The Siege of Bethlehem
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The Siege of Bethlehem
Program #2021
Air date: June 13, 2002


NARRATOR: The Israeli army rolled into Bethlehem on the 2nd of April. They pursued dozens of terrorist suspects into the Church of the Nativity, built over the birthplace of Christ, one of Christianity's holiest sites. Almost 200 other Palestinians were inside when the Israelis sealed off the church complex and then faced a dilema. To storm the church would provoke world-wide outrage. They had to try to resolve the crisis through peaceful negotiations.

The international press were cleared from Manger Square, but our camera crew was allowed to stay. For 38 days, we would watch and wait with the Israelis. And later, we gained unique access to videotapes found inside the church.

This is the inside story of the 38-day seige.

The Israeli army has surrounded the church with sniper positions. There are daily exchanges of gunfire, with occasional ceasefires to bring out the wounded.

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: [subtitles] There's a wounded man coming out the little door. The little door, right? I need an ambulance. Is the doctor here?

NARRATOR: The courtyard is the point of greatest danger. The Palestinians can shoot from the windows above; the Israelis surround the square with paratroopers.

The monks are the only ones who could cross the no-man's land safely. The Israelis say this man was carrying a gun, and so a sniper shot him. The Israelis offer medical treatment to anyone wounded, as long as they come out of the church.

Opposite the church, the army set up headquarters in what had been the Bethlehem Peace Center. The operations room is behind closed doors at the top of the building. Our camera crew are the only outsiders allowed in. From here, the church compound and surrounding streets are monitored around the clock. Hidden behind screens, in a room within a room, is the Israelinegotiation team.

    ISRAELI SOLDER: [on radio] [subtitles] How are you? Praise God, how are you?

NARRATOR: The team is in daily contact with the men inside the church. They are trying to find their way between two fundamentally opposed positions: the army's determination that no one with Jewish blood on their hands will go free, and the Palestinians' refusal to be taken into Israeli custody.

    [Video screened by Israeli army censors]

    Lt. Col. LIOR: [subtitles] No one with links to terrorism goes to Gaza. It's jail or exile. That's the bottom line. That's our mandate.

NARRATOR: Most of the negotiators are army reservists, professionals in a range of disciplines, all experts in crisis management. They are led by Lieutenant Colonel Lior. This specialist unit was brought in specifically to end the siege. Lior was told he had complete autonomy to handle the negotiations.

Lt. Col. LIOR: It's not a crisis between Mr. Arafat and our prime minister. It's a military crisis. There are wanted people inside - terrorists, in our terms - and the army is supposed to arrest them. This is the crisis. If you create a political crisis, you will never find a solution. If the crisis is between people, between two troops, you can find a solution.

NARRATOR: But it took two weeks for them to find someone to negotiate with. Now there are regular meetings with a local Palestinian delegation led by a man called Salah Ta’amri, a former PLO commander.

ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: We agreed that there are two taboos. The Palestinians will not agree to an imposed deportation, will not agree to send them to the Israeli jail. And Israel, on the other hand, will not agree them to go freelyto Gaza. I mean, they will have to pay. They will have to be investigated. So between those two taboos, there is a very narrow path.

NARRATOR: The negotiation team is also in charge of the military operations in the square. In the first threeweeks, there was little compromise with the Palestinians. But on day 23, a breakthrough: the first deal. The Israelis agree to let the Palestinians bring out two bodies that had been in the church since the beginning of the seige. In return, the Palestinians will allow a group of teenagers to leave at the same time.

Lior, like most of his team, is a veteran of the Israeli special forces.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: [subtitles] Natan? Natan, follow my lead, OK?

NARRATOR: The church's lawyer, Palestinian Anton Salman, had volunteered to stay in the church. He will be a vital link between the army and those inside.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: [subtitles] I hope something will come of this.

NARRATOR: The Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian monks escort the bodies and the teenagers out of the church.

