• PALESTINE \ Sep 09, 2005
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    An interview with Fr. Raed Abu Sahliyeh of Taybeh
An interview with Fr. Raed Abu Sahliyeh of Taybeh

PR: What happened Saturday?

Abu Sahliyeh: Last Wednesday, a 32 year-old woman was killed in the nearby village of Deir Jreir by her family because they found she was pregnant. To cover their crime, they buried her without a death certificate. When the security forces found out, they exhumed the body for analysis in Ramallah and discovered she was pregnant. The family then accused a young man from our village of having had relations with this girl. She worked in a tailor's workshop in Taybeh for more than ten years.

We tried to prevent any violent reaction from the nearby village and the family. The Khouri family and the people of Taybeh decided to send a delegation asking for an A'twa [mediation to lead to reconciliation] from the people of Deir Jreir.

Unfortunately, Saturday they refused the A'twa and decided that same night to attack with hundreds of young people. They burnt the house of this young man and another 14 houses belonging to members of the Khouri family.

PR: Was anybody hurt?

Abu Sahliyeh: Nobody was hurt. Everyone knew they were coming and people had evacuated their houses. But this attack was very aggressive and barbaric, and unfortunately there was no security in the village and Palestinian security arrived very late, after midnight, because there was a problem of coordination with the Israelis.

We are in Area B, and to have uniformed and armed Palestinian security on the ground you need coordination with the Israeli army. That took a long time and they arrived after the battle was over.

But, thank God, they did protect the beer factory and other houses of the Khouri family.

PR: Are the security forces still there?

Abu Sahliyeh: They stayed only three days. The second day, Sunday, the mayors of the surrounding villages, the governor of Ramallah and the office of President Mahmoud Abbas all mobilized to put an end to this aggression. Sunday was also the funeral of the girl and we feared another attack.

PR: Has the situation been calm since then?

Abu Sahliyeh: On Sunday we sent another delegation with the governor of Ramallah to ask for the A'twa.

We condemned both incidents, the relationship between the two young people and the violent attack on Taybeh. We said let the law prevail. Let the security forces continue their investigation. If the young man is guilty he should be condemned but not the other members of his family. There is a tribal tradition and mentality here whereby you have to avenge and destroy and kill and burn. Thankfully, after the A'twa of recognition, things have been calm and after six months we hope there will be a Sulha [reconciliation].

PR: Will any action be taken against those who rampaged through the streets?

Abu Sahliyeh: On Sunday, 14 young men from Deir Jreir were arrested, but as a part of the agreement they were released in exchange for calm.

I would like to stress four things:

The main cause of this aggression on Taybeh was a romance between two young people. It is not fair and it is not just that all the people of Taybeh should pay a heavy price because of the actions of two people.

The second is that the attack by the young men of Deir Jreir was a violent, unjustified and barbaric reaction, but it should not be taken as an attack by a Muslim village against a Christian village.

Third, the intervention, even if late, of the Palestinian security forces was very efficient. For this reason we ask the Authority to have a presence in all the surrounding villages to protect people and impose law and order. What happened in Taybeh happened last month in Ramon, and it was worse than here; houses were burnt, and people were killed.

Fourth, we solved these problems in a very short time due to the sympathy and solidarity of all the dignitaries and mayors of all the surrounding Muslim villages. They intervened and sent a delegation to Deir Jreir and asked for the ceasefire. They condemned the attack on Taybeh and successfully mediated to calm down passions.

PR: You are not afraid, then, that there will be any lasting damage to Muslim-Christian relations?

Abu Sahliyeh: No. Of course we have to work on it. This is the work and efforts of wise people, the schools and education for co-existence.

What we managed in this short time is already a good achievement because it prevented more escalation, and I thank God that no blood was spilt otherwise the problem would have been worse and more complicated.

I reject the newspapers and the people who spoke about an attack by Muslims against Christians. I will repeat this a million times: We are Arabs, we are Palestinians and we are Christian since 2,000 years. This is a small biblical village. We have lived in peace with surrounding Muslim villages for 14 centuries.

This mistake between two people should not poison the relations between Muslims and Christians. Those who are playing this dirty game should calm down. We are wise and we say that we have no choice but to live together, side by side, and with friendly relations.