When the Israeli military razed the three Palestinian villages of ‘Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nouba to the ground in 1967, the only thing left standing in this area of the West Bank was the Latroun monastery, established near the biblical site of Emmaus in 1890 by the Trappists, an order of French Cistercian monks.
Brother Guy Khoury was a French monk living in the monastery at the time. His private memoirs of the events during and after the 1967 Six-Day War were unearthed by Hanna and Lillia Musleh during the course of their research for “Memory of the Cactus”, a documentary on the story of the Latroun villages.
June 1967: Br. Guy Khoury Pictured speaking with Israeli soldiers in an attempt to persuade them not to destroy the Palestinian villages of Latroun. © Yosef Hochman
For a comprehensive factual background and legal analysis on the displacement of the Palestinian residents and destruction of their villages, please see Al-Haq’s recent report, Where Villages Stood: Israel’s Continuing Violations of International Law in Occupied Latroun, 1967-2007. [Available electronically at http://www.alhaq.org/publication.php]
Al-Haq’s report reveals the content of an Israeli government cabinet meeting on 25 June 1967 at which it was decided to complete the destruction of the villages, which had begun during the Six-Day War. Br. Khoury’s memoirs speak of the Israeli army coming back to complete this destruction on 26 June 1967.
[The following extract from the private diary of Brother Guy Khoury was translated from the original French manuscript by Brother James Connolly, to whom deep gratitude is extended for his time and efforts]
The 1967 War
Clouds had been gathering on the horizon since mid May, and we expected from day to day that yet again war might break out between the Arabs and Jews. But no one was entirely convinced, since the French Consul-General on the day that war began did not know of it, and was telling our Father Prior, who had gone to see him, that there was no danger of war, at least not immediately …
Radio Egypt had really deceived the poor local people so that they believed no other. They simply adored Gamal Abed el Nasser. But events were once more to deceive them bitterly. From the very first engagement with the Israeli army, the Arabs were completely surprised and crushed on every front.
That day [5 June 1967], sure that there would be no war, several monks left to make visits elsewhere - one to Jerusalem with the Father Prior, another to Bethlehem, a third to Amman. They had great difficulty in getting back to the monastery because once word of war circulated no transport dared go in the direction of Latroun, a particularly contentious area. When the monks did arrive back in the afternoon, guns were already booming in the area. Some of the people of ‘Imwas fled to safety in Ramallah. The monks were already taking their mattresses down to the cellars, and filling sacks with sand. Each one had permission to spend the night where he thought safest, that is to say in the cellar cloisters, in the tunnel or the wine cellar; these three shelters were considered as secure as one another …
At about 10:00 pm, a small number of commandos who were dispersed around the surrounding countryside bumped into the Israeli army which was advancing to capture Latroun. Battle commenced. It was to last less than two hours. Lots of commandos fell, the others fled and hid. The poor commandos did not know the region. Doesn’t their courage remind one of that of the Leonidas and the 300 Spartans who died to the last man in the narrow valley of Thermopyles to prevent the advance of the Persians? They also were able to delay the Israeli army for a short time, which allowed the Jordanian army to flee to safety from Latroun. That army had been given orders to immediately evacuate the Latroun enclave, lest they be surrounded, with the Israeli army having surrounded Jerusalem, also advancing on Nablus. The village folk saw these poor soldiers, with a rifle in one hand and their helmet in the other dashing like madmen towards the military trucks waiting to evacuate the area.
The villagers saw the army retreating, so they lost courage and some of them decided to flee with them. Others remained in the village until morning, with some of them arriving at the monastery at about midnight, asking for asylum, as the Israeli artillery had begun to bombard the areas surrounding the Abbey. Thereafter children’s cries were heard in the tunnel. Several monks went down there, such as Fr. Jean de la Croix, to stay with them, to keep them cheerful, to try to allay their fear in spite of the thunderous din of shells and the rattle of machine guns. That hellish racket ended after day broke. Then could be seen the whole plain full of tanks approaching.
The Israeli soldiers were shouting and screaming at the top of their voices.
