Escape from Bethlehem

Thursday, April 11, 2002

One cannot but remember the story of Mary and Joseph riding on a donkey trying to cover and hide the baby Jesus from the evil eyes of Herod’s army troops. Troops who passed the Holy family in vigor entering Bethlehem from all corners in order to search for and kill the potential baby “terrorist” who was some day to lead a revolt against oppression, become King and put an end to the reign of Herod. I was not able to take this story out of my mind as we were driving on dirt roads around Bethlehem and Beit Jala trying to leave Bethlehem slowly in a car with big TV letters (Press) taped to it, passing by big Israeli army tanks and army personnel carriers each pointing their guns at us.

Israeli army troops were being brought from all corners into Bethlehem like Herod’s soldiers. Herod had lied to the Wise Men when he said that he wanted to find the baby Prince of Peace in order to honor him. Sharon lies to the world when he says that he wants to enter Bethlehem (and other Palestinian cities) in order to bring peace to the Palestinians and Israelis by rooting out “terrorist” cells and destroying them. The aim for both was to destroy hope, destroy peace and destroy the future by creating more anger, more frustration, more hatred and more violence. Curfews were being imposed and shooting and shelling were heard in the distance as we continued our drive. This story in the Bible was doubly dear to me because I was trying to take my nine-month pregnant wife, Rana, out of Bethlehem. Rana was due to have our first child at any time. If we stayed in Bethlehem we knew we would have been under curfew, probably for many days and would not have been able to reach the hospital when the time came. This would have put the lives of Rana and the baby in absolute danger. If it were any other time, we would have ignored the requests and pleas of our friends and family to leave Bethlehem and not to worry about them. What went through the minds of Joseph and Mary knowing that a massacre was about to take place in Bethlehem and they were on their way out?

As the Israeli army troops entered Bethlehem we were trying to escape to Jerusalem. After traveling for almost an hour on a very narrow and rough dirt road we reached the first army checkpoint to Jerusalem. While I assume Mary and Joseph would have hidden the baby Jesus at a checkpoint like this, I made an effort to show my pregnant wife to the soldiers; maybe some compassion would make our journey easier. One of the Israeli soldiers ordered me out of the car and demanded that I take my jacket off and open my shirt to reveal my skin. The other two were pointing their rifles at me one from a hilltop and one standing next to the soldier making the orders. I told them that I was an American citizen and my pregnant wife was with me in the car. I showed them my passport, and told them that my wife did not yet have one. Sarcastically he told me that I can pass but she cannot. With the guns pointing at us there was no way to argue with them. We returned to Bethlehem to find a different path. The second check point was full of other cars and trucks and we were lucky to have the soldiers become busy with the car in front of us. One of the soldiers simply waved us through as tens of cars were now behind us. We were in Jerusalem. At this point, the Israeli army troops were in Bethlehem heading towards the Church of Nativity in the center of the city where Jesus was born.

I can see the tears coming down Mary’s cheeks as she began to hear the screams and the cries of the Bethlehem mothers whose children were being slaughtered. On that same night, we received a report of a pregnant Palestinian mother forced to have her child in a car near a new army checkpoint established within the boarders of the city not far from the Bethlehem children’s hospital. The Israeli soldiers had refused her passage. The child died; we cried. On the 5th of April, a baby girl was born to our family in a Jerusalem hospital. It was wonderful to have the care of the doctors and the nurses, but we were never able to take our thoughts away from Bethlehem and the rest of the Palestinian cities being attacked, away from the many mothers who were forced to have their babies in their homes or cars, some making it, some not. We dedicate our child in memory of all children killed in both Palestine and the Israel. All these innocent lives were killed in order to kill peace, hope, freedom and justice. We pray that the reign of Herod will come to an end and that the message of the Prince of Peace will again be a light from Bethlehem to all corners of the world.

In Peace, Sami, Rana and the baby Layaar Awad

Still in Jerusalem waiting to go back home.

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