The world is a weird and wonderful place. Separated by race,
religion, politics, sexuality and moral codes, the human race is
as mixed as the colour of the sands on a beach. Each grain is a
unique and individual expression of the forces that shaped it.
Yet, together the billions of grains provide a barrier to the
encroachment of the sea onto the land.
People are like the grains of sand. Each one individually shaped
by the forces that act to enable his or her life. Each one
separated from the other but together forming a vast beach that
is both a place to find rest – on the calm days - and a place to
see the forces of nature at work on the rough days.
Tuesday was, for me a rough day. Taking up an offer to visit
Bethlehem in the occupied territories I travelled there by bus
and taxi. My journey was both boring and exciting. Strange yet
familiar. Far too tiresome, yet at the same time to exhilarating
to find slumber.
The shared bus and taxi made it impossible to find isolation.
The conversations swirling around me were both foreign and
familiar. The raised voice, the shared laugh, the kind word to
point me in the right direction all went to make the journey
both an experience to be remembered and one that was not much
different from the thousands of others I’ve taken.
Arriving in Bethlehem I was met by a taxi driver who got me to
my drop off point where my local hosts picked me up. Arriving at
their office, I found a warm welcome and hot coffee. Everything
seemed normal, neat and nice. But it didn’t take long for that
A phone call came in informing the journalists that the Israeli
army had taken siege of the central area of the town next to
Manger Square – the very place the taxi driver had offered to
show me around. My hosts asked if I wanted to go along with them
to report on it. “Sure. Why not.” Was my halfhearted reply. The
car was readied, the cameras and the recorders were collected
and off we went.
Arriving at Manger Square was surreal. Our drop off point was a
block away and life here in the street went on. The vendors and
the shops were plying their trades. The residents were going to
and fro. Life seemed normal. Except for the traffic. There was
an urgency in the tooting of the horns and the shouts of the
drivers. That something was up was evident but not in an
The Square was full of people, mainly men and boys. Diagonally
across the Square to my left was the centre of attention. Boys,
school age boys, were gathered, throwing stones at the soldiers
who had surrounded the house at the end of the Square. The
soldiers returned fire with live ammunition, concussion grenades
and tear gas. My hosts almost ambled across the square. “Stay
close and don’t let me lose you.” Was the only instruction I
Then suddenly everyone was running and we joined in. I was later
to learn that in the occupied territories, if you see a group of
Palestinians running then what ever it is they are running from
you don’t want to stay round and face. We ran and jumped the low
wall at the end of the Square we had entered from. Heads down,
then the all clear. We walked back to the other side and entered
a building. Up and onto the roof we went. The door was locked
and a coded knock and a word or two in Arabic, saw us gain
entry. “Keep your head down and stay behind the water tanks.” I
After a few minutes, it was obvious that no cameraman was
willing to be shot to get a few frames of vision for the nightly
news. So down we all went, across the Square to where we had
come in and then into taxis to take us through the back streets
to where we could see the house that was under siege.
We drove past heavily armoured jeeps and then out of the taxi,
walking through back yards. We emerged in the alley where the
press corps had gathered. Less than 25 metres away the jeeps
were parked and the sound of gunfire resonated through the
narrow alley. We could hear the concussion grenades exploding
somewhere in a street to our right. Then puffs of smoke as the
soldiers fired into the wall of the apartment block next to the
house. Laser sights were trained on us from the soldiers at the
top of the alley. “They’re just trying to intimidate us. There
are too many of us. They won’t shoot. Don’t worry. You’re safe.”
Time passed. Jeeps and armoured vehicles came and went. Soldiers
barked orders and then a man emerged from behind the jeeps
parked just up the ally and to our right. He entered the
building the “terrorist” was supposed to be holed up in. He was
the man’s brother. He went in and came out. Then the accused’s
father was told to go in. He did the same. We could see him
moving from room to room and then up to the roof, lifting the
tops of water tanks and storage bins. Nothing. He too came back
and disappeared behind the jeeps and armoured personnel
A little while later 16 people came out of the house and the
apartment block next door. All but two were women and children.
The two men were forced to strip and turn around, exposing their
manhoods to the women and children. Guns trained on them all the
time, the families too disappeared behind the vehicles.
We waited. We could hear shouts and the crying of children. A
long while later an old woman was allowed to come out and get
water from the journalists. A token gesture to show that the
Israeli killing machine does have a soul? I don’t know. “The
house is dirty. Women and children have fainted.” She told us.
They are treating us like animals.” The laser sights play on her
back and our chests. She takes the water and leaves.
Time passes and a phone call comes through saying the wanted man
is not in the house and has appeared on the local TV saying
“Fuck the Israeli army.” His statement is one I hear repeated
again and again. We leave and go to the hospital were the ten
young men and one reporter who have been shot are being treated.
We find the ambulance parked outside with dark, semi-dried pools
of blood on its floor. We go inside and see the young man with a
chunk of his right arm missing and another shot through the leg.
We don’t see the head and chest wounds two others have suffered.
We are kicked out of the hospital and decide there is no more
action today. We part, like sands on the beach washed around by
the tidal forces of nature. Each journalist returning to their
office to file their reports and edit their video and sound. We
leave too. Like sands on the beach, once the waves have passed,
life returns to normal in the birthplace of Christ. Yet each
grain of sand is moving together forming an unmistakable beach
attempting to stop the tide of terror that has already engulfed
pictures and more detail on this event are available at