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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Vatican and the Standoff at the Church of the Nativity

Filed under: Europe and Israel
Publication: Jerusalem Viewpoints

No. 515     22 Adar 5764 / 15 March 2004

  • On April 1, 2002, some 200 armed Palestinians entered one of the most important shrines and holy places in Christianity – the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem marking the place where Jesus was born – and remained inside until May 12.
  • The major preoccupation of the Vatican officials appeared to be for the stones of the ancient basilica, not for the local people and even less for Israel’s need to screen the Palestinians who fled into the church and arrest those who had been involved in killing Israeli citizens.
  • In order to preserve good relations with the Palestinians, no reconsecration ceremony was held at the end of the long occupation by the Palestinian gunmen, as if no desecration had occurred. For more than a month, all official criticism by the Catholic Church was addressed only against Israel.
  • After the Palestinians left the church, American agents collected tens of assault rifles left behind by the gunmen under the terms of their release. Israeli officers said their experts had found 40 “explosive devices,” including booby traps.
  • The huge Catholic machinery was spreading strong anti-Israel propaganda in various degrees. Catholics in Israel are represented by a Latin Patriarch who is openly and publicly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian.

Armed Palestinians Enter a Christian Holy Site

On April 1, 2002, some 200 armed Palestinians entered the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and remained inside until May 12. The church is considered one of the most important shrines and holy places in Christianity, built over the grotto in which, according to tradition, Jesus was born, as it is written: “[Mary] placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is probably linked to the fact that King David was born in the same town, and the genealogy of Jesus makes him a descendant of David (Matthew 1:1-17). Queen Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, dedicated the first church on May 31, 339, but most of what can be seen today dates from the Crusader renovation of the church.

Like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Church of the Nativity is shared among the Greek Orthodox, who hold the major part of it, the Armenians, and the Catholics, represented by the Franciscans as Custodians of the Holy Land (Custodia Francisca Terra Sancta – CFTS).

The forced entrance of armed Palestinians into the church created an international crisis, with the Holy See leading a campaign of unprecedented criticism against the State of Israel. Yet the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs played only a minor role in negotiations with the clergy inside the church, as the issue was dealt with almost exclusively by the Israel Defense Forces and its special team for negotiating the liberation of hostages.

On April 8, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Melchior convened a meeting in his office with Deputy Minister of Defense Dalia Rabin-Filosof and the heads of the various churches involved, but the IDF team continued to be responsible for the negotiations, and it was seemingly unaware of the strong protests of the Holy See. In fact, the Israeli press refrained from reporting most of the declarations of Vatican officials and the pope on this issue.

A particularly negative role was played, and not for the first time, by Msgr. Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who declared that the entering Palestinians were not armed, were willingly accepted into the church, and were given asylum.

The major preoccupation of the Vatican officials appeared to be for the stones of the ancient basilica, not for the local people and even less for Israel’s need to screen the Palestinians who fled into the church and arrest those who had been involved in killing Israeli citizens. The Vatican’s Fundamental Agreement with the State of Israel, signed in Jerusalem on December 30, 1993,1 was almost forgotten except for Vatican accusations that Israel had infringed it.

The old hostility of the Franciscans towards the Latin Patriarchate was perhaps one of the reasons that brought the CFTS to publish a declaration on April 3 denying Msgr. Sabbah’s statement. The CFTS stated clearly that “the problematic situation created in and around the Basilica is the result of the violent invasion effected by armed men who thereafter barricaded themselves there.”2 The word “Palestinian” was carefully avoided, but the contradiction of Msgr. Sabbah was clear.

One would have expected that the Catholic Church would consider the “violent invasion” sufficient proof of the desecration of the church by the Palestinians. Father Jaeger, spokesman of the CFTS, said, “when the battle started, the doors of the Basilica were closed. Armed Palestinians fired at the locks, entered the Basilica, and barricaded themselves in the compound.”3 However, in order to preserve good relations with the Palestinians, no reconsecration ceremony was held at the end of the long occupation by the Palestinian gunmen, as if no desecration had occurred. For more than a month, all official criticism by the Catholic Church was addressed only against Israel.

