WARS BREED hate, inhumanity and lawlessness. And this degrading trinity was on full display in Israeli-occupied Bethlehem yesterday outside the ancient church marking the place of Christ's birth.
Manger Square has become a wild, blood-drenched place, the scene yesterday of a lynching. Two years ago, the Pope shuffled across its flagstones, blessing Catholic pilgrims who had come by the thousand from across the globe to glimpse him.
This is where the BBC broadcast the turning of the millennium live to the world which - labouring under the illusion that the Middle East was making peace with itself - watched contentedly as a flock of white doves crashed into the corporation's cameras, before reeling up into the midnight sky.
Dozens of armed Palestinian men - some wearing the fatigues of Yasser Arafat's assorted security services, others in the jeans and black jackets of the Tanzim militia - were strolling across the same flagstones yesterday.
Kalashnikovs slung across their chests, they lounged on benches once used by elderly American tourists recovering from queuing to see the now echoingly empty Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity's holiest shrines. They darted across the square's exposed south-eastern corner, fearful of being caught in the crosshairs of Israeli snipers on a nearby high-rise. They smoked and stroked their weapons.
For some, this is home now. Hundreds of young men have taken refuge here after the Israeli army stormed into the overcrowded refugee camps in which they lived, and rounded up many hundreds of males, taking off suspected activists for interrogation by its Shin Bet security agents. Knowing that their names would show up on Israel's computer records, leading to their certain arrest, they have preferred to seek sanctuary. At night they bed down on mattresses in a car park and under the empty frame of a quarter- built luxury hotel near Manger Square.
"The naive think that this is a place of shelter for them because of the Church of the Nativity," said Nafiz al-Rifai, a …