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: [on megaphone] [subtitles] Anton Salman and you who are in the church- the monks are waiting for you outside the door. Open the door. Send out the boys and the bodies. Stnad by the wall. Stand by the wall.

NARRATOR: The bodies, in home-made coffins, have been lying in the church crypt for three weeks.


    Lt. Col. LIOR: Have they been dead long?

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: They've gone black.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: Black?

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: One has maggots coming out of his face.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: Lift their shirts.

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: [to teenagers] You, first on the right, come closer.

NARRATOR: The Israelis are taking no chances. In the previous month there had been 16 suicide attacks. Some of the wanted men hiding inside are thought to be responsible for sending in some of the bombers.

Lt. Col. LIOR: If someone inside, innocent, wants to get out, this is what we are saying all the time, "You are free to get out." If some of them can sleep this night at his home, we're going to help him to do it. It will create a momentum. Each one of them that knows and hears that his brother or his friend reaches home safely, "Well, maybe the Israeli doesn't want to kill us all when we went out. Maybe the Israeli telling the truth. Maybe the Israeli are promising us something that is actual, and we can achieve that."

NARRATOR: For the past 23 days, over 150 people had been sharing food that the army was providing only to the monks. Hunger will become an important tool in the siege. The tapes later found in the church show the primitive conditions inside. Most of these men are of no interest to the army, but they are reluctant to leave, fearing both the Israelis and being accused of deserting their countrymen.

The man playing dominos is Ibrahim Abayat, wanted for killing three Israelis and a suspect in dozens of other shootings.

The wounded man is Jihad Jaura, who the Israelis accuse of four murders and organizing at least one suicide attack. These are some of the men the army had invaded Bethlehem to arrest.

MAN IN CHURCH: He was injured in the middle of the city, and we take him here. And we stay here 33 days.

NARRATOR: The Israeli strategy is to isolate the terrorist suspects by encouraging those not on the wanted list to leave. The army considers these boys hostages held by the gunmen; the Palestinians say they are sheltering them from Israeli aggression.

For Lior, this first exchange is crucial in building trust with those inside. All the boys have to be delivered home safely, as Lior had promised.

    [Palestinian boy at home] [subtitles]

    FAMILY MEMBER: He's so skinny.

    FAMILY MEMBER: He got a lot thinner.

    FATHER: How was it?

    BOY: They'd be looking at the windows. The snipers would direct the green lasers, point them at anything that moved. That would scare the guys. They'd shoot in and start fires.

NARRATOR: At this point, the two sides seem to be moving towards a peaceful resolution. But overnight there is a hitch. One of the Palestinian teenagers is detained by the secret service, contradicting the message that those inside could go home whenever they liked. With one of the teenagers now in custody, the negotiation team must try and minimize the damage done to their relationship with the Palestinians.

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: [on the phone with Salaa Ta'amri] [subtitles] I couldn't reach you last night because from 1:30, Lior and I were taking the children home. We were at it until 3:00 AM. We took all the children except one, Hamza Mahmud al-Hamur. He stayed with the secret service to be investigated. God willing, the problem will be resolved by the morning. God Willing, all will be well. You kept your word.

Lt. Col. LIOR: You know, one of them was a suspect in putting explosives in Jerusalem, and we know that only after we check the details. It was a big, big dilemma. I think the relationship between us and the Palestinians this morning are worse than yesterday morning.

NARRATOR: Guarding the church perimeter is a battalion of paratroopers lead by Commander Roni Neuma. The negotiators need to create a sense of trust with the Palestinians in order to work out a deal. But to encourage them to do it quickly, the Israelis decide they want the gunmen to feel the full weight of their military force. It is a delicate balancing act.


    Cmdr RONI NEUMA: You see the Orthodox residence? We spotted an armed man there. They shot at him. Later, they saw another armed man. One of them is badly wounded.

    SOLDIER: The rules of engagement are "means and intention"?

    Cmdr RONI NEUMA: Suppose you see a guy standing with a gun. If it doesn't seem like he's going to shoot, you don't shoot. If you see him pick it up, you see him go like this- for me, that's intention to shoot. All right?

