Haim and Violet Habibi, who threw firecrackers inside the Church of the Annunciation on Friday after entering the compound disguised as pilgrims, are known by welfare authorities for having a troubled past.
For the past 15 years the family moved frequently from Israel to the Palestinian Authority and back; Violet Habibi had threatened to kill her children in the past and complained of inappropriate conduct on the part of the authorities.
Immediately following the signing of the Oslo Accords toward the end of the 1990s, the couple moved with their three children to Jericho and applied for Palestinian citizenship, claiming they felt they received better treatment there. Following their return to Israel, Violet barricaded herself with her children in the family home and threatened to kill them due to what she claimed was inappropriate treatment by the authorities.
Consequently, the couple was stripped of custody of their children and was only permitted to meet them on occasion.
During one such meeting the couple was permitted to take the children to an amusement park, but instead kidnapped the children and took them to the Mukata compound in Ramallah; they eventually returned to Israel, only to escape once again, this time to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where they barricaded themselves.
Legal proceedings against them began upon their return to Israel; their eldest daughter was sent to boarding school, while their two small children were transferred to foster homes.
‘He wanted to raise public awareness’
A member of the Tzedek Lakol (Justice for All) party said “Habibi came to our meeting about month ago, claiming that his three children were kidnapped and that he lives in south Tel Aviv. His children were transferred to institutions; the High Court ordered that his children be returned to, but they weren’t.
“Two days ago another child of his was taken away. He made phone calls, we went with him to the High Court, but they decided that the case must be referred to the Magistrates Court.
“Then he said ‘They took my children again’.”
Another Tzedek Lakol member said, “He called us before entering the church; he told us he was planning on doing something to focus everyone’s attention on his troubles.”
“He wanted to raise public awareness. He didn’t mean to hurt anyone. If we could have gotten back to him on the phone we would have been able to prevent the incident. His goal was to raise the world’s awareness, not harm anyone. He is a man of meager means.”
Miri Chason contributed to the report