National Geographic : 2007 Dec
founded-Islam-had spread throughout the Middle East. For centuries Bethlehem remained a Chris tian island in a steadily expanding Muslim sea. Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war brought even more Muslims to the area, but Bethlehem remained a majority Christian town. Then, in 1967, Israel's victory once again altered the city's complexion. Jewish settlers began moving into the occupied West Bank; Christians, who'd start ed fleeing to safer lands during World War II, accelerated their exodus; and Palestinian mili tants initiated attacks on military and civilian targets. In the same region where Jews once battled Philistines, it was now Israelis against Palestinians. In 3,000 years, the only change, it appears, is a couple of syllables. BEFORE ALL SEMBLANCE of normalcy was erased, the Al-Amal restaurant, just off Manger Square, was often filled with Jewish diners. They came for the falafel, seasoned with tahini and parsley, and the fresh shawarmasandwiches, the lamb Settlements are designed to feel like safe, suburban oases, but they are not. The presence of settlers makes them targets. meat tucked into a hot pita. Jews also came to shop in Bethlehem, known for producing the area's finest vegetables. But the Israeli occupation felt, to Palestin ians, like a series of humiliations-a proud peo ple reduced to dependency on their hated foe, at the mercy of Israel's military law, denied an airport, and forced to pay taxes to the occupa tion authority. In 1987, after two decades of such treatment, an intifada, or uprising, was launched (the word literally translates as "shaking off"). Young Palestinians hurled stones at Israeli tanks, a modern version of David and Goliath, with the roles reversed. The intifada pushed the two sides to the bargaining table, and the Oslo Accords were 76 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC . DECEMBER 2007 signed in 1993. But both Israelis and Palestin ians felt the provisions were not honored by the other side. In 2000, a second Palestinian upris ing began, this one more brutal. Settlers were repeatedly targeted; suicide bombers struck with increasing frequency. Israeli forces shelled Pales tinian towns, and settlers attacked Palestinian villagers and farmers. Two years later, the Israelis began building the barrier. Now, the only Jews who regularly enter Bethlehem are soldiers, in armored vehicles, weapons at the ready. The owner of Al-Amal restaurant is a 53-year old Muslim named Omar Shawrieh, a short man with a trimmed beard and eyes weighed down by heavy bags. The most prominent decoration in his restaurant is a martyr's poster: a curly-haired young boy in a light-blue polo shirt. "He's wear ing his school uniform," says Shawrieh. It's his son. Last fall, the Israeli army entered Manger Square on a mission to apprehend a wanted mil itant. The soldiers traveled in a large convoy a dozen armored jeeps and a platoon of troops. It was early afternoon. Mohammed Shawrieh, 13 years old, stopped by his father's restaurant to get money for a haircut. The soldiers' pres ence sparked the usual commotion; several people began throwing rocks at them, then the violence escalated and shots were fired. Mohammed was curious, and he wandered across Manger Square. As soon as he noticed him missing, Omar panicked. "I ran to find my son," he says. "But they got to him before I got to him." Mohammed was shot in the side, a bul let piercing his liver. By the time he arrived at the hospital, he had bled to death. The Israel Defense Forces acknowledge the boy was shot. "We were in the midst of a pin point operation, to arrest a most-wanted terror ist," says Aviv Feigel, a lieutenant colonel with the IDF. "It was very intense." Molotov cock tails and grenades, says Feigel, were launched at the soldiers. A few were injured. So they fired back. "Maybe that boy was just watching," says Feigel. "Or maybe he was participating. We didn't investigate. It's a complicated situation; it's not a classic battlefield. With them, every one is in civilian clothes."