Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem


Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
partof=Operation Defensive Shield


caption=Catholic section of the Church of Nativity, where the siege took place. Marks of Israeli bullets can be seen in the upper left corner
date=April 2 - May 10, 2002.
place=Bethlehem, West Bank
casus=
result= Negotiated Palestinian retreat
combatant1=flagicon|Israel Israel
combatant2=flagicon|Palestine Fatah (Tanzim and Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades factions)
commander1=
commander2=
strength1=1 reserve infantry brigade
strength2=200
casualties1=None
casualties2=8Cite news
issn = 0040-718X
last = Rees
first = Matt
coauthors = Bethlehem;bobby Ghosh, Gaza, Jamil Hamad, Aharon Klein
title = The Saga of the Siege
work = Time
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-05-20
url = http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1002452,00.html
]

The Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem lasted from April 2 to May 10, 2002 in Bethlehem in the West Bank. As part of Operation Defensive Shield, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) occupied Bethlehem and tried to capture wanted Palestinian militants. Dozens of them fled into the Church of the Nativity and sought refuge. After 39 days, an agreement was reached, according to which the militants turned themselves in to Israel and were exiled to Europe and the Gaza Strip.

Prelude

The IDF expected the operation in Bethlehem to be relatively simple, after the regular Paratroopers Brigade had raided the city several times in the previous months. The mission was given to a reserve infantry brigade, the Jerusalemite Brigade, under colonel Rami Tzur-Hacham's command. During previous IDF entries into the city, wanted persons found shelter in the church of nativity. This time, a force from the Shaldag Unit was sent to block the entrance to the site.Harel and Isacharoff (2004), p. 247]

The troops entered the city and met with disorganized Palestinian resistance. The Israeli Air Force's helicopter disposition landed the force half an hour too late. When the force arrived, the wanted persons were already there. Dozens of militants, Fatah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Palestinian Security Forces men fled into the church to fortify, along with forty monks and dozens of other Palestinians who arrived at the site for different reasons. In total, about 220 men where in the location. Among them were the governor of Bethlehem, Muhammad al-Madani, and Abdullah Daoud, the Palestinian intelligence chief in Bethlehem.Harel and Isacharoff (2004), pp. 247-248]

iege

On April 3, The IDF deployed tanks near Manger Square, opposite the church, and troops took up sniping positions on the surrounding buildings. The Israeli government said regarded the militants' use of holy sites as cynical and claimed that the militants had shot at the Israeli troops from the church. IDF spokesman, Brigadier General Ron Kitri, said: "It is complicated because it is a sacred place and we do not want to use live ammunition. There are several channels of negotiation to try to achieve as close to a peaceful solution as possible". Michel Sabbah, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem and the head of the Roman Catholic church in the region, said the gunmen had been given sanctuary, and that "the basilica is a place of refuge for everybody, even fighters, as long as they lay down their arms. We have an obligation to give refuge to Palestinians and Israelis alike".Cite news
last = La Guardia
first = Anton
title = Bloody siege of Bethlehem
work = Telegraph
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-04-04
url = http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/1389824/Bloody-siege-of-Bethlehem.html
] The IDF placed its headquarters in a Palestinian convention center named the "Peace Center".

The militants were divided into six groups, based on affiliation. They kept contact with the outside world using cellphones. They slept on the church floor and in the monks' rooms. The restrooms broke several times due to the disrupted water supply.Harel and Isacharoff (2004), p. 248] A fire which broke out near the church. The IDF said it was provoked by Palestinian gunmen, and that Palestinians had opened fire from a bell tower, wounding two Israeli Border Policemen in a nearby rooftop look-out. An IDF officer said the Israeli troops returned fire and a smoke grenade started the blaze in a second-floor meeting hall overlooking the Basilica of St Catherine, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity. One Palestinian militant was reported shot dead.Cite news
last = Reynolds
first = James
title = No let-up in Bethlehem siege
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-09-27
date = 2002-04-04
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1911685.stm
]

On April 7, the Vatican warned Israel to respect religious sites in line with its international obligations. Spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Vatican was following events "with extreme apprehension". A spokesman for Catholic monks in the Holy Land accused the Israeli soldiers of "indescribable act of barbarity". The Pope urged people to pray for peace in the Middle East and described the violence as having reached "unimaginable and intolerable" levels. Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, said the Israeli soldiers would not "defile the holiness of the site as the [Palestinians] have". He also said that the troops would remain in place until the militants inside were captured. British Foreign Office Minister, Ben Bradshaw described Israeli actions in the area as "totally unacceptable".