    Remember, the aim is to make them surrender. That's what we're working towards. For now, negotiation is as good as taking out armed men. That's why we want to maintain it.

NARRATOR: On day 26 of the siege, the Palestinian delegation returns from a meeting with Chairman Arafat. Now they seem ready to do a deal with Lior.

Lt. Col. LIOR: Mr. Ta’amri is very courageous and very brave, and he tried to find with us a solution to go between the two taboo. There is a Palestinian taboo not to deport anyone, and there is an Israeli taboo, we have to put under an Israel jail or to give them the option to go abroad for life, the murderers.

Their offer was that they will go inside and speak with everybody there and going to tell them, "OK, we agreed with the Israelis that if you are wanted, you will go to the Israeli jail or you'll have the option to go abroad. If you are not wanted, you will go to Gaza. If you are not wanted there- you have- you have civilians, you will go to your home."

And they ask us for food. They want food. As they say, if you want to speak with someone, you cannot speak with someone seriously if he'll hungry. So I'll have to bring themfood. We told them that it will be easier for me to try to argue with my commander to bring inside food if they will let someone go out, let's say a big group that will go out, for civilians or innocent people.

NARRATOR: This exchange - people for food - would become a crucial part of the negotiations over the next two weeks. Inside the church, the stocks of food are all gone. The besieged men are reduced to eating the plants growing in the church courtyard.

The Israelis try to isolate those inside as much as possible, but they do have one electricity line and their cell phones. The official Palestinian contact with the Israelis is through church lawyer Anton Salman, but other Palestinians are secretly in touch with the army. And the negotiators are constantly trying to convince them to leave the church.


    Lt. Col. LIOR: Let's plant the idea in his head. Ask him, "Are you thinking about when you get out?"

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: Don't you think it's too soon?

    Lt. Col. LIOR: No. Put it how you want.

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: OK. [on the phone] Is that Said or Ahmed?

    Lt. Col. LIOR: After he coordinates it with us, we'll wait for him by the end of the tunnel, at the iron gate. Tell him not to go out. He must call from the Armenians' tunnel. Now tell him, "Today you will be home. You made the right decision. You are OK." Build him up!

NARRATOR: It is dangerous to sneak people out of the church. Lior believes the armed men inside will do their utmost to stop anyone leaving without their permission.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: [subtitles] Have we got a Jeep handy? One Jeep? OK, wait. Wait. Alon, you stand with your Jeep this way. We'll take them in the Jeep. Shahar, you stay with us. Uri, cover the corner so we can pass.

NARRATOR: Here the team is trying to get two men out through a side door in the church complex.


    Lt. Col. LIOR: Keep him on the phone OK? Tell him to come down. Tell him to close the window now! Alon, don't take your eyes off that window, OK?

    SOLDIER: What should he do?

    Lt. Col. LIOR: Tell him to come through the main entrance. Tell him, "We're waiting for you." Say, "You've made the right decision. Follow it through."

NARRATOR: These are the first two members of the Palestinian security service who chose to leave. As always, the army promised them they could go home. But first, Lior has some questions.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: [subtitles] The phones. The snipers. How does it affect them? The food. Location of the leaders. Were they hoping they'd get food today?

ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: The condition is not that someone is going to die, but it's hard. And they wanted togo out. But the condition is that even though someone want to go out, he is afraid that he will be- that after he will go out, the people will kill him because he is- [speaks in Hebrew] - how do you call it?


ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: Collaborated with Israel.

[ Study a chronology of the siege]

    PROTESTER: Don't panic. Don't panic.

NARRATOR: Then a PR setback. Protesters break through the army cordon. They are objecting to what they call the continued illegal occupation of Bethlehem. The Israeli offensive elsewhere in the West Bank was over, but the siege at the church is keeping the army here.

    ISRAELI SOLDIER: Go. Go! We don't want to get you injured! Go! We don't want to get you injured!