That morning, Fr. Jean de la Croix got a white flag and, followed by some others, went to the door of the cloisters. No soldier, as yet, had come through the gate. They stayed outside in their tanks, several of them having placed the barrel of their machine guns on the walls of the cloister, ready to fire. When they entered they were greeted in Hebrew with the well-known expression “shalom”. Having answered politely to Fr. Jean’s greeting, the officer said to him in excellent French: “Father, are there any Arabs inside the monastery?” Fr. Jean answered in the affirmative, and the officer ordered everyone, no matter how old they were, to come out and go back to the village. Then he added: “As for the monks, you can all continue your normal work in safety.” Once the people had left for their village, calm was restored to the monastery. We could then make an assessment of the damage done to the monastery buildings by the Israeli artillery. The damage was quite severe. The north-western wall of the infirmary had had a shell shot right through it. Two arches of the cloister had fallen down. The cloister wall of the cellar, at least a metre and a half thick, was also penetrated by a shell, which finally landed at the feet of the statue of Our Lady of Citeaux and had penetrated no further. The monks began to clean up the rubble caused by the shelling. Fr. Jean de la Croix began emptying the chapel and infirmary of their furniture, both extensively damaged. The eastern door facing the Juniorate was completely smashed and blasted away by a shell; the chapel was in a state fit to make you cry.
Nevertheless a tremendous silence reigned around the monastery. What was happening in ‘Imwas? Had the Jews forbidden the villagers to leave their houses? The following morning five or six of our workers came and announced that the Jews had ordered all the villagers to leave at once, without being allowed to take any of their possessions with them. The same order was given to the nearby villages, Yalo and Beit Nouba. Thus began the exodus. The people in a panic dashed out of their homes, most of them in bare feet, not having had time to put their shoes on. They were to go to Ramallah, about 25 kilometres away. Most of them had babies to carry, some even had two, and the heat was oppressive. One blind old man, overcome with fatigue, fell dead. An old woman died of fatigue and lack of nourishment as well; her husband who was with her buried her in that very spot. You could also see from time to time, scattered along the route, the bodies of dead commandos.
Seeing that calm and silence had descended on ‘Imwas, after most of the Israeli soldiers had moved on, some families whose houses were a bit outside the village left their homes and sought refuge in the monastery. Among them were some elderly folk and two or three blind persons. They arrived one after another, they did not even know that the other villagers had left. They soon numbered around 70; men, women and children. The monastery welcomed them kindly. In the absence of the Father Abbot, who was in France for the General Chapter of the Order, the Father Prior appointed Fr. Jean de la Croix to look after all this crowd. It was quite hard work, because he had to find them somewhere to stay and something to eat, but Fr. Jean was very happy to help these victims of disaster, many of whom never stopped crying. He lodged all the women with their babies together. The five or six men who were there were lodged separately with the elderly. To help him serving food, Fr. Jean had the assistance of two other monks. He prepared himself what was necessary for each family. The men all ate together, the mothers with their children. He brought milk for the babies so that they could survive. Finally people began to open up a bit. They had found others who could share their distress.
Added to all the practical help that Fr. Jean gave to these victims, he never stopped consoling and encouraging them. Among the women were some who never stopped sighing and weeping, one about her son at the front, of whom she had no news of; another about her husband, who the Jews had taken prisoner; a third some of whose children had fled and she did not know where they were.
All of these families stayed with us till 12 June. On that date, an Israeli officer ordered them all to leave the monastery and go to Ramallah; an Egged bus would pick them up and take them to Beit Sira and from there, it was up to them to find their own way of covering the remaining 15 kilometres or so to Ramallah. The officer explained that the decision to this effect had been taken because of the commandos supposedly roaming around the area. Hearing this, the poor villagers could not stop crying. Where were they going to be taken? Mothers who had young children began to sob.
Hastily Fr. Jean and the two monks assisting him prepared food packs for each family. In each bag he put bread, cheese, and boxes of meat for two days. A calf had been slaughtered to provide the meat. He gave these provisions to two families who he considered trustworthy. But to his great sorrow, they ran off with part of the food. Fr. Jean was really upset and he actually said so to the father of one of those families upon meeting him some time later.
At 3:00 pm the buses arrived at the door of the farm; some Israeli soldiers were there to make sure orders were obeyed without delay. They forced the people out of the cloisters. It was nothing but tears from then on. All of these poor people were sobbing, a large gathering of the monks’ community who had helped with the provisions was there, completely dejected but helpless to do anything about it.