April 16 saw the fiercest exchange of fire near the building since the beginning of the siege. One man was wounded in the stomach and another suffered from epilepsy. They were evacuated to a hospital.Cite news
title = Heavy gunfire near Bethlehem church
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-09-27
date = 2002-04-16
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1932688.stm
] Two Japanese tourists wandered into the church perimeters by mistake, and were rescued by journalists.Cite news
title = Backpackers baffled by Bethlehem siege
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-04-17
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1936241.stm
] One sixteen year old Palestinian, Jihad Abu-Qamil, ran away from the church and gave himself up to the IDF.Cite news
last = Philps
first = Alan
title = Survivor's tale of the siege of Bethlehem
work = Telegraph
accessdate = 2008-10-09
date = 2002-04-20
url = http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/1391612/Survivor%27s-tale-of-the-siege-of-Bethlehem.html
]

Negotiations

On April 20, the Greek Orthodox Church called upon Christians worldwide to make the upcoming Sunday a "solidarity day" for the people in the church and the church itself, and called for immediate intervention to stop what it referred to as the inhuman measures against the people and the stone of the church. It also asked Christians, Muslims and Jews to gather at the main entrance to Bethlehem and march to the church.Cite news
last = Dymond
first = Johnny
title = Church seeks action on Bethlehem siege
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-09-27
date = 2002-04-20
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1940575.stm
]

On April 23, negotiations to end the siege began in the Peace Center.Cite news
title = Timeline: Bethlehem siege
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-10-08
date = 2002-05-10
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1950331.stm
] The negotiations were mediated by the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative in Bethlehem, Canon Andrew White.Cite news
last = Shiloh
first = Tamar
title = Bethlehem siege: Inside the negotiations
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-10-09
date = 2002-05-09
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1978072.stm
] The Israeli placed the negotiations in the hands of IDF colonel Lior Lotan, a lawyer by profession. At first, Yasser Arafat appointed Salah Tamari to head the negotiation team. Tamari rejected Israel's demands to hand over a list of the besieged militants, but then found out that Arafat had given Daoud a contradicting order. Arafat also appointed another negotiation team, headed by Mohammad Rashid.Harel and Isacharoff (2004), pp. 248-249]

After two days of negotiations, the Palestinians were willing to discuss a possible deportation of the militants in the church to what a senior official called a "friendly foreign country".Cite news
title = No breakthrough in Bethlehem talks
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-10-09
date = 2002-04-25
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1948670.stm
] The next day, four militants gave themselves up, after which an exchange of fire took place, in which two Palestinians were wounded.Cite news
title = Fresh fighting in Bethlehem
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-09-27
date = 2002-04-26
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1953925.stm
] On April 30, Israeli officials said the at least thirty people would soon exit the church. Israel said it wanted to try them within Israel, or alternatively exile them. The Palestinians demanded that those men be moved to the Gaza Strip and others passed under Palestinian Authority control for trial.Cite news
title = One of Largest Groups of Palestinians Now Being Released From Church of Nativity
work = CNN.com
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-04-30
url = http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0204/30/bn.01.html
]

