Public First Program


Shane Elson


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Story and Photos of November 20th, 2006

Israeli Siege in Bethlehem

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News Stories for National Radio News - Story 1, Story 2, Story 3

At about 2:00pm in the afternoon of Tuesday 20th November 2006 over 100 Israeli soldiers entered the town of Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem and laid siege on a house believed to be occupied by Shareef Abu Hadeed, suspected by the Israeli authorities of being an Islamic Jihadist.


At this time of day hundreds of children are leaving the three nearby schools at the end of their school day. Many of them pass through Manger Square, the scene of another bloody siege just two years ago, on their way home. Given the open design of the Square and the propensity of young people to congregate in such places, what developed over the next four hours was unavoidable and it could be argued, a part of the Israeli occupational plan.


This incursion onto Palestinian land was the second in two weeks. The previous incursion saw the troops kill more innocent children. Speaking with Palestinians, their opinion is that the timing of these incursions are more than just coincidence. You do the maths.


The soldiers surrounded Hadeed's house which was only a block from the centre of the town. The wail of sirens, the blocking off of streets and the general presence of the army is sure to evoke some response. As is the tradition in Palestine, when anyone's house is threatened, the local community rallies to protect the occupants and the property. Far to often they have seen the brutality of the Israeli's enacted on their family and friends.


With what can only be described as the monotonous regularity of the coming together of two waring factions, the youths in the square responded to the military action by doing what they always do. Against the heavily armed and armoured soldiers - in their bullet proof vests with heavy calibre rifles - the youths began to gather stones to throw at the soldiers and their armour plated jeeps and personnel carriers.


The youths, however, had a very regimented way of arming themselves. While each took turns throwing stones, they also took turns breaking up any rubble they could find. Failing any rubble being available, they broke up the steps of the building they were using as protection. The sounds of the two group's weapons are distinct and totally different. To listen to the differences between the two CLICK HERE. I wonder which one you would rather face and who is at the distinct disadvantage?


In like turn, the soldiers opened fire on the youths with rubber bullets for the first few rounds. When this did not frighten them away, they opened fire with live ammunition, concussion grenades and tear gas. As in all these confrontations the soldiers fire indiscriminately into the crowd, their prime target is the head of their intended victim. The "kill shot" as Hollywood refers to it.


So they boys threw rocks and the army fired at them. The local media stringers, who have connections throughout the West Bank and Gaza, were on the scene almost immediately after the troops arrived. So quick on the scene were some of them that at the day's end they could not get to their cars which were still behind the Israeli perimeter.


What was unfolding just a block from Manger Square was the usual intimidation and harassment the locals are used to - if you ever get used to a constant state of siege. The soldiers took up positions on the roof tops adjacent to the house the suspected "terrorist" was supposed to be in and drove their armour plated jeeps into the alley beside the house. Just to the left of the house is a block of apartments in which the suspect's extended family lived.


Not only did they fire into the crowd of youths gathered well away from the home, they also continually fired into the apartment block. This correspondent saw numerous live rounds hitting the front walls send out puffs of dust and splinters of stone. What was happening to the mental state of the families inside is beyond comprehension. It is, simply, state terror of the highest order. There is no other word for it. The innocent men, women and children who are caught up in these acts of invasion, are simply "collateral damage" should they be wounded or killed.


However, the many cats that inhabit the streets seemed totally unperturbed by the man made chaos going on around them. Running, chasing and climbing trees was, seemingly, their main interest while all around them terror reigned king.


After some time the suspect's brother was brought to the scene. Handcuffed and roughly handled from the jeep he was transported in, he was sent into the house to 'negotiate' his brother's surrender. He went in and was out of sight for some time. When he emerged he told the soldiers that his brother was not there.


This didn't please the military who directed another hail of bullets into the apartment block walls. Then the suspect's father appeared. He too was ordered in. After a search of the rooms and the roof top, he too declared that his son was not home. He disappeared behind the into the run down building in front of us that the soldiers had commandeered as their base and interrogation centre.


After more arguing coming from inside the building to the right of the journalists position, the man's father once more emerged. He walked back to the house and went from room to room opening up each curtain. He appeared on the balcony and took down some shirts and a pair of pants that were drying in the sun. He came out just a little while later and behind him came the first of the women and children to emerge from their shelters.


Eventually 14 women and children were to emerge from the both the house and the apartment block. One, a frail older lady had to be helped up the path from the house and to the interrogation centre.  The family members had to walk single file up the path to the detention centre. They came out with dignity, holding the hands of the children who could walk, carrying their babies in their arms.


