Palestinian terrorist: We did not deface Church of Nativity
Former Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades Bethlehem chief and leader of 2002 Church of Nativity standoff denies reports saying wanted gunmen inside sacred site used Bible as toilet paper. ‘Relations inside the church between us and those responsible in the church were excellent; the toilet paper report is an Israeli attempt to create bad relations between Christians and Muslims,’ he says
In what many consider to be one of the most notorious holy site desecrations in recent history, nearly 100 Palestinian terrorists in April 2002 holed up inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem while fleeing a massive Israeli anti-terror operation. One of Christianity's most sacred sites, the church is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.
Israel surrounded the Church area but refused to storm the structure. Gunmen inside included wanted senior Hamas, Tzanim and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorists reportedly involved in suicide bombings and shooting attacks. Over 200 nuns and priests were trapped in the church after Israeli hostage negotiators failed to secure their release.
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.
WorldNetDaily caught up with Jihad Jaara, former Bethlehem chief for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group and the leader of the Church of Nativity siege. He is currently living in exile in Ireland.
WND: There was enormous outcry in the Muslim world last year when an American magazine reported but later retracted a story claiming United States interrogators in Cuba flushed a Quran down the toilet. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims protested throughout the Middle East. But priests holed up with you in the church told reporters your group used pages of the Bible as toilet paper. Explain this seeming double standard.
JAARA: I am not ready to hear these dirty accusations. It is completely untrue (that we used the Bible as toilet paper). We believe in the Bible and cannot do such a thing. On the contrary, the priests and monks had allowed us to pray our Muslim prays, which meant Muslims praying in this very holy site to the Christians. This proves that the relations inside the church between us and those responsible in the church were excellent. (The toilet paper report) is an
Israeli attempt to create bad relations between Christians and Muslims and to separate between the communities of the unified Palestinian people.
WND: You were armed. Your group is responsible for scores of violent attacks. Perhaps the priests and nuns inside with you were afraid for their lives and had no choice but to let you pray in their church?
JAARA: This is nonsense. What prevented the priests from going out was the Israeli army.
WND: People around the world followed the news as Israel attempted to negotiate the release of the church officials inside with you. ... Did your group deface the church while you were holed up inside?
JAARA: No, not at all. We could not deface a place that is very holy to our Christian brothers toward whom we feel that we owe very much. How could we deface a holy place to the only community who helped us and who gave us a shelter while the Arab and Muslim countries neglected us and left us to our destiny in front of the Israeli army. During the 39 days of siege it was only the priests and the monks who helped and supported us.
WND: Again, the church siege took place in front of the world media. There is plenty of video footage of the condition the church was in when the ordeal finally ended. It was a big mess. And the priests afterwards told reporters your group seized church stockpiles of food and "ate like greedy monsters" until the food ran out while civilians inside went hungry. They say you also guzzled beer, wine, and Johnny Walker scotch that your group found in the priests' quarters. Israel says it even found over 40 explosive devices inside.
JAARA: It is not a secret that inside the church there was a very serious lack of food. I don't remember that there were such problems as you describe. Still, we were 250 persons inside the church who suffered from the fact that the Israeli army prevented any food supply and we were obliged to eat the weeds of the gardens in the church. We did not blackmail the religious to give us their food. They kindly and with much generosity offered us to share their food with us.
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.
WND: To many Christians, the Church of the Nativity is one of the holiest places in the world. It is where they believe Jesus was born. What does the church mean to you?
JAARA: It is also a very holy place for us. Jesus is a prophet whom we believe in as we believe in all the prophets like we are asked to by our religion. We believe in all religions. Therefore the church means much to us and not only to our Christian brothers. For this reason we decided not to let the Israelis enter the church and everyone remembers the operation in which we killed four Israeli soldiers from the Duvdevan elite unit and took their arms after they tried to break into the Nativity.
WND: Israel says it found documents after the siege that imply your group attempted to extort Church officials for money in exchange for their assured safety. Is this accurate?
JAARA: This argument is very funny. The officials of the church whom you say we tried to extort were the only ones who gave us money before our exile to Gaza and Europe. This is a very noble position that we will not forget. Secondly, why should we have needed this money during the siege? Were there malls inside the church (for us to shop in)? We did not know if we were going to survive the whole operation or not. So why should we need this money?
WND: Tell me about the situation in Bethlehem between Christians and Muslims while you were head of Al-Aqsa in the city. During that period, the Christian population declined drastically.
JAARA: The two communities lived in harmony and still do. We both share each others holidays. In one holiday it was us the Muslims who led Palm Sunday during the whole of the celebration. Many of our fighters in Al-Aqsa Martyrs are Christians like the members of the Shtara family who are in jail or exiled in Gaza. We are proud of our Christian fighters.
WND: I reported from the streets of Bethlehem last week. I talked to Christian leaders and regular civilians in the city. Most told me they are constantly persecuted by Muslims. They point to instances in which they say your group and Fatah have taken their property illegally, built mosques over their churches, threatened violence. There are reports of Christian woman being raped and murdered; of Christian stores being burned. There have been anti-Christian riots in Bethlehem. Muslims have been appointed to traditionally Christian positions in city council.
JAARA: All these arguments are mistaken. These are lies that are part of the Israeli propaganda that aims to create a separation between Muslims and Christians. The relations between Muslims and Christians are excellent. These are blood relations, relations of brotherhood. It is true that some little problems have happened but it is very rare. We are both part of the Palestinian people.
WND: Explain why Christians accounted for upwards of 90 percent of Bethlehem for years until the Palestinian Authority took control of the city in 1995. Immediately Christians started fleeing the city. Now the population is about 20 to 25 percent Christian. Just what caused the vast majority of Bethlehem's Christians to flee right after the Palestinians took control?
JAARA: This is the responsibility of the Israeli occupation and the Israeli cruelty. The Israeli occupation defaced Christian monuments and sites and this was part of the reasons that incited Christians to leave. The Christian emigration is not a new phenomenon. Muslims leave places too. I reject your attitude that makes a separation between Muslims and Christians.
WND: I am not referring to Israeli reports. I have personally talked to scores of Christians in Bethlehem who say they feel threatened by the Muslim population. Many were afraid to even give me their names for fear of Muslim retaliation. Should Christians in Bethlehem be afraid?
JAARA: I say that all these things are rumors and arguments that Israel brings in order to separate between the two communities hoping that these thoughts will infiltrate our society. Problems can take place between a Muslim family and a Christian one, yet this happens between neighbors all over the world. It is not in any way a planned aggression against Christians. It is true also that when there is a case of a Christian girl who gets married with a young Muslim it is a very sensitive affair that may create some tension but it is very natural now all over the world that couples from different religions get married. It is the occupation that feeds this tension.
Reprinted by permission of WorldNetDaily