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Bethlehem: Where is the Outrage?

Bethlehem: Where is the Outrage?

Palestinian gunmen occupy the Church of the Nativity, as Israeli troops keep watch outside. Who's crossed the line?

by Diana West

The Washington Times
April 12, 2002

A visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by Ariel Sharon was enough to kick off this second Palestinian war of terror on Israel known as the Intifada. Or so the legend goes. In fact, as even Palestinian Authority spokesman Imad Al-Faluji has stated on more than one occasion, Palestinian military action against the Jewish state was planned long before Mr. Sharon's "provocative visit" to Judaism's most holy site, which adjoins a site revered by Muslims as Haram-al-Sharif.

But imagine: If a mere day trip by Mr. Sharon into the vicinity of an Islamic holy site -- which, frankly, as Islamic sites go, ranks way below your Meccas and your Medinas -- could be considered reason enough to go to war, what about the armed Palestinian occupation, now into its second week, of one of Christianity's most sacred sites, the Church of the Nativity?

Needless to say, the seizure of the 1,677-year-old church by 250 guerrillas affiliated with Islamist terror factions has hardly roused the armies of Christendom. Crusades, Christian-soldiering and all that went out in the last millennium.

Still, it's a shock to realize that this desecration of the ancient church built over what's believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ has brought down neither Christian wrath nor international pressure on the desecrators to lay down their arms and leave. The closest thing to a meaningful call for action out of Rome, for instance, comes from Father David Jaeger, a Catholic spokesman, who said this week, "We appeal to the world to condemn this act and stop this behavior from continuing."

Father Jaeger's condemnation would be a good start -- only he was referring to Israeli troops, not the terrorists.

Father Jaeger's statement would be a good start -- only he was referring to the Israeli troops who have encircled the church, not the terrorists who have occupied it. Church officials, meanwhile, insist on styling the latter "refuge" seekers, but you could say only heaven knows why. They also insist that the Franciscan friars and nuns inside the church are not, emphatically not (perhaps too emphatically not), hostages.

This line is starting to wear thin as contradictory stories leak out of Bethlehem, including a Thursday report by UPI of a cell phone call made to German journalists from "a German" inside the church who said, "The Palestinians use us like human shields."

Occupier or guest, this band of sanctuary-seekers doesn't exactly call to mind a hunted herd of panting Bambis. According to the Israeli government, among those inside the church are notorious killers from Yasser Arafat's Fatah, Tazim and Hamas rosters. They include Ibrahim Musa Salem Abayat and Ismail Musa Muhammad Hamdan, two leading Tanzim operatives responsible for -- among multiple terrorist attacks -- the kidnapping and murder on Jan. 15 of Avi Boaz, a 72-year-old American citizen.

Also inside are Nidal Ahmad Isa Abu Gali'if and Muhammad Sa'id Attallah Salem, a pair of henchmen thought to be in on the March 29 suicide bombing at an Israeli supermarket that killed, among others, a 17-year-old girl out shopping for a Passover meal. There's a Fatah general-secretary named Kamel Hassan Hamid, who reports to the Palestinian Authority's Marwan Barghouti, and is said to be responsible for distributing funds to terrorist agents. Hamas is also represented by such operatives as Ibrahim Muhammad Salem Abyat, a chief organizer of the faction's terror operations.

In other words, Sunday school it ain't. No wonder Mr. Sharon told the Israeli Parliament he would "expect the international community to demand that they the terrorists lay down their arms and leave the holy place."

No official of church or state has demanded that Palestinians holed up over Christ's birthplace drop their weapons and leave the church.

But no. A strange hush hangs over the world, including the still-mainly Christian West. From the European Union to the Holy See, from the resolution-happy United Nations to the newly "involved" United States, no official of church or state has demanded that Mr. Arafat order the Palestinians holed up over Christ's birthplace to drop their arms and leave the church ASAP.

Very politely, Israel this week rejected the Vatican's idea of a solution, one that would have guaranteed all 250 terrorists safe passage to the Gaza Strip, where they would only re-arm and regroup -- and reattack. As Israeli President Moshe Katsav wrote the pope, "Under the circumstances, I regret with all respect and consideration we have for Christian Holy Places, we have no alternative but to prevent armed Palestinian terrorists, who have murdered innocent Jews, from escaping and continuing their acts of bloodshed."

Mr. Katsav might have also mentioned that the Vatican's solution would have turned sacred religious sites into sure-fire escape hatches, all but guaranteeing future seizures.

