Home » Returned Missioners » Why all this death and destruction?

Yvette Connell (Class of 1981), a Maryknoll lay missioner nurse, treats a wounded Palestinian youth at a rehab center in Bethlehem (Maryknoll photo by Eric Wheater).

As I watch the horrors of the war in Gaza on TV, I am pained to see how the conflict has gotten even worse since the time my husband and I lived there as Maryknoll lay missioners from 1988 to 1994.

I can relate to every bit of news and have been to all the places reported on. My heart is broken to see people starving with no medical aid — and all those buildings destroyed. Why all this death and destruction?

When my husband, Jack, and I first landed in Tel Aviv, Israel, we knew very little of the political issues in the country that had erupted in the First Intifada. But it did not take us long to see what was happening — road blocks with Israeli soldiers, schools closed, all public gatherings restricted to six people.

Jack Connell at Bethlehem University

Jack had a teaching position at Bethlehem University, but the campus was closed. Brother Joe (Brother Joseph Loewenstein, FSC, the vice chancellor of the university) told me that they needed help at a nearby center of what was then called the Bethlehem Arab Society for the Physically Handicapped.

I was welcomed, and I got to work. The patients at this rehab center suffered from gunshot wounds and beatings from the Israeli soldiers, many were hemiplegics, others quadriplegic.

We lived close to two refugee camps. The main road leading to some settlements passed right in front of the apartment where we lived. The children from the camps frequently would chase the buses and throw stones at them. The soldiers escorting the buses would chase the children, and if they were caught, the soldier would break the child’s arm.

With its campus closed, Bethlehem University found places where students could meet in small groups and take lessons. Jack would go to the university and then go out to the place that the students were assigned. He did not know where he was going until they gave him the address in the morning; sometimes it was a good walk, other times he took transport to Jerusalem. I was always happy to see him home in the evening.

The main cause of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians today is the issue of the illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. There are now over 100 illegal settlements on Palestinian land, some as large as small cities. Since 1947 the settlements have been taking Palestinian land, have destroyed olive trees, vineyards and wells and have forced landowners into refugee camps.

There are 68 Palestinian refugee camps — 58 official ones and 10 unofficial. The camps are crowded, and people are living in tiny dwellings — very, very sad.

The Israelis we knew understood the issues and did not support the government. I still remember a young Palestinian who told us, “I will fight. I can’t live like this, I would rather die.”


Yvette and Jack’s ministry in Palestine was featured in the September 1989 issue of Maryknoll magazine.

Yvette Connell
Yvette Connell (Class of 1981) and her husband, Jack, served as Maryknoll lay missioners for 16 years, working in Tanzania, Palestine and China. She now lives in western Canada.