Before climbing into the buses, all of the villagers, without distinction, went forward and in tears said good bye to each of the monks. For how long? They had no idea; perhaps for ever. It turned out like that for most of them. I still remember a young woman carrying a baby on one arm, with another holding her free hand, and weeping aloud, asking what was to become of them. It was the wife of one of our workmen. The Jews had taken her husband prisoner, solely because they had found the helmet of a commando under an olive tree near their house.
Then the buses set off, the monks returned to sing Sunday vespers. The following day, a monk, seeing Fr. Jean sitting on a bench in the cloister, contrary to his usual habit, with his head in his hands, beckoned him to have a few words. Fr. Jean immediately got up. He asked him: “Are you tired, Father?” “Oh dear me, I am crushed with sadness, I can’t stand seeing all these innocent people suffering, without my heart being broken. Human injustice is too huge at times.” From then on he never wanted to take part in the music in church on feast days; a sign of mourning.
Calm returned and a silent solitude reigned over the area round the Abbey. The monks had to face up to doing everything themselves without the help of the workmen. They had to deal with the kitchen, the farm, the garden, water, electricity etc. Fr. Jean de la Croix, since there was no need of the dispensary any more, offered to do other bits of work and especially did all the sweeping in the monastery. The Abbey and its surroundings up to Beit Sira had become a military zone, and therefore a no-go area. Calm was broken on the night of 25-26 June by nine huge bulldozers that had come to demolish what was left of the villages of ‘Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nouba.
Captain Bloch of Israel’s nearby Nachshon kibbutz came to warn us that it was forbidden for three days to go near ‘Imwas. Why he would not say; he had received orders and was just informing us. When at about 7:00 am on the morning of the 26 June, they moved forward, we understood that they were going to raze to the ground our neighbouring village of ‘Imwas, without our thinking at the time that Yalo and Beit Nouba were to suffer the same fate. By the evening of the 28 June, the vigil of the Feast of the Holy Apostles, the three villages were completely destroyed, not a single house remained standing. You would have thought that Vandal hordes had passed through there. The monastery had built at its own cost more than fifteen houses in the village. That same day, the Father Abbot arrived back via Cyprus, having been at the General Chapter.
After the War
After ‘Imwas was completely destroyed, the isolation and solitude of the Abbey became complete, not a single Palestinian came near it. Naturally therefore the dispensary was closed and the soup kitchen stopped serving. Towards the east, there was a stretch of eleven kilometres between the monastery and Beit Sira, which was now the nearest village. It was now a closed Israeli military zone, where only the army could go; the border police, in groups of 15 to 20 soldiers, were still looking for Arab commandos but had killed a lot of them.
The monastery of the Betharram Fathers near the basilica of ‘Imwas was occupied by the Israeli army. The first Arab that we knew of who dared to cross that zone was an old man called Haj Dib. He came from Beit Sira on a donkey. He arrived begging alms from his old neighbours, the monks of Latroun, because he originated from ‘Imwas. Fr. Jean de La Croix came out to see him and received him generously, saying a few consoling words to him about his village, which he saw had been completely destroyed. He was possibly the first to see the village in its pulverized state. The old man was given something to eat, and a few provisions for himself and his old wife. Then he was given 50 Israeli pounds and went away content, but his satisfaction was not to last long.
When he arrived at Beit Nouba, the border police who were circulating in the area stopped him and confiscated his 50 pounds. They had consideration for his age, however, and didn’t harm him physically, but they did forbid him to come back there anymore, if he wanted to stay alive. Moreover, the Israeli border police were noted for their harshness and severity of treatment, which at times bordered on criminal. Nearly all of them were Druze, whose Gallic moustache sent a shiver down your spine. Hadn’t two of them been guilty of murdering two young men of 25 and 27 years old near Beit Nouba and that just for a trivial matter? A woman who was collecting grapes and who was hiding close by witnessed the murder: the soldiers used bayonettes rather than machine guns. The woman ran away and told everybody. The crime became a big story. Radio and newspapers talked about it. The two victims were from Ramallah, one was a Christian, the other a Muslim. The Christian was from the Taoush family, one of the best known families in Ramallah. He left a widow and two small children. “Oh, the horrible crime”, lamented Fr. Jean de la Croix on hearing of the murder. The entire town of Ramallah was shaken by the event. On the day of the funeral, the crowd of mourners was immense, and no Israeli dared show his face.