NARRATOR: This is an embarrassment for the army.

Lt. Col. LIOR: Ongoing negotiation. If they manage to get inside, it will be a bit of a problem for us, but I think it's a small influence, not so sever influence. Everything is OK.

NARRATOR: But events elsewhere would prove more significant for the negotiations. Another siege - at Arafat's compound in Ramallah - had ended with wanted men being released into Palestinian custody.


    Lt. Col. LIOR: What did they say on the military radio station, moved to a Palestinian jail? Under American and British control? I want to hear it here! How does it work? I want to hear it.

    RADIO NEWSCASTER: This is the cellular information service, up to the minute news from the military radio.

    The government has approved the American proposal by which the killers of Minister Ze'evi will go to a Palestinian jail under British and American surveillance. Prime Minister Sharon has approved the plan after speaking with George Bush, who invited him to visit the White House next week.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: It's a technical thing. That's the most significant turning point in the past three weeks.

NARRATOR: The fact that, in the Arafat siege, wanted men were going into a Palestinian jail - even one guarded by British or American jailers - meant a key Isreali principle had been undermined. The so-called Israeli taboo had been broken.

Lt. Col. LIOR: The taboo that we fight for, the fence that was in our bag, and we pent yesterday five hours of meetings, and all what we did here is to defend this fence, and someone came and took the fence, took the fence and- first of all, nothing to defend. And secondly, nothing to lean on. This is a bad feeling.

What we have to defend on is the day after. When people will ask how was the IDF conduct this crisis, I want that the answer will be "Smartly." And smartly is yet to us to prove if we will manage to rescue some more of the innocent people. We still have something to achieve.

NARRATOR: Lior's authority as a negotiator is now in question. Both sides know what the Arafat decision means: the siege in Bethlehem will probably be resolved at an international level, in a deal based on political expediency. While the team waits to find out where they stand, it is business as usual for the snipers and gunmen in Manger Square.


    Lt. Col. LIOR: We just hit one of them - dead.

    Cmdr RONI NEUMA: Do we know who he is?

    Lt. Col. LIOR: No. They asked us to take him, so maybe he isn't very senior. We need to arrange to get him out.

    Cmdr RONI NEUMA: Fine. You negotiate.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: I'll get them to an Israeli jail some other way!

NARRATOR: Another body, another ceasefire to negotiate.

    ISRAELI SOLDIER: [subtitles] We don't want any weapons around. Any soldier who sees a weapon will shoot. When the snipers see weapons, they'll fire.

NARRATOR: The dead man is Nidal Abayat, another member of the Abayat clan famed for its fighters, and one of the men on Israel's "Most Wanted" list.


    NIDAL'S FATHER: I dreamed that he died and ascended to heaven in white clothes. He came to me 10 minutes ago and greeted me! By God, he came to me and greeted me! I'm so happy, because by God the Creator, I saw him like I'm seeing you!

    NIDAL'S AUNT: Leaders of Arab nations, a curse on you! May your father's house fall in ruins! Every Arab leader is a bastard pimp! The Israelis are killing us one by one in the church! And the Arab leaders want to negotiate? A curse on each of them. Every Arab leader is a pimp! What use are negotiations?

    NIDAL'S FATHER: Today is a great day. I wanted to see my son married, but today is just as great a celebration. Let God be my witness, I have never been happier. I'm a man with a heart and feelings. But praise God, I feel no pain today because it's like my son's wedding day. Today is a great day of joy.

    MOURNERS: God is great! There is no God but Allah! The martyr is the beloved of God! Death to America!

NARRATOR: The team is waiting to hear how their negotiations will be affected by what has happened in Ramallah. They still want to go through with the food-for-people arrangement.


    Lt. Col. LIOR: We'll say, "Listen, we have a solution for the food. Everything is ready. We can move forward. We expect you to get people out." He'll say, "What people?" We'll say, "This is the situation. Get the people out. You'll get an answer about the food. It'll go well."