The evacuation was a lesson in humiliation for the men, women and children that day. Two men also came out of the apartment block. As they approached the top of the path they were told to stop. They both had to strip to show they were unarmed. The first had to remove his jacket and lift up his jumper before dropping his pants. The second had to repeat this. Both were in full sight of the women and children. The only comment that can be made about this is that it is nothing more than a act of humiliation and degradation perpetrated for no other reason than to show who has the power in this relationship.


Once the house and apartment were evacuated there was little to do. We could hear the occasional volley of shots and concussion greandes fired at the youths in Manger Square. The day seemed over. Then, from behind the wall of the building one of the women appeared. She told us she needed water and the journalists were quick to respond in filling up some bottles. She told us the army were "treating us like animals". Some of the women had fainted, some needed medication. We could hear the cries of the children coming from the house beside us. We could hear the raised voices of the soldiers arguing with their prisoners. The woman also told us that what made them leave their homes was when the army told them they were going to bomb their houses to the ground. For the lives of their children they fled (Listen to clip).


Not long after she had taken the water word came through that Hadeed had phoned a local TV station and told them "fuck the Israeli army". It seemed the "intelligence" the attack was predicated on was false, as much of it is. In Palestine there is only one common enemy - the Israeli army. However, there is not total agreement between either the political factions or the religious groups. Some of the Muslim Palestinians hate the Christians as much as some of the Christian Palestinians hate them. Then there are other factions and long standing family feuds to be reckoned with. So it is not impossible to believe that some of the home invasions and raids like this one, are motivated by revenge at some slight caused by another whose faith or family loyalties are different than another's.


The day wore on and by 5:00pm it was obvious that there was little more that would eventuate that day. What there was to do was to go to the hospital where the wounded had been taken. Reports had been circulated that 10 youths and one cameraman had been wounded. Two of the youths were reported to be in a serious condition. One was shot in the head, the other in the chest. We commandeered taxis and moved to the hospital, through the check points at which stood armed jeeps and their crews.


At the hospital there was pandemonium. Family and friends had arrived and as the doctors worked furiously on the seriously injured, the crowd swirled around them. Distraught men cried out for their sons while their relatives held them back. One of the two young men in the ER was seriously wounded in the arm. It looked like half the meat from the top of his arm was missing. He also appeared to have a leg wound. The other had been shot through the leg. He was the lucky one perhaps. We couldn't see much because the doctors ordered the hospital security to remove us. We couldn't get to see the other victims either. The two seriously wounded were in the operating theatres.


We returned to Manger Square to see what was happening there. The crowd had thinned out as night and the temperature fell. The crowd had managed to find a garbage skip and push it into the centre of the road. They had pushed it on it's side and built a fire from tires beside it. Maybe they were trying to emulate the smoke screens used by the military to shield their movements.  By the time we had arrived the fire was burning down and the soldiers had stopped firing. The youths seems a little less active now and their stone throwing had dwindled along with their numbers.


Another day was over. But the siege remained. The suspect was detained later that evening at about 6:30pm. The previous few hours had been a waste of time. Regardless of the inaccuracy of the intelligence the army based their invasion on, two young men were now critically injured. Thousands of dollars of weaponry had been spent and hundreds of dollars of damage done to houses. I would suggest the toll on the human psyche cannot be measured.


Many say the Wall is the problem. I disagree. The Wall is a symptom as much as a cause. While many focus on the physical structure, it has come to represent much more than that. It is a symbol of a kind of imperialism that approaches fascism. It is a symbol of the forgotten, the Palestinian people who want nothing more than to be able to live out their dreams just as we do.


It is also a reminder that our government has abandoned the international human rights agreements they have signed. It is a reminder to us, that without peace there can be no justice and without justice there can be no reconciliation. Until the Wall comes down and with it all it has come to represent, the events of Tuesday the 20th November, 2006 will continue to be repeated.

Click on Images

 to Enlarge

The Peace Centre


The Church of

the Nativity



The street corner to

the right of the

Church of the Nativity


The view towards

the 'suspect's house. The house is on the right.



Not only did the

soldiers aim their

weapons at us, they

drove their jeeps right

into our position - the

one they had told us

to stay in


Two soldiers stand

 at the ready at the

front of the apartments.


Some of the soldiers

seem to like playing



One of the suspect's brothers speaks

with reporters.


The brave local



The father emerges to

say that his son is not




Women and children



An old lady is helped

to the detention centre.



Semi dried arterial blood

in the Ambulance.


Doctors working on the

youth with the arm wound.



The fire after dark.


The wall on the Jerusalem

side entry to Bethlehem.


A man comes out of

the border crossing into