The Israeli military governor, fearing too big a demonstration, had the municipal leader, Nadim al- Zarour, brought to him. He asked him to calm the people, to prevent further incidents. The two soldiers were searched for and it wasn’t long before they were found. They were brought to court and each given a 25 year prison sentence.
The second villager to visit Latroun after the old Haj, was a man from Kibiya named Daoud al-Kbaybi, who had been a refugee in ‘Imwas since 1948 and was well known to everyone. He arrived on foot from Beit Sira. This poor man of rather low intelligence, with only one eye and far from healthy, came to look for this two aunts, Hadiya and Fatmeh. These women were both blind and well known to Fr. Jean de La Croix, since they often came to the dispensary and for soup. Poor Daoud arrived at ‘Imwas and, seeing that the only house still standing was that of the Betharram Fathers, now occupied by soldiers, went in. From the top of the tower a sentry put his rifle at the level and was about to shoot, but had the good sense to stop, realising that the fellow was a poor wretch. Two other soldiers arrived and asked him what he wanted. When they realised that he had come to Latroun to ask for food, they let him go. A few days later, the sentry asked one of the monks: “Father, who is that fellow who went into the soldiers’ place without saying anything. Doesn’t he know that it is absolutely forbidden to go where the soldiers are? I nearly shot him, but the way he was acting stopped me”. “Fortunately,” said the monk, “you did not shoot; you would have shot an innocent man, who could not even harm a fly.”
Daoud asked to see Fr. Jean de la Croix, who arrived as soon as possible. Daoud told Fr. Jean what had happened to his two aunts, and wanted to go with him to get their bodies from under the rubble and to bury them respectfully. He was given something to eat, then Fr. Jean asked the Brother gardener to look after him and to give him a bit of work to occupy him. Every day and several times a day, Daoud asked the gardener when he could go and dig his two aunts from under the rubble. To keep his mind off things, the gardener gave him a sickle to cut grass to feed the poultry and rabbits. Instead of using the sickle he used the scythe which he found nearby and did things so badly that he broke it. So Fr. Jean asked the gardener to speak to the man a bit about Almighty God. Hearing that, the gardener began to laugh, adding: “Can’t you see Father, that I would be wasting my time and trouble to speak about religion to that man.” To which Fr. Jean answered in a grave voice: “Heaven isn’t only for you. Didn’t Jesus die for him as well? Hasn’t he got a soul to save? Do as I say, and don’t be selfish, my son.”
When the Brother aked Daoud if he prayed from time to time, he answered, “I don’t know how to pray. I once entered the mosque with the others, without taking my shoes off, I forgot about it during prayer and they chased me out and since then I have never gone back to the mosque.” After a few days, Fr. Jean got the Abbot’s permission to go and help Daoud to find his two aunts in the rubble. The Brother gardener went with him driving the tractor, and taking the necessary tools, which were put in the trailer. Fr. Joseph went with us to act as interpreter, in case we needed him. Daoud was also there. He was to show us where the house was that he stayed in with his aunts. We had to leave the tractor on the main road, because it was impossible to go ahead in this new Sodom. We could go forward only by jumping across huge fallen stones. The only thing you could see on every side was broken wood, old iron bars, cement blocks etc. All around there was the stench of corpses, of dead animals. Here was a donkey whose head was the only thing you could see, there a cow, a bit further away a mule.
The silence of death reigned over the village. All that remained was a few hens running about, pigeons standing on the top of ruined houses, making their nests, donkeys and calves that ran away as we approached, running like gazelles. Such was the state of that big village of over 3,000 people, so active and cheerful hardly a month before.
It was hard to find the house where Daoud’s aunts lived. As soon as it was found, we started work. We began by rolling away the huge boulders to make a passage-way, then digging began. The only thing that broke the silence was the noise of Israeli army trucks on the road at least 50 metres away from us. At about 9:00 am, a soldier approached us from the Betharram Father’s house, where his garrison was stationed. He wanted to see what the two monks were doing. Fr. Joseph explained to him in Hebrew what had brought us here. The soldier went away without a word. What must he have thought on seeing those two white-haired monks, with spades in their hands, digging under a blazing sun in the middle of summer, in a stench which would make anyone sick.
