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The Siege of Bethlehem
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join the discussion: Is there a way out of this tragic conflict?  Can the peace process be restarted?

Dear FRONTLINE,

The only way I see out of this tragic situation is to leave the negotiations to the younger generation. There are a lot of distrust and ill will that has been carried for over 50 years among the current leaders that can not be set aside in order to move ahead.

The only way to reach peace is through a diplomatic resolution and not military occupation. I think that that the younger generation on both sides would prefer to leave in peace then fear. All the luggage that Sharon and Arafat carry makes it dificult for them to come to any agreement.

San Diego, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you Frontline for presenting one of the few views of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that was not buried in cliches, propaganda and half truths. Your sterile presentation of the events at the Church of the Nativity was both refreshing and elucidating.

I was for the first time allowed to see beyond the insipid sound bite journalism of the major networks. What I saw surprised me, the near comfortable interactions between sworn enemies, the concern and humanity of the IDF soldiers and the frequent handshakes between implacable foes.

It is a wonder what incredible journalism can take place when there is no agenda or bias to cloud the picture.

Congratulations on a fascinating and elucidating presentation.

Michael Behar
Seattle, WA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I haven't been able to erase what I saw on your channel tonight off my mind. Eventhough it was told on Isreal's perspective, I saw the unstated plight of the other side, by that I mean the Palestinians.

I do not want to take side because of my conviction that taking side is one big thing that is fueling the crises till today but one thing is clear to me and that is that people in that region have conditioned their mind to seeing crises as a way of life and without crises, they have nothing to live for.

I mean, imagine the Isreali Army commander getting so upset that a peace deal is in the making. And could anyone imagine how someone could be joyful that a son died untimely? It all boils down to what religious absolutism can do to confuse a people. Imagine, when the seige came to an end, the monks and the chief priests if that's what they are, started fighting among themselves just about which group should enter the church first. Does it matter at all, I guess to some religious fanatics it does. To me it does not.

Albert Einstein was quoted as saying that "the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life." We should borrow these words and put all hands on deck in order to save our humanity that has been falling apart for so long in that part of the world and in so many other places in the world today.

Akaduchieme Odifu-Egbune
Boulder, Colorado

Dear FRONTLINE,

After watching Frontline, I have mixed feelings.

There is more to the IDF than what we see. The IDF consists of all kinds of people, good and bad. Perhaps "Lior" can be seen as a person to regard well, however, I know from personal experience that the IDF or 'IOccupationF' has few people who have respect for Palestinians. I would compel everyone to research more into IDF activity before making any judgements.

Secondly, I am very disappointed that more Palestinians weren't shown. Why did Frontline not travel down to neighboring Beit Sahour, another Christian town, and interview one or two of thousands of citixens, imprisoned in their homes, and praying for peace and freedom? It is a five minute trip from the Church, by the way. They could have had tea with my fiancee or an aunt. They would have told Frontline how hellish their lives have become...how life is hopeless and how they started to forget what day it was, since they weren't permitted to live normally and work.

There is more to Palestine than Hamas and this mess. Homegrown and authentic Palestine is not terrorist and Hamas-istic. The roots of Palestine lie in Christianity, around which every promise and covenant revolved and led up to. There is a huge community of peace loving Christians who do not sing for the destruction of America or Israel. I compel everyone to discover these people. I am a Palestinian American and proud to pieces of it.

That "Peace Center" in which you saw those Israeli soldiers holed up in, is a place for cultural activities and enjoyment, not snipers. Only months ago, my fiancee and I enjoyed a film together in that very large room where they sat, You've Got Mail, and now it is used against peace and life.

Ms. Hawash
***, Indiana

Dear FRONTLINE,

BRAVO FRONTLINE!

Finally a media that showed the truth of the situation in Bethlehem, without all the ballyhoo and blame. Bravo! If other media would follow there would be peace. You showed how the Israeli's and Palestinians can do work together to resolve differences. There will always be the hecklers who just want their own side to win, so they will throw mud on the program, but it was amazing to see each faction and the sub-factions of all involved play their parts in real time.

To those who complain about the money given to Israel for defense, consider the 10's of Billions of dollars given by the Saudi's for Palestinians to kill themselves. Not scholarships, not seed money for business, not home improvments, but to kill. To kill Israel's and to kill themselves. And you blame Israel and America for that sick mentality?

