13 July 2007 0 Comments

Paying the Price for Violence in Bethlehem

In Bethlehem last week, I visited a place that gave me some of the bloody inspiration for my murder mystery The Collaborator of Bethlehem. Unfortunately, based on the way the town feels now and the things people tell me, I think that same place will have a dreadful part to play in the next Palestinian tragedy.

Across Milk Grotto Street from the Armenian Monastery on the side of the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus is believed to have been born, the road dips steeply between two old stone shops. Behind one of the shops, there’s a parking lot meant for tourists. There are no tourists these days, so the lot is usually empty. This week I stopped there to take another look at the corner of the lot where local gunmen executed a man they said was a collaborator in April 2002. They dragged Mahmoud Rahami, a 21-year-old, around the streets, before shooting him against a limestone wall built 100 years ago. Then they pulled his corpse through Manger Square, in front of the church, tied to the back of a car.

Everyone in Bethlehem expects Palestinians to be killing Palestinians again soon in the town. When violence is used the way those gunmen used it on a man who may or may not have been innocent, and when their government fails to condemn the savagery and indeed condones it (had he received an official trial, Rahami’s end wouldn’t have been delayed by much), it can hardly be surprising when a generation of young men raised to think of murderous fury as a viable means of resolving conflict starts to draw its own blood. And who can tell them to stop? The same leaders who told them their conflict with Israel could be won by killing?

When civil war comes to Bethlehem, ordinary Palestinians know it’ll be they who pay the price of years in which political factions approved violence against Israelis or their collaborators, regardless of the extremism it bred in their young men. They might think of that when they’re dragged out to the parking lot and shoved against the bullet-marked wall where the collaborator of Bethlehem met his end.

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