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: [on the phone] Emad?


    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: It's Ronen speaking. Thank God, we have good news regarding the food.

    PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: The 20 people first, or the food?

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: It's all part of the deal. Something has to be done first. You can't do it all at once.

    PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Do you want to meet?


    Lt. Col. LIOR: Just talk about getting the first group out. He'll try to talk about the food. Just tell him, "Bring the people out." Keep it vague- "There's progress. There's food. There's pressure. We may get our orders changed."

NARRATOR: More than 20 people leave the church the next day, the biggest group yet. Lior believes he can still work this out.

    MONK: You want to bring them outside?

    Lt. Col. LIOR: It's OK, but only the two go-

    MONK: Back and forth.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: Back and forth. Just send them, and if I see you say it's OK, it's OK. I don't want them to be embarrassed because of the [unintelligible] I don't want them to take off shirt and-

    MONK: No, no.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: OK? So if you tell me it's OK-

They're afraid inside what will happen when they go out. So part of our job is to demonstrate to the people inside - not the bad ones, the bad ones are the bad ones - to demonstrate to the guys that want to go out that when they'll go out, things will be good for them. They will be treated with honour, and they will come home safely. So this is a test case, bringing out another 20 persons that we'll bring out since the crisis began. It's a test case, and it's a good test case.

NARRATOR: Now the Israelis allow a news camera into Manger Square to show the world progress is being made.

    ISRAELI OFFICER: [subtitles] They're going live. Give me a quote for CNN - in English. Give me a quote for them, a key sentence, in English.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: [in English] The [unintelligible] is going very well. It's going very well, and we hope it is the beginning of- or example for the-

    ISRAELI OFFICER: The solution.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: -example for the solution.

NARRATOR: Lior is trying to demonstrate that his team can do the deal without interference from above. But the secret service refuses to OK the list of names of those coming out or to guarantee they won't be arrested. Headquarters, it seems, no longer supports Lior's trust-building efforts.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: [subtitles] Tell us whether they are being held up for no reason. Confirming their identity shouldn't take more than an hour. Put them on the bus. Get them to Bethlehem. Get them to hospitals and come back.

It was a day of action, not necessarily a progress. What can be a progress is trust. The process will be OK. If everybody will go home, as we promised them, it will be some kind of trust, which is a basic tool for the next agreement. I'm not sure that we are in a progress, but I'm more optimistic than yesterday because we create some kind of a tool, a tool of trust to reach the next agreement.

NARRATOR: That evening, Lior learns that the secret service has held four of the released men for interrogation. The others from the church refuse to go home without them. Lior's negotiating position is undermined. Then, just as the credibility of the negotiators seems irretrievably lost, the men are released.

Lt. Col. LIOR: My position is someone trying to swim through the Lamansh Canal. And for three weeks he swam between friends, and now came someone - which I respect, of course, and accept, of course - and put a chain on our hand and on our leg, in my opinion, for the wrong reason- not the wrong reason, a mistake reason. Of course, not the wrong reason. In one point of view, I am have to- we have to keep swimming because the cause is good. But in the other point of view, we have to say, "Well, open the chain or we all drown."

NARRATOR: The Palestinians consider the release of those people the day before a gesture of good will. Inside the church, Anton Salman and the others now expect the Israelis to provide some food. But there is a hitch. Lior's team may no longer have the freedom to do their own deal. Everyone has come to believe the final agreement will be arranged between the politicians and the Americans, and so Lior cannot produce the food.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: [to Anton Salman, on the phone, in English] If someone from the commanding level will tell me in a minute or in an hour that there is such an agreement, of course, we'll bring you any food in the world. But at the moment, you speak with me. And we're speaking about what we spoke yesterday and the day before yesterday.

    The deal was - and I can say it very well - that Mr. Ta'amri will go inside and speak with the people inside. The purpose of this conversation was that he will try to convince as many as he can to go out, and the wanted people will- just a minute, Anton. The wanted people will stay in one part of the compound. And then- [crosstalk]

    Anton! Anton! Anton! Anton! Just a second. Let me finish, OK?


