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A Season in Bethlehem

A Season in Bethlehem

Unholy War in a Sacred Place

Newsweek's Jerusalem bureau chief Joshua Hammer arrived in the West Bank in October 2000 -- just after Ariel Sharon made his inflammatory visit to the Haram al-Sharif, otherwise known as the Temple Mount. Sharon's trip ignited the worst violence the Middle East had seen in decades. Overnight, the peace process gave way to an ever-worsening cycle of attack, revenge, and retaliation, destabilizing the entire region, killing thousands, and culminating in Israel's reoccupation of Palestinian towns in 2002.
A Season in Bethlehem is the story of one West Bank town's two-year disintegration, as witnessed by a reporter who was there from the beginning. Woven together from Hammer's own firsthand reportage plus hundreds of interviews, it follows a dozen characters whose lives collided on the streets of this biblical city. They include a Bedouin tribesman who rose to become the commander of Bethlehem's most feared and brutal gang of gunmen; the beleaguered governor, an opponent of the al-Aqsa intifada, who believed he had a mandate to stop the violence, only to discover that Yasser Arafat was undermining him; a Christian businesman who watched helplessly as his community was squeezed between Muslim militants and the Israeli army; an eighteen-year-old female honors student turned suicide bomber; and an Israeli reservist, son of a leader of the Peace Now movement, who wrestled with his left-wing convictions as he rode to battle through the predawn streets.
The narrative reaches a climax with a moment-by-moment recreation of the epochal drama that drew many of these characters together: the thirty-nine-day siege of the Church of the Nativity. A clear-eyed chronicle of deepening chaos and violence, in which Hammer lets the opposing sides speak for themselves, A Season in Bethlehem is both a timely and timeless look at how longstanding religious and political tensions finally boiled over in a place of profound resonance: the birthplace of Jesus.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 304 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743256049 | 
  • June 2004
List Price $14.00
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: The Camp

He hadn't set out to be a martyr that day, his best friend Sa'ed Ahmad assured me. We were walking through the warrens of Aida refugee camp on a scorching afternoon in July 2002, and I had asked Sa'ed to re-create for me the day that Israeli troops had killed Moayyad al-Jawarish, thirteen, during a clash at Rachel's Tomb, a heavily guarded Jewish holy site located at the northern entrance to Bethlehem. I was investigating the life of a man named Ahmed Mughrabi, one of the most chilling figures in Bethlehem, the leader of a suicide cell that had sent a half dozen teenagers to kill and be killed in Israel. I had traced... see more

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About the Author

Joshua Hammer
Courtesy of Josh Hammer

Joshua Hammer

Joshua Hammer is a veteran foreign and war correspondent for Newsweek who has covered conflicts on four continents. He is the author of two previous books, A Season in Bethlehem and Chosen by God: A Brother's Journey. He has contributed articles to The New Yorker, Smithsonian, and many other publications. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with his wife and two sons.

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