Penny Young on an eventful year for the town of Bethlehem.
The year 2002 will go down in history as an eventful year for the little town of Bethlehem and its ancient Church of the Nativity. The church endured an armed siege that lasted thirty-nine days. It was the only time in its history, which dates back to the fourth century, that such an event had occurred.
The story began on April 2nd when Israeli soldiers stormed into the centre of Bethlehem with tanks and guns. Around 240 people including Palestinian militants and policemen, priests, clerics, school children and peace activists took refuge inside the church. For the next thirty-nine days, they lived together in the dark, without heat and electricity and with little food and water. Eight people died of their injuries.
Millions around the world watched history unfolding on their television sets until the siege ended early on the morning of May 10th.
Father Ibrahim Faltas, who is responsible for the Church of the Nativity for the Catholics, says he will never forget the experience. He spent the thirty-nine days inside the church helping to organise the crowds of people, making them leave any guns outside the door and removing the dead bodies.