    Lt. Col. LIOR: OK. Mr. Ta'amri asked us for a tool so he can do his job easier. One kind of a tool was the food. Am I right?


    Lt. Col. LIOR: OK.

    ANTON SALMAN: [unintelligible]

    Lt. Col. LIOR: OK. That's good.

ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: Our superiors' position regarding the food became even more vague, which means that we lack now- at the moment, we lack the clear mandate that we think is required to be able to go on, proceed with the negotiations.

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: [on the phone] [subtitles] There's some bad news. We can't do the meeting today. Hello? Can you hear me? I hope we'll return to the negotiating table soon, OK?

NARRATOR: The Israeli high command now decides on another show of strength. Thisisn't a real assault. The pyrotechnics are part of the psychological warfare. When flames appear in a church window, however, the ploy looks like it's backfiring.


    Lt. Col. LIOR: Don't worry. It's 100 percent certain that they started the fire.

    ISRAELI OFFICER: We haven't shot any flares. Couldn't we have set the place on fire? What's on CNN? Are they showing the church on fire?

    Lt. Col. LIOR: Yeah, they're showing us burning the church. It's not funny. It's a big deal.

    ISRAELI OFFICER: We haven't shot any flares?

    Lt. Col. LIOR: No chance?

NARRATOR: The psychological warfare quickly escalates when the Palestinians fire back. The gun battle is heard across Bethlehem and beyond. The question of who started the fire is hotly contested.

    REPORTER: Is it at all possible that the Israelis, in the incident last night, fired flares, and one of those flares, on a parachute, drifted down and ignited the fire at the church of the Nativity? Is that a plausible scenario? And if not, why not, please?

    PRESS OFFICER: We know for sure that the fire is a result of Palestinian action in the church.

NARRATOR: The Israelis had invited the press to the Peace Center to try to minimize the PR damage done by the sight of the church burning. The Palestinians had managed to put the army on the PR defensive. But militarily, it is a different story.

    ISRAELI SOLDIER: Three injured and one dead, I think.

Lt. Col. LIOR: There's been a shift. The shift was from negotiation to agreement, as a primary tactic, to block the area and increase the pressure, as a primary tactic. I'm not sure I am in- I'm supporting this shift, but I understand it. And I'm not sure I have another agenda which is much more stronger than this kind of attitude.

NARRATOR: Conciliation and trust-building are abandoned for a more hard-line approach. And then another embarrassment. The protesters break through again, choosing one of the few days when the news media are present.

1st PROTESTER: Please have a look at us.

2nd PROTESTER: He's trying to beat us.

1st PROTESTER: Please come with us. Please come with us. Please come with us!

NARRATOR: This time, they can't be so easily dismissed. Some of them manage to get inside the church.

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: Just a group of peace activists tried to demonstrate their support for the Palestinians inside. So we have to arrest them, and we'll see what to do. It's a police matter now.

    REPORTER: [unintelligible]

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: Some of the what?

    REPORTER: Managed to get inside.

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: Inside the church? I didn't know about it.

NARRATOR: The tapes from inside the church complex show further cracks in the military cordon. Palestinians had smuggled some food to their husbands and brothers inside. Still, the gun battles continue around the church. But the bigger strategic game has moved into the realm of international politics.

There was now huge pressure from the U.S. for an end to hostilities. The Americans want an agreement before a meeting scheduled between Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush in Washington.

On day 31, the local Palestinian delegation arrives to agree on final terms. But just as the meeting was due to start, the negotiating unit's mandate finally disappears. Lior is told over the phone that the secret service is taking complete control. His role as a negotiator is over.

Lt. Col. LIOR: Personally, emotionally, it is a bad feeling to understand that- to hear someone who is telling you that you finish your job, finish your duty. I think in the army, it is-the mission is above all of us. I expected that it be will done with more respect, and it wasn't done like this.