In spite of the smell coming from the ground you couldn’t see Fr. Jean ever hold his nose. What’s more, he didn’t show the slightest displeasure, whilst those who were with him never stopped showing their annoyance and their ill-ease. As we got nearer the corpses, the stench increased. We had to remove mattresses and blankets and give them to Daoud. They were rolled up and attached to a pole. By 11:00am we had nearly reached the bodies, when a military jeep stopped on the road.
A soldier came up and said that the officers were not allowing our work to continue because we were in a prohibited area. So we had to leave to the great relief of the Brother gardener, because he kept asking how we were going to get the bodies from beneath the rubble, where they had been for more than a month. Providence was satisfied with the good will of all concerned. Only Daoud was annoyed that the work was stopped. He wanted us to insist with the military, but the order had been given and one had to submit. You will understand that the Israeli government would have been embarrassed had two monks dug up two bodies buried by bulldozers.
Daoud began to lament his two aunts: “Oh, he said, if only I could have died in your place. You have brought me up since my childhood. Good bye my dear aunts, good bye.”
We returned to the monastery for dinner. Daoud continued demanding that his aunts be dug up from beneath the rubble. The Father Abbot made a further request to the military authorities, who refused. After a few days, Daoud left the monastery and returned to Ramallah. This is how he spoke of the disappearance of his two aunts: “Just when the Israeli army entered the village, my aunts said to me: “Child, run away with the village folk, because if they kill us, it is not important, but you are young, so you must stay alive.” He continued, “I left, leaving my two aunts, blind and alone, with only a bit of flour for food to make bread.” They must have died of hunger and thirst after a few days.
They were not the only ones in cases like this. At least a dozen names of old and sick people who suffered the same fate can be recalled. For example, Haj Nimer, the maternal uncle of several of our workers, the old sister of our old miller Bargouthi, as well as Ali Ismail and several others that had been looked for in vein. But among the victims there is one story which requires special mention since it received the special attention of Fr. Jean de la Croix. It concerns a young man from ‘Imwas aged about 17 or 18, called Hassan Shoukri. Both of his legs were crippled since birth. He had learned to read and write very well, thanks to the help of one of his brothers who carried him every day to school on his back and brought him back at night. When he was older he got around on a donkey, lying on top of it on his stomach. He came and went about in the village and was known to everybody. He often came to our dispensary (clinic). His upper body and arms were extremely strong. He climbed up trees using his arms and would come down head first. He would sit for hours under the trees with a catapult in his hands and hunted birds that way, his aim was perfect. Father Jean, seeing him so often at the clinic, suggested one day that he should learn a trade so that he could earn his living later on. The young man accepted. It was agreed with his mother and, it was suggested that he should become a shoe cobbler.
He was placed under the tuition of a good cobbler, who taught him his trade for a certain fee which the monastery decided to pay. After a few days the cobbler told us that this trade was not suitable for the lad because of his legs, as a cobbler is often obliged to use his knees to do his work. So a different job was needed. Then it was that Fr. Jean de la Croix thought of his teaching him how to run the wine cellar. He spoke to the Father in charge of the cellar, who consented to give him the kind of work he could do seated. He would wash the bottles or stick the labels on them, according to need. The young man was delighted but there was still a small problem to solve. It annoyed him to have to come every day to the monastery on the back of a donkey on his stomach with his legs hanging down. He spoke to Father Jean, who undertook to solve this problem. He spoke to a few influential people and it was decided that they would buy him a manually-run wheelchair, in which he could move about easier and in a more dignified way. Father Jean went to see the Abbot and told him of the plan. He decided to pay for the wheelchair. Since none were available in Jordan, one was ordered from France. It cost 90 Jordanian dinars, which is about 90,000 old French francs. This wheelchair cheered the young man up no end. His whole family was delighted and went to express their thanks to the monastery, and especially to Father Jean. As soon as the wheelchair arrived, Daoud would come to the monastery in it, working it with his strong arms. In four to five minutes he was at the cellars and in the evening he got back home in the same amount of time. He went quicker than the workmen, some of whom were a bit jealous of him. That lasted about a year, until the Six-Day War. When all the villagers were thrown out of ‘Imwas by the Israelis, this poor young lad disappeared and no one knew what had happened to him. His wheelchair was found in the possession of the Israeli military, but of poor Hassan not a sign was found.
