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A Divine Presence, Yes, But What of the Guns and Hostages?

July 14, 2002

The sympathetic portrayal of 13 Palestinian terrorists and 26 armed militants in the Church of the Nativity was quite bizarre ('Bringing Bethlehem Home,' photographs by Carolyn Cole, text by Eric Pape, June 16). The photos and accompanying text lacked context and presented the Palestinians as virtual bystanders in a 'City of Peace,' minimizing the fact that they are individuals with the blood of innocent Israeli civilians on their hands.

Let's put this story in the proper context. The Palestinian 'militants' glorified in the article are terrorists. To avoid arrest, they entered the Church of the Nativity, using it as a firing position and its monks, nuns and other civilian hostages as human shields. Despite this, the Israel Defense Forces never entered the church compound. Out of concern for the sanctity of the site, they negotiated from the start. The Palestinians not only endangered the lives of the civilians they took hostage but also were behind the planning of countless terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and neighborhoods.

Should this not have been an integral part of the story? Should not some mention have been made that the people described in the piece had stockpiled vast reserves of illegal weapons in the church, including hand grenades, bullets and rifles? The necessity to tell a complete story requires that these details be included in any discussion of the terrorists.

Meirav Eilon Shahar

Consul for Communications and Public Affairs of Israel to the Southwestern United States


Your cover story was amazing. The photography was haunting, and I was touched deeply by the surprising sweetness and youth of the faces. I am sure the feature will cause a firestorm of criticism, but I am glad you took the chance.

On a visceral level, more poignant than the story, was the sense of divine presence that emanated from the interior of the church. I don't know how this sacred presence moved from the pages of the paper and into my soul, but it did. If I find myself in need of a reminder that all conflicts involve human beings, I will only need to close my eyes and remember Bethlehem.

The Rev. Nancy Ann Jones

Via the Internet


Kudos to Carolyn Cole on her unique photo-journalistic achievement. Never have cold-blooded killers looked more beatific.

Evan Puziss

Mar Vista


I find Cole's photographs particularly distasteful in the light of current attacks in Israel by murderous Palestinians. They are not suicide bombers but murderer bombers-and also cowards for hiding in a church.

Marc Foorman



This is a gem, a timely evocation of spiritual undertones in the presence of suffering and death, and a personal, human statement in the maelstrom of conflict and war. I am grateful that Cole outraced soldiers, had the guts to remain in the church during the siege, and gave us this legacy of journalism at its finest.

The Rev. Malcolm Boyd

Los Angeles


I was mesmerized by Cole's powerful photographs. Two days later, however, I was jolted back to reality when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a civilian bus, killing 19 innocent Israelis and injuring 55 others. The next day, another Palestinian blew himself up, taking seven more innocent lives. I couldn't help but think of all those beautifully photographed men in the church who are alive today, no doubt cheering the actions of their fellow brethren who have once again furthered 'the cause.'

Bernie Ancheta


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