On May 1, twenty-six people came out of the church. Olivier Rafowicz, an IDF spokesman, said one of them was a senior Palestinian security official. He was taken away for questioning.Cite news
last = Huggler
first = Justin
title = Twenty-six Palestinians emerge from Nativity siege
work = The Independent
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-05-01
url = http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/twentysix-palestinians-emerge-from-nativity-siege-653099.html
] On May 5, British and American diplomats arrived. It was suggested that about ten of the militants would be exiled to Jordan. Meanwhile, the IDF said it had found a large amount of explosives in an apartment about 200 meters from the church.Cite news
title = Breakthrough 'soon' in Bethlehem siege
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-09-27
date = 2002-05-04
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1968002.stm
] Between six and eight of the militants were to be exiled to Italy, while as many as forty others were to be sent to Gaza. The remaining were to be freed.Cite news
last = Goldenberg
first = Suzanne
title = End to Bethlehem siege in sight
work = The Guardian
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-05-06
url = http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/may/06/israel
] The agreement fell through on May 8, after Italy refused to accept thirteen militants. The Italian government said it had received no formal request to take them.Cite news
last = Reeves
first = Phil
title = CIA blamed as deal to end Bethlehem siege falters
work = The Independent
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-05-08
url = http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/cia-blamed-as-deal-to-end-bethlehem-siege-falters-605771.html
]

On May 9 it was agreed that twenty-six men militants were to go to the Gaza Strip, eighty-five civilians were to be checked by the IDF and then released and the thirteen most wanted, including Daoud, would remain in the church, monitored by a European Union official, until they could be moved to Italy and Spain, after those countries agreed in principle to accept them. Al-Madani was the first to walk out of the church.Cite news
last = Cowell
first = Alan
title = Exile Agreement Appears to Settle Bethlehem Siege
work = New York Times
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-05-09
url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F03E1DE1030F93AA35756C0A9649C8B63
]

Aftermath

On May 10, the thirteen men left the church, and were greeted by Sherard Cowper-Coles, Britain's Ambassador to Israel, plus thirty members of the Royal Military Police and an RAF woman doctor.Cite news
last = Beaumont
first = Peter
title = Focus: How a British coup ended siege
work = The Guardian
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-05-12
url = http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/may/12/israel.foreignpolicy
] They handed over their guns to the IDF behind a curtain, to avoid the photographers. They were not allowed to say goodbye to their families before their exile.Harel and Isacharoff (2004), p. 249] Eight Palestinians were killed and an Armenian monk was wounded by an Israeli sniper. In the parking lot beneath the Peace Center, Israeli soldiers had caused heavy damage to dozens of cars. Soldiers also vandalized Arafat's office in the presidential palace in the city. ICOMOS estimated the damage at a total of US$1.4 million, primarily grades 3 and 4, and loss in urban furniture. Direct damage to the church complex from projectiles and fire was estimated to total about US$77,000.Cite web
title = Destruction in the West Bank, April 2002
work = ICOMOS
accessdate = 2008-10-10
url = http://www.international.icomos.org/risk/2002/palestine2002.htm
]

References

Bibliography

*Cite book
publisher = Yedioth Aharonoth Books and Chemed Books
isbn = 9655117677 9789655117677
last = Harel
first = Amos
coauthors = Avi Isacharoff
title = The Seventh War
location = Tel-Aviv
date = 2004
he icon

Further reading

*Cite book
publisher = Free Press
isbn = 0743244133
pages = 288
last = Hammer
first = Joshua
title = A Season in Bethlehem : Unholy War in a Sacred Place
date = 2003-09-08

External links

*Cite news
title = Welsh activist inside besieged church
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-09-27
date = 2002-05-05
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/1969332.stm

*Cite news
last = Hammer
first = Joshua
title = Inside The Siege Of Bethlehem
work = Newsweek
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-05-20
url = http://www.newsweek.com/id/64558?tid=relatedcl

*Cite news
last = Golden
first = Tim
title = Cast Adrift After Siege, Bethlehem Exiles Grieve
work = New York Times
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-05-21
url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F05E1DD1238F932A15756C0A9649C8B63

*Cite news
title = The siege of Bethlehem
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-06-07
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/correspondent/2029661.stm

*Cite news
title = Exiled Palestinians recall Bethlehem siege
work = BBC
accessdate = 2008-09-27
date = 2002-06-14
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2045431.stm

*Cite news
last = Jacobson
first = Philip
title = Bethlehem siege Palestinians 'betrayed' over Spanish exile
work = Telegraph
accessdate = 2008-09-26
date = 2002-08-10
url = http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/1404147/Bethlehem-siege-Palestinians-%27betrayed%27-over-Spanish-exile.html


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