Bethlehem at war: Makano and Takahashi take in the sights

April 19, 2002

I attach an article below on two Japanese tourists who attempted to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, in the midst of a bloody seige. The birthplace of Jesus Christ is a temporary home to a number of Palestinian terrorists.

Mr Makano told reporters that "We have been on the road for the last six months and we did not watch television or read the newspapers."

-- Tom Gross


Makano and Takahashi take in the sights
News agencies
April 18, 2002

Two tourists engrossed in their guidebooks and heading for the birthplace of Jesus Christ unwittingly wandered into the centre of a war zone on Tuesday.

The Japanese couple were amazed to find that Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity was at the centre of a 16-day old siege between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen.

Palestinian residents of Bethlehem looked on in disbelief as Yuji Makano and his girlfriend Mina Takahashi walked through the debris towards the church seemingly oblivious to the evidence of war.

They were rescued when journalists in flak jackets saw them and pointed out the bullet-holes across buildings, the Israeli tanks and rubble which littered the streets.

It was then that the couple decided to call off their trip to one of Christianity's holiest shrines.

They had been dropped off by a taxi at a checkpoint near Bethlehem and had made their way along streets torn up by armoured vehicles.

"We have been on the road for the last six months and we did not watch television or read the newspapers," Mr Makano told reporters.

In the past, tourists have flocked to the 1,600-year-old church keen to see for themselves the exact spot where Jesus is believed to have been born.

But the area once bustled with tourists and street-sellers has been deserted for more than two weeks.

The stand-off at the church appears far from ending and led to the city's mayor announcing on Wednesday plans to ask Pope John Paul II to come and try to resolve the crisis.

About 200 people, including armed Palestinians, civilians and church staff have been barricaded inside the Church of the Nativity for more than two weeks.

They have described their situation as desperate, without food or medical supplies. Two corpses of people shot by Israeli snipers are also said to be decomposing inside the building.

Israel has been keeping up the psychological pressure on those holed up inside the church, bombarding it with ear-splitting, shrieking noises which aim to disorientate those inside.

The Israelis have also been flying flares and sending fireworks over the church, which has responded by ringing its bells.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.