And so the stand-off continues, with surrender being the only solution to avoid a pitched battle. Whose surrender will it be -- terrorism's or civilization's? You would think -- you would hope -- that the world wouldn't want to stay quiet on this one.

Copyright © 2002 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit

April 20, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 16

(16) Jack St. Paul, May 26, 2002 12:00 AM

Sanctuary, not anti-Semitism

Most of these comments are so far off the mark--as is the Washington Times article, it's nearly hypocritical.

Christian churches have served for millennia as "sanctuaries" for those on the run from some sort of pursuer. There was nothing particularly strange or unique about the situation at the Nativity, but it being the Nativity and the refuge sought during the Mideast conflict makes it more noteworthy. Almost always when sanctuary is given it's a hot political issue, because there's some party outside the church who wants to get their hands on those inside.

Why no outrage? Because it's not a big deal. It was clear to Christians--and anyone else--that the Palestinians came seeking sanctuary, not to rob, destroy, vandalize or otherwise desecrate the church itself or make a political or religious statement. The same can't be said of Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount; it was a very calculated political maneuver.

Anti-Semitism the root of the lack of outrage? Get a grip on yourself and your paranoia. Christians do not sit and decide "We won't be outraged about the Palestinians in the Nativity because it's Jews (well, mostly Jews--Israel's 20% Arab) who want to get them. Were it any other case we would be outraged." Those of you who raise the specter of anti-Semitism should be ashamed of yourself and ashamed of your collective egocentrism.

Jews and Muslims ask the world to understand their religious beliefs and values and how they relate to the conflict. Well, Christians have beliefs and values, too, and I assure you what Christians believe and want doesn't revolve around Jews--whether supportive or derogatory, i.e. anti-Semitism. To suggest anti-Semitism explains the lack of outrage is to think the world revolves around Judaism and Jews. It doesn't. Sanctuary in a church is a very special, highly regarded, and sacred principle in Christianity and it has nothing to do with Jews or Israel. There are Jews who've been saved throughout history thanks to having been given sanctuary in a Christian church.

Moorabbinpcs wrote on 4/27/2002

‘This once again proves..... that Christendom will continue to instill and aprove of the anti-semitism which they created, the same anti-semitism that has been adopted and utilized so effectively by the muslims who ironically are the greatest persecutors of Christians today.”

Your comments reveal that you are guilty of bigotry and prejudice against Christianity equivalent to that of anti-Semitism. Your dismissal and slander against Christendom and Christians is appalling—as appalling as anti-Semitism. Unfortunately I don’t know a catch-phrase that applies to your bigotry similar to the term “anti-Semitism,” but if there is one, it describes you. Perhaps some wordsmith out there knows of an appropriate term.

(15) Anonymous, May 25, 2002 12:00 AM

Media control

In recent years the extremists have been touting the media as being controlled by the Jewish people.
It seems to me that they are so eager to dispel this myth that they are willing to disperse with their journalistic "integrity" at the drop of a hat. Can we really be surprised by anything they say anymore?

(14) Charles Unterberger, May 1, 2002 12:00 AM

The USA media does not represent the us

I am an american and I support your right to defend yourself from these terrorist. Not only with my words but I am willing to donate to Israel as I have in the past financially. I ask Israel's forgiveness to the way we turned our backs most of the war in the Holocaust and allow the slaughter of so many Jews. Ignore CNN's liberal bias and foul representation of the "truth". Remember God will alway protect and when they gather against you God will exact judgement in the final hour.

Very best Regards,


(13) Anonymous, April 28, 2002 12:00 AM

What would you have Christians do?

I am really puzzled by this article. I can't, of course, speak for the Catholic church (which, last time I observed, does not occupy any of the sanctuaries in the church of the Nativity.) Having been brought up a Presbyterian in Scotland, for me it's the word of God as written in the bible, that counts - not a building.
I do think that most Christians - even if they don't say so - are more sympathetic to the Israelis than they are to the Palestinians. They are not fools. They can see that the Palestinians who occupy the church are both cowards and opportunists.
What else can they do but wait until the Israeli government solves this problem as solve it they will.
Israel has more to lose than Christendom if the building falls. It is a tourist attraction - nothing more.
It is not worth the lives of people inside or outside it.

(12) Ben Wallace, April 27, 2002 12:00 AM

This once again proves..

... that Christendom will continue to instill and aprove of the anti-semitism which they created, the same anti-semitism that has been adopted and utilized so effectively by the muslims who ironically are the greatest persecutors of Christians today.

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