Bravo Frontline for showing the world the brilliant leadership of both sides, and how the biggest thorn in the side is not religious differences or even turf wars, but political tyranny.

Dorothy Caruso
Newport Beach, CA.

Dear FRONTLINE,

This program was disappointing because it clearly showed only what the IDF wanted the press to see. I was one of the international aid workers who tried to deliver food and medical supplies to those trapped inside the church. I saw no soldiers like Lt Col Lior, unfortunately. The soldiers who prevented our delivering aid, and taunted us for trying, didn't seem very interested in anybody who wanted to help Palestinians. No mention was made of the several dozen international peacekeepers, including Americans, who were arrested May 2, assaulted and imprisoned, some for weeks. No reference was made to the dozen or so who actually managed to enter the church. One of them, a dedicated Irish nurse named Mary Kelly whom I first met in Nablus when she was helping doctors and ambulance drivers reach the wounded lying in the streets and rubble, was shown leaving the church, yelling "Don't touch me!" to soldiers who were grabbing her arm as she left the church. Mary spent several weeks in prison afterwards, though she committed no crime, and was arrested by Israelis in a Palestinian area.

Press was kept at a distance, allowed in only when the IDF wanted to create an impression that they cared about human rights of Palestinians. The rubble of Bethlehem, and the hundreds of thousands of shells, hundreds of empty tear gas canisters, lying in the streets tell a different story.

Mary Hughes-Thompson
Los Angeles, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am very disappointed that a fine organization like Frontline, which has done such excellent investigative journalism in the past, has, in the case of "The Seige of Bethlehem," abandoned balanced journalism in favor of doing public relations work for one side. Here are just a few examples of inexcusable one-sidedness:

1. You never told us why the protesters were protesting, or what their views were. You never showed us an interview of even one of them.

2. You never gave us any view from the Palestinian side -- from inside the church, or from anyone who was in touch with those inside. You left the impression that they were just 'the enemy.'

3. You never noticed a contradiction in that Israelis were relentlessly shooting inside the church while they were suposedly negotiating in good faith. Have you ever seen a SWAT team in the US shoot at people while they were negotiating with them? Do you think it would be newsworthy and worth commenting upon if you ever saw such a thing?

4. Apparently, the promised food was never delivered. But you never actually told us. Was that to leave some doubt in our minds, so we wouldn't be sure that the Israelis essentially proved by their actions that they can't be trusted to keep their negotiated agreements? Wouldn't a real journalist find that fact very relevant, especially because it might shed light on the question of who is to blame for the breakdown of the peace process in general?

5. Instead of keeping their word, the Israelis did the opposite, by unleashing a fierce attack on the church, apparently setting it on fire. You reported the Israeli denial that they fired flares, denial that they started the fire, and left it at that. There were later news reports that indicated that the Israelis were responsible for the fire, but you never mentioned them. You obligingly left us with multiple Israeli denials echoing in our ears.

The "Seige of Bethlehem" was clearly a case of Frontline doing a public relations job for Israel. The final scene summed it up: a smiling Israeli commander saying ' It's no big deal. Don't think of it as the Israeli army surrounding a church, shooting into it, and setting it on fire. It's no big deal. This is just normal around here. Not to worry.'

Your report is a fine and clear example of what is wrong with US press coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- a definite pro-Israeli bias that glosses over or fails to report unwanted facts, that always makes sure the Israelis look like the good guys no matter what, that always portrays the Palestinians as the bad guys, terrorists, "wanted" outlaws, and people whose views and grievances are not to be taken seriously. It is this slanted journalism that ensures that the American public has no idea why many in the Muslim world shout "Death to America," that prevents public pressure for a real and just peace in the Mideast, and that plays a big role in keeping us in the gunsights of terrorists like al Qaeda. We need you to do your job as journalists and tell us the truth, not forsake your job in favor of a public relations gig for Israel.

russ greenleaf
Louisville, Kentucky

Dear FRONTLINE,

Israel is a good case study why the U.S. Founding Fathers did not want a religious state. In addition Israel is paranoid and stuck in 1945, believing anything Israel does is justifiable because of the action of Hitler.

U.S. military weapons give Israel the power to herd the Palestinian people into camps. Maybe that is the highest concept of peace the leaders of Israel can imagine.

