shop in Beit Jala, his life has been radically transformed. He's now preaching the gospel to Muslims and nominal Arab Christians, volunteering with his local church, and helping handicapped children in his spare time. "We really need peace here, the peace only Christ can bring."

Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg

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