BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Correspondent  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Correspondent Friday, 7 June, 2002, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
The siege of Bethlehem
The siege of the Church of the Nativity
The siege of the Church of the Nativity
A world exclusive on the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for Correspondent from October Films and Israel Goldvicht Productions.

For the final 17 days of the siege, our cameras have had complete access to the Israeli negotiating team and their troops surrounding the Church of the Nativity.

We have also obtained the only footage shot inside the church during the siege.

Together, this material takes the viewer inside the secret and dramatic events in Bethlehem that captured the world's attention.

The siege

Isreali troops and tanks set the stage for one of the most dramatic sieges in modern history
Isreali troops and tanks roll into Bethlehem

When Israeli troops and tanks rolled in to Bethlehem at the beginning of April this year, they had no way of knowing that they were setting the stage for one of the most dramatic sieges in modern history.

Over 200 Palestinians, many of them heavily armed Islamic militants, fled before the Israeli army, finally seeking refuge in one of the holiest of Christian sites - the Church of the Nativity - built above a grotto believed to be the birthplace of Christ.

The Palestinians were to remain there, along with some 30 priests from four different Christian orders, for 38 days surrounded by a Jewish army.

Whilst international negotiators shuttled to and fro, Israeli soldiers confronted Palestinian gunmen. Before the siege ended, eight men had died and more than a dozen were wounded.

The Israeli negotiating team was led by Lieutenant Colonel Lior
Lieutenant Colonel Lior

The Israeli negotiating team, led by Lieutenant Colonel Lior and comprising a highly sophisticated group of reservists trained by the FBI in hostage and siege tactics, sought to bring an end to the siege by negotiation.

But they were also determined to achieve the goal laid down by their Government - that all Palestinians inside the church who were on Israel's wanted list would be forced to surrender and sent either to an Israeli jail or into exile.

They had the church completely surrounded by an elite paratrooper brigade specially trained in sniper operations. They controlled the electrical supply and access to food.

They utilised the whole range of modern tactics against hostage-takers, including psychological pressure and sensory assault - this included simulated attacks involving gunfire, smoke and stun grenades.

Living in fear

We obtained the only footage shot inside the church during the siege
Inside the church the situation was increasingly desperate

Inside the church the situation was increasingly desperate. A diminishing food supply and limited access to water put everyone there under a great physical strain. There were not enough blankets or bedding, and the toilet facilities soon collapsed.

The Palestinian fighters faced random and sudden death - Israeli snipers were instructed to shoot at anyone in their sights seen carrying a gun.

One young boy recalls lying among the pews at night, trying to sleep, watching the green laser beams of the Israeli snipers as they searched out targets in the church interior.

The Israeli troops outside were highly trained, motivated and under a single commander. The Palestinians were divided amongst many different groups - groups that had different political and operational loyalties.

Many of the Palestinians trapped inside the church were innocent civilians
Innocent civilians were allowed to leave

For a start, many of the Palestinians trapped inside were innocent civilians caught up in the fighting who sought refuge in the church. They just wanted to get out but were fearful that the armed men inside would see them as traitors or that the Israelis might shoot them as they tried to escape.

Others were determined to hold out at any cost. They were divided into a number of armed factions - secular Tanzim who were loyal to Arafat, Islamic fundamentalists who supported Hamas, and members of the Palestinian Authority who held official positions.

Massive pressures

The Israelis utilised the whole range of modern tactics
Isreali psychological warfare

The Israeli negotiating team faced a number of difficult dilemmas. They had to find a leader to negotiate with even though there were several factions inside.

They needed to convince the Palestinians that, if negotiations failed, they would assault the church - when everyone outside realised that an Israeli assault was never a realistic option.

They had to contain the perimeter, preventing incursions from the press and the peace campaigners, whilst encouraging the Palestinian civilians to defect.

They had to keep up the pressure, using deadly force when it served their interests, without causing attitudes amongst those inside to harden.

Time was both an enemy and an ally to both sides. Time put pressure on those inside to give up. Time gave impetus to international pressure on Israel to end the siege.

This film is the story of these massive pressures, when the international spotlight focussed the world's attention on the birthplace of Christianity fought over by Muslims and Jews.

After the siege, the different Christian sects prepare to retake control of their church
The different Christian sects prepare to retake control of their church

In the final scene of the film, as the different Christian sects prepare to retake control of their church, we see anger and dissension break out amongst the Christian priests.

With the Muslim and Jewish fighters leaving Bethlehem, the situation at the Church of the Nativity is returning to normal.

The siege: Sunday 9 June 2002 on BBC Two at 2000 BST

Producer: Israel Goldvicht
Director: Dimitri Doganis
Executive Producers: Tom Roberts and Fiona Murch

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The siege of Bethlehem

Lt Col Lior
The two taboos: the Palestinian taboo and the Israeli taboo in the negotiations
Primitive conditions inside the church

See also:

12 May 02 | Middle East
12 May 02 | Middle East
10 May 02 | Middle East
10 May 02 | Middle East
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Correspondent stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes