Israel was widely criticized during the ordeal for laying siege to the Nativity Church - where Christians believe Jesus was born - after dozens of Bethlehem-area gunmen, including wanted senior Hamas, Tanzim and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorists, stormed the structure and refused to come out. Tanzim and the Brigades are part of Fatah.
Trapped inside the church with the gunmen were 49 church clergy and about 45 unarmed Palestinians who ran in with the terrorists.
"The conspiracy was to make a siege and put all the fighters inside the church so Israel would make the siege. People from the Palestinian Authority collaborated with this conspiracy,” said Eiman Abu Eita, Fatah's representative in the Bethlehem satellite town of Beit Sahour who at the time of the siege was Beit Sahour's al-Aqsa Brigades chief.
Eita was speaking in the newly released book, "Schmoozing with Terrorists: From Hollywood to the Holy Land, Jihadists Reveal their Global Plans - to a Jew!" by author and Mideast reporter Aaron Klein.
Eita is quoted in "Schmoozing" stating unlike most of the other “fighters” in and near Bethlehem, he didn’t run into the church because he “understood the conspiracy.”
“During the siege I communicated with those inside and told them not to give the Israelis a list of the fighters inside because then Israel would start looking for the fighters who were outside and I was one of them,” Eita said in comments that were recorded by Klein.
'PA collaborating with Israel'
The church siege occurred during the Jewish state's 2002 Operation Defensive Sheild. The Israel Defense Forces surrounded and then raided Bethlehem October 2 on a mission to arrest hundreds of terrorists. Bethlehem and Beit Sahour gunmen that year had committed and planned hundreds of terror attacks, including deadly shootings and a string of suicide bombings, according to the IDF.
When the Israeli military entered Bethlehem heavy fighting immediately broke out on Manger Square, a major pedestrian district near the Nativity church. Overwhelmed by the large numbers of Israeli forces, the terrorists fled the square for the church compound.
Israel surrounded the church area but refused to storm the structure in which some of the most wanted Palestinian terrorists were holed up.
The siege ended after 39 days when mediators agreed 13 senior terrorists would be deported to European countries, 26 would be transported to the Gaza Strip and the remaining gunmen would be freed.
During the ordeal PA officials and some Western analysts, commentators and news media widely blamed Israel for placing siege to one of Christianity's holiest structures.
But Eita admitted in "Schmoozing" that prior to Israel's raid, the PA instructed Bethlehem-area militants to use the church as sanctuary.
He claimed the PA was "collaborating" with Israel in a conspiracy to draw wanted militants into one place so the IDF can attack them.
After the siege ended, there were widespread media reports, including video footage, the Nativity church was left in shambles.
Clergy trapped inside later told reporters top Palestinian gunmen slept on comfortable beds in an elegant apartment inside the church, using high-quality woollen blankets, while the civilians slept on cold tile floors in the main church downstairs.
Four Greek monks told the Washington Times the Palestinian gunmen holed up with them seized church stockpiles of food and "ate like greedy monsters" until the food ran out, while the trapped civilians went hungry. The terrorists also were accused of guzzling beer, wine and Johnny Walker scotch that they found in the priests' quarters.
A Roman Catholic priest told the Times some Bibles were torn up and used as toilet paper, and many valuable sacramental objects were removed.
In "Schmoozing," Klein caught up with Jihad Jaara, chief of the Al Aqsa Brigades in Bethlehem during the Nativity saga and one of the main leaders of the church siege. He fiercely denied the account of the Bible being used as toilet paper.
"I am not ready to hear your dirty accusations,” Jaara said in "Schmoozing."
“It is completely untrue that we used the Bible as toilet paper," Jaara said.
Confronted about the video footage showing the church in poor condition, Jaara replied:
“As for the conditions in which we left the church, it is true there was a lot of dirt but it is normal to the conditions in which we were living. Thirty-nine days without any water and any possibility to move because of the snipers who were placed all around the church.”
Reprinted with the permission of WorldNetDaily