The mother asked us several times to help her and have pity on her in finding the body of her son. Father Jean asked the gardener several times to go to ‘Imwas to try to at least find Hassan’s body. He got all the necessary permissions from Father Abbot. The place were Hassan’s house had been was searched and they fumbled among the stones and rubble but could not find a thing; the young man had vanished. The searches having been fruitless, the mother was told that there was no hope of finding her son. The whole family was deeply moved by this disappearance but very thankful for the service offered to the departed lad.
Father Jean gave the wheelchair to another youngster affected by the same disability.
By the end of July, negotiations were pushed through to allow about a dozen workers to come to the monastery, chosen from our old workers who had not fled to Amman. The Israeli government allowed it under certain conditions.
They arrived about 9 o’clock on a fine morning. Father Jean happened to be there at the time. As soon as he saw them to went out to meet them. “Salaam alaykum,” he shouted. “You poor kids, I am sorry for you, I share your anguish,” They came forward and greeted him in the Oriental manner, kissing his hand. He then gave them a few words of comfort and consolation, to soften the shock of seeing their village for the first time with all its houses destroyed. One of them confessed that he thought he was dreaming, another that it took him some time to recognise his village, and it was only thanks to the Betharram fathers that he managed to find his way around. They were left for a moment to chat among themselves and express their emotions, before being served lunch at about 11 o’clock. They were to be lodged in the monastery, because they could be driven back home only once a week. They set out on Saturday night in the monastery van and returned on Monday morning.
Father Jean was put in charge of them, he found ways of keeping them entertained when they were not working, he got games for them, draughts for example. He bought them playing cards. The Arabs often prefer chatting to playing games, however. Most of the time they chatted about the misery of what had happened to their village. They often listened to the radio, but when the news bored them they listened to music.
One evening after supper one of them switched his transistor on. A nice song was being sung, with these words: “Our army has defended our frontiers with success.” Then one of them, boiling with anger, jumped to the radio and switched it off, shouting so that everyone could hear: “They should be cursed, that army and its frontiers that it defended. Where is your army now and the frontier that it defended? Give me an answer!” At these words everybody burst out laughing.
One day, one of these Palestinians, seeing the bulldozers that had flattened the village, sat down with his head in his hands and wept for quite a time. Then, seeing an Israeli lorry full of things it had found in the ruins driving away, he couldn’t help grinding his teeth. Someone then said, “supposing the lorry crashes into a ditch, wouldn’t we go to help that Jew?” To which he answered: “I assure you that if I didn’t find the lorry on top of his head, I would put it there myself. I approve of all the punishment that can be given them, to punish these vandals, who have treated us in the same way.” It was the law of Talion applied in its full force. Someone reported these words to Fr. Jean de La Croix who answered that “it’s quite a human reaction. These poor people have lost everything, what would we do if we were the victims of such mistreatment?”
The workers stayed about a month in the monastery, whilst Father Jean used all his imagination to find amusement for them, so that they would not concentrate on their sorrows. Then matters were arranged. The road to Ramallah was opened; we were able at last to take the workers each evening to their families, which was the best solution. Since the road was open, the inhabitants of the three flattened villages, now living in Ramallah, asked the military governor if they could go back to gather the harvest still in their fields. The people of ‘Imwas hastened to arrive, even those who had no harvest, coming to see the destroyed village. When they saw it, a lot of them wept. Then they paid a visit to the Abbey, to see the dispensary where for years they had received the kindly help of Fr. Jean de La Croix. They all asked to see him to say hello, because they all knew him. He had kindly answered their requests, which were often demanding but he never considered them so. They asked him if he still looked after sick people. He answered no, since nobody needing care ever came along any more. He gave them all they needed in the way of medicine. The monastery also received them charitably and gave them something to eat. Father Abbot gave several of them some money, especially our old cowherd who had become blind. When they had finished loading up the harvest, they came to say goodbye to the monastery with many tears in their eyes. The reception they had received touched them deeply.
