Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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May 13, 2002

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In-Depth Issue:

Crisis at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
  The crisis began when Tanzim terrorists broke into one of the holiest churches in the Christian faith and held the priests inside hostage.
  The IDF sought to prevent any harm to the church, out of its policy of respect for all holy places. Israeli forces could have forcibly entered the church, but decided to negotiate instead. In 1979, Saudi forces stormed the Grand Mosque in Mecca when militants occupied the holiest site in Islam. Israel chose a different approach.
  The IDF maintained continuous contact with the priests and secretly supplied them with food and medicine.
  The focus of the fighting in Bethlehem was not at the church, and involved the capture of wanted terrorists, illegal weapons, and bomb laboratories elsewhere in the city. One bomb factory exploded near the church.
  Due to international sensitivities, the State of Israel made a special effort to resolve the crisis peacefully. The agreement also removed the wanted terrorists from the Bethlehem area and restored control of the church to the priests.
  Adapted from Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing paper (in Hebrew)

Useful Reference:

An Impossible Occupation - Scott Anderson
    With an IDF paratroop reconnaissance unit during Operation Defensive Shield (New York Times Magazine)

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        From Jerusalem Post

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