The agreement is no longer between men. This is our mission, to reach an agreement between men, between us and the men inside. It's not between men. It's between organization and state interests, and this is more complicated, naturally.

NARRATOR: Three days later, just before dawn, agents from the CIA sweep into Manger Square. They bring with them a new, high-ranking Palestinian delegation to iron out the details of a final deal.

    ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: [to Anton Salman, on the phone] Anton? All right, this Doron. There is two fellows that come inside. Please open the door for them, OK? OK.

NARRATOR: The new team has come to compile a list of the names of all those inside and to work out what will happen to each one of them. The Palestinians are told that under a U.S-brokered deal, they will be divided into three categories. The most wanted men inside will be sent abroad into exile. Others, less important, will have to leave Bethlehem for the Palestinian-controlled Gaza strip. The rest will go free.

It was the same deal the negotiation team had agreed to, in principle, nearly two weeks earlier, only now it is being presented as an international initiative.

    MEN IN CHURCH: [singing] [subtitles] Our heroic brigades of the struggle are intensifying the attack from street to street. Zionists, your day has come! Watch out for what Hamas can do!

NARRATOR: The agreement nearly falls through when Italy's promise to take the wanted men turns out to be an offhand remark by a junior minister, rather than government policy. After some frantic last-minute diplomacy, the final deal sees 30 men on Israel's wanted list sent first to Cyprus and then dispersed throughout Europe. Twenty-six others are banished from the West Bank and sent to Gaza. The rest area going home.

After 38 days, the siege of Bethlehem is finally over.

Lt. Col. LIOR: Strange moment.

REPORTER: Are you guys going to get home today, or is it-

Lt. Col. LIOR: Yeah. Thirty-eight days.

REPORTER: That's what I hear.

Lt. Col. LIOR: On Friday. Can't be better. But a strange day, a strange moment.

[ Read an interview with the producer]

    PROTESTER: Don't push me! Do not push me! Do not push me!

    Lt. Col. LIOR: It's good that we're here.

NARRATOR: But this is the Holy Land. The conflict isn't over yet. Lior's last task is to mediate between three Christian orders, all of whom want to be the first to enter the Church of the Nativity.

    Lt. Col. LIOR: [to monks] This is a happy day. It's a happy day. I want everybody to go behind the- [crosstalk]

Lt. Col. LIOR: I cannot look at this place as a Jewish army around a church of Christians took hostage by Muslims and all of that because this is a way of thinking that cannot be solved. So I'm not thinking that anything is unusual, not about people, not about the team, not about myself, not about the crisis.

I think we're facing a crisis like that. I think we're going to face a crisis like that. And it always will be between Israeli andPalestinian in this area. It always will involve personal aspirations and personal point of view and the symbolic aspects. This is the way we live here. Nothing- nothing special here.




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(c) 2002 BBC


Michael Kirk

Steve Audette

Corey Ford

Tim Mangini

M.G. Rabinow

Michael H. Amundson
John MacGibbon

Patricia Giles

Chet Chabuk

Mason Daring
Martin Brody

Erin Martin Kane

Christopher Kelly

Jessica Smith

Jennifer McCauley

Dennis O'Reilly

Jenna Lowe

Jessica Cashdan

Mary Sullivan

Danielle Gillis

Lisa Palone-Clarke

Eric Brass
Jay Fialkov

Adrienne Armor

Douglas D. Milton

Tobee Phipps

Todd Goldstein

Sarah Moughty
Kimberly Tabor

Stephanie Ault

Sam Bailey

Wen Stephenson

Catherine Wright

Dana Reinhardt

Robin Parmelee

Ken Dornstein

Karen O'Connor

Sharon Tiller

Michael Sullivan

Marrie Campbell

Jim Bracciale

Louis Wiley Jr.

David Fanning

An October Films/Goldvicht Productions film for the BBC and WGBH/Frontline in association with the Kirk Documentary Group


FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.



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