Father Jean, seeing several fields planted with onions which had not yet been collected, asked the Abbot to go with several other monks to harvest them himself. They worked up to 4 o’clock in the afternoons and collected a lot of onions, which were distributed among the people of ‘Imwas, as well as the plums that they had collected for them in their own orchards. But Father Jean’s charity did not end there. He saw there were lots of mattresses in the village, blankets, and linen, left or thrown all over the place. He decided to ask Father Abbot’s permission to go again to collect them and give them to those they belonged to, or to other poor people.
Once he had permission, he took the gardener with him to help him and to drive the tractor, which was pulling a big trailer. But the job was not so simple. They had to leave the tractor and its trailer on the main road, since there was no smaller road. They had to roll away huge stones to get at the linen, blankets and mattresses, and they had to do this carefully so as not to tear the linen which was in good condition and in some cases brand new. They then wrapped the things up in large parcels and took them to the tractor about 200 to 300 metres away. Several times soldiers came and asked what we were up to. We explained, they remained pensive, didn’t say anything and left. No one ever stopped us in this charitable work, although strictly speaking it was forbidden, since the Israelis even forbade photos being taken of the village. Father Jean and his helper collected five or six trailer loads, full of clothes of all kinds and in good condition before even mentioning the blankets and mattresses.
The news that Father Jean was collecting things in this way reached Amman. Because of that, several people sent messages to Father Jean begging him to send them this or that of theirs that was precious: bracelets, expensive dresses, identity card or account books, etc.
These poor people did not realise it would have needed tens of workers with pickaxes and shovels to do real searches. But had they not already dug up quite a quantity of things? Father Jean and his helper did not dare going to certain places which were very dangerous.
All the linen we have been describing was brought to the monastery and placed in the Juniorate quarters and Father Jean sorted it all out before distributing it. There was a family living quite close to the monastery whose house had not been destroyed. The doors were open, and the inside was in terrible disorder. There were twelve mattresses thrown into one corner, and here and there were blankets, pillows, shirts, trousers etc. Donkeys had been in and had soiled the clothes and mattresses. Father Jean, learning about this, came himself, and took all those things and washed them himself: he washed the linen very nicely, took the cloths off the mattresses and pillows, and sent them quickly via a person he could trust to the family concerned, who were by then living in Amman. When the family received all of these goods, including pots and pans, they wept with emotion and gratitude.
When the people of ‘Imwas came to collect their harvest, they found several bodies which were not yet buried. The monks buried five of them. There was in particular a man from ‘Imwas, called Khalil Jazar, who at night snuck back to his house, against the advice of his wife, in order to collect a certain amount of money which he had hidden. He had already been in Beit Liqiya, where he had fled, for ten days or so. His wife was never to see him again. It was useless her looking for him and to ask about him was useless too. Knowing there was nothing to be done, she decided to join her brothers in Amman.
During the harvesting, people found the body of this Palestinian man in a corn field. They did not dare do anything about it, so they told the monks. Father Jean decided that he was not going to leave this man without a grave. He had probably fallen to the bullets of Israeli police, stationed some 4 or 5 kilometres from the monastery. Some days later, Father Jean set out with two other monks, mysellf included, on the tractor, taking a bed sheet, some alcohol and a stretcher. The body had been lying there for two months, and was therefore a horrible sight to see. Those who don’t know what a human body looks like some time after death can’t have the slightest idea what it is like. The three of them picked up the body to put it in a big bed sheet. Father Jean held the head, the most rotten part of the body; he would not even put on the pair of leather gloves someone had given him. The two others took the corpse, one by the feet, the other in the middle so that it would not break apart. They heard the bones creaking and in spite of precautions, I saw hair mixed with rotten flesh on the hands of Father Jean. At this sight, I felt my insides turning. Father Jean however never showed the slightest repugnance. He simply took the bottle of alcohol and disinfected his hands. We then placed the stretcher on the trailer and started back home to bury the man in the cemetery of the village. We recited the De Profundis and hastened back to the monastery, since night was falling and vespers were about to ring. The villagers knew that we had buried several Palestinians and especially their compatriot, Khalil Jazar. They were very much moved and grateful.