Ralph Kieffer
Madison, WI

Dear FRONTLINE,

Although I only saw part of the program, the siege appeared to be a relatively peaceful ordeal. The Israelis didn't pound the Church with artillery, the Palastinians did not tear the building apart nor use their weapons to any great extent. I cannot help but think that at least part of the reason was due to respect to a religion, the ethnic groups that comprise it, and the holiness of the site. If only the two peoples could carry this respect to each other, and show the same mutual respect for every person, building, stone, tree; this terrible violence would end. This siege is proof that the conflict is a much more a human MINDfield, than as much as it is a military/political minefield. All of Palestine and Israel is sacred, holy ground to be treated humanely by all.

Joel Stopka
Chicago, Il

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched this program with growing confusion and then disbelief. What were Frontline's and PBS's motives in running it? I strongly agree with the first message in this queue. But would add shock and shame to the criticisms voiced.

This is Frontline colluding in providing the current Israeli government with a propaganda piece for US consumption -- maybe mainly for American Jewish and Christian conservatives. It adheres to the distortions and misrepresentations about the situation that these groups constantly voice.

You portray the IDF and particularly its commander as the soul of discretion, tact, restraint, intelligence, and good judgement. Whilst the Palestinians are shown as grubby "militants" with the chant of Hamas at the end being the main impression left with the viewer. A Palestinian mother deranged by grief is shown cursing other Arabs. The Nativity Church interior is shown defiled. Nothing of the destruction wrought by the IDF in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and throughout the West Bank.

The peace "protestors" are unidentified. Most of them seem to be Americans, but this is never mentioned. They are described only as a "problem" to the IDF, preventing it from doing its good and compassionate work.

Shame, Frontline! Shame, PBS! You are contributing to the endless tragedy of this situation. By this kind of "reporting" you help the world to avoid consideration of the USA's hypocrisy in offering to broker peace while we give $3 Billion fungible aid to Israel yearly, thus supporting the IDF with weaponry and other items, the continuous expansion of settlements in WBG/Gaza,, ghettoizing of Palestinian communities, and the killing and injury of many times more Palestinians than Israelis in "defense against terrorism."

Shame!!!

Charlton Price
Kansas City, MO

Dear FRONTLINE,

In every story there are two sides to bo told and sometimes even more than two. I thought that your program on the siege of Bethlehem told only the Israeli side of the story even though you could have easly interviewed some of the Palestinians after their release. I think the program was just an attempt to polish the Israeli image in front of the Christinan world. People forget that Bethlehem is a Palestinian land and it's the Israelis who had no business being there in the first place. I believe there is only one solution to the conflict;end the occupation.

Salma Ala
Bourbonnais, IL

Dear FRONTLINE,

After viewing this program, I have great respect for Lt. Colonel Lior, who demonstated how an IDF soldier, despite the compicated and dangerous conditions, carried himself with dignity and compassion in dealing with the situation at the Church.

Mike Prins
Austin, TX

Dear FRONTLINE,

The "peace process" obviously can not be "re-started" when we see that as oppsed to dismantling the terrorist infrastrutcure in his areas , which is what Arafat signed repeatedly since 1993, hamas, islamic Jihad, PFLP, and Fatah's Al Aqsa Brigades are actually completely uninhibited in their efforts to kill and cripple jewish civilian men, women and children. Arafat often says "he condemns the killings" yet at the same time his forces never in a decade seriously did anything to stop them - actually they are acused of assisting them. It is unacceptable that israel's men, women and children haveto be blown up in buses, restaurants and ice cream parlors so persistently by fanatical forces on their doorstep. They should go in and stay till something safer comes up. The world [would be] better if there would not be another suicide bomber state.

New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

I do not believe that Arafat wants peace. For a permanent solution he must be replaced with someone more reasonable who can and will work with all factions to find a negotiated permanent solution.

frank a. manthey md
elkton, kentucky

Dear FRONTLINE,

I'll watch your siege of bethlehem special, but in your chronology you give very little detail to the unprecedented nonviolent intervention by international activists with the International Solidarity Movement. These folks accomplished what the UN and other governments are supposed to do but refuse because of US power.

For those that want to learn more about this action, go to either http://www.palsolidarity.org/ or http://www.ccmep.org/

Mark Schneider
Denver, Colorado

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