The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, May 13, 2002  

ELECTRICITY, WATER, the persistently disappointing "online magazine" published by Microsoft Corp., veers off its customary fare of mind-numbing discourses on campaign finance reform, the Kyoto Protocols, and internet privacy and security laws, to weigh in with its take on the end of the siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. (Published May 11.)

Writing in the Slate feature called "today's papers," Aaron Marr Page reviews the coverage of the post-siege condition of the church by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.

Readers can pick up the drift of the article from just the headline, "Pigsty of the Nativity." Overrought, we agree, and we are bewildered that Page cannot conceive of why a church, not designed to serve as even a temporary residence, an edifice without running water and having had its electrical supply cut off, might not be in pristine condition after some 200 people spent more than a month inside without having had the opportunity pack their suitcases beforehand.

Further betraying Page's dishonesty and his political agenda, the term "pigsty" was not used in any of the three articles Page summarizes, nor has it been used in any other reputable publication we have encountered.

Page has a problem with the Post's coverage, which makes note of the "mess" inside the church and bullet marks on a statue of the Virgin Mary. "Yet the article notes, along with the others, that 'serious damage is minimal.'" [Ed.: Emphasis added.] Interesting, Page's use of the word "yet" here. Page seems incapable of accepting the damage reports published by American newspapers and unable to concede that the "mess" and the bullet holes, odious as they are, do not constitute major damage.

The Post's account, according to Page, "emphasizes the conflicting stories and evidence." He quotes: "For example, a charming curved window at the Greek Orthodox monastery is riddled with bullet holes...challenging Israel's claim that its troops never fired at the church. [And] On a shelf in the basilica are dozens of bags of uncooked rice and lentils...calling into question Palestinian claims of starvation."

Ah-hah! All that food in there and the Palestinians would have us believe they were living on soup made of weeds!

Page then sheepishly turns to photographer Carolyn Cole's account of the final nine days of the Israeli siege (Cole had entered the church on May 1 along with a group of foreign activists despite the blockade). "The group brought along plenty of supplies," write Page, "perhaps accounting for the food discrepency noted above."

Perhaps, but in the exact same article from which Page quotes, Cole reported: "Food was running low, and by Monday [May 6] we were eating fried leaves and weed soup again." Cole also says that oranges, rice, and tomatoes smuggled into the church compound on Tuesday, May 7, were eaten immediately, implying at least some element of deprivation.

Furthermore, according to Cole, those inside the church ate "a large meal" at midday on Thursday, May 9, as the end of the siege appeared to be within sight. "Should the negotiations succeed, the Palestinians wanted to be full so they would not be tempted to dignify the Israelis by eating the food they were likely to place...outside," writes Cole.

And again, Cole writes: "Before dawn on Friday [May 10], my ninth day inside, word swept through the sanctuary that an agreement had been reached to end the siege. At 5:30 a.m., the Palestinians ate another large meal of rice and beans, the last of the food."

Thus we have Cole, who was inside the church before and after the siege was lifted, saying they ate the "last of the food" on Friday morning and the Post reporter, who came in afterward, saying there were sacks of uncooked rice and lentils on the altar. So Cole either didn't see the sacks or the sacks appeared later, perhaps out of storage as the church was being restored to order. Were either of these scenarios the case, it would do nothing to undermine the Palestinians' descriptions of a siege marked by hunger, dire conditions, and under threat of sniper fire. After all, no one, least of all those inside the church, knew how long they would remain inside, and as such, for how long the available food needed to be rationed.

But Slate's Page saves his punchline for the end. "Cole also discovered that 'someone had managed to bring electricity into the church' and 'someone had managed to tap into water from outside the compound,' among other amenities," Page writes.

This being the 21st century, it is hard to hear water and electricity described as "amenities" and not reach the conclusion that the author is writing those words with a sneer. As for the "other amenities" Page suggests were a part of the 39-day siege of the church, about this he is silent, most likely because no other "amenities" were mentioned in Cole's article.

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