The Stand of the Holy See

On April 2, the Holy See expressed “growing concern” over the latest news from the Holy Land. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters that the Holy Father “is continually following the developments of the tragic situation in the Middle East.” The Nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi had been encouraged to “take timely diplomatic initiatives.”4

According to a declaration by Joaquin Navarro-Valls, on April 2, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary for Relations with States, summoned Israeli Ambassador Yosef Neville Lamdan, and the following day Ambassador James Nicholson of the United States, to discuss the “dramatic situation in Bethlehem.” The position of the Holy See included an “unequivocal condemnation of terrorism”; “disapproval of the conditions of injustice and humiliation imposed on the Palestinian people, as well as reprisals and retaliations, which only make the sense of frustration and hatred grow”; and the “duty for the parties in the conflict to protect the Holy places, which are very significant for the three monotheistic religions and the patrimony of all of humanity.”5

Archibshop Tauran said on April 10: “[The pope] has, on several occasions, spelled out his position: mutual respect of both parties’ legitimate aspirations; the application of international agreements; withdrawal from the occupied territories; and an international statute ensuring access for all parties to the holy places of Jerusalem.”

The Poison of Msgr. Sabbah

Msgr. Michel Sabbah was very active with daily anti-Israel statements. On April 2, he asked the heads of other churches in Jerusalem to sign an urgent appeal to President Bush, saying: “We appeal to you to stop immediately the inhuman tragedy that is taking place in this Holy Land in our Palestinian towns and villages. Only this morning the Israeli tanks have reached the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the City of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is wanton indiscriminate killing. Very many people are deprived of water, electricity, food supplies and basic medical needs. Many of our religious institutions have been invaded and damaged.”6

As an example of “wanton indiscriminate killings,” we may recall that on April 2, Israel Radio reported at noon that a Salesian priest had been killed in the Church of Saint Mary in Bethlehem. Italian Radio added that the priest had been killed at the altar while saying Mass. Reuters reported the source of the report as the Catholic Missionary News Agency. A look at their Internet site on that day revealed that in the afternoon they had published just one sentence (in Italian) that the priest, Salesian Father Giacomo Amataeis, was alive in the Saint Brigida convent.7 Archbishop Sambi denied the killing in an interview with Israel Radio that same evening, but for many days the official Osservatore Romano continued to carry the news of the killed priest (who was alive).

The Pax Christi organization, chaired by Msgr. Sabbah, published frequent statements. On April 5, it declared:

Pax Christi USA unequivocally condemns the recent suicide bombings by Palestinians in Israel as well as the brutal escalation of violence against civilians in the Occupied Territories being carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces. This cycle of violence must end. Moreover, we are concerned over ongoing U.S. support for the Israeli occupation, support which sustains Israel’s ability to, as Pope John Paul II pointed out this week, impose “unjust conditions and humiliations” upon the more than 3 million Palestinian people living under occupation. Israel has engaged in widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure in the Occupied Territories, subjected civilians to round-the-clock curfews, denied them access to food, water and medical services and engaged in summary executions.8

It is improper to equate Palestinian terrorism and Israel’s right of self-defense. Furthermore, there was no deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure and no “summary executions” of civilians.

Were the Friars Hostages?

On April 5, CFTS, fearing an imminent Israeli assault on the Church of the Nativity, declared: “The friars are NOT hostages; they are in their own house, in the precise place where they belong, in fidelity to their divine calling, and in obedience to the orders of their superiors.” An Israeli assault would be “an extremely grave violation of the holy place, of the fundamental principles of humanity and civilization, and of precise undertakings at the level of international law.”9

As a matter of fact, there was no Israeli intention of entering the church and this was made clear many times, but it is true that the IDF team directed by Col. Marcel Aviv was convinced that the friars were detained as hostages by the Palestinians. The Vatican authorities knew that the Palestinians were taking shelter behind the friars, but neither could the Vatican admit this publicly, nor would it encourage the friars to escape because their duty was to remain in place.

On April 7, shooting began from the church and Israeli soldiers returned fire. One monastery worker was killed and a fire was started in the parochial hall. The Vatican Press Office issued a statement on April 8 saying: “The Holy See follows the situation in Bethlehem with extreme apprehension.” According to Palestinian sources and Franciscans locked in the basilica, the building was the object of an Israeli military attack. Vatican Radio reported that the operation lasted over an hour and ended with a fire in the parish hall caused by the explosion of grenades. A 26-year-old Palestinian, Khaled Syam, who tried to put out the fire, was killed by an Israeli bullet.

The Israeli army gave a totally different version of the events. An official statement explained that during the night, “Palestinian terrorists” opened fire and threw grenades at Israeli army units. The fire, and the killing of the Palestinian, must be blamed on the Palestinian gunmen in the basilica, the Israelis said.

In his statement, Vatican spokesman Navarro-Valls revealed that “Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, and Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, have had contacts with the Israeli authorities to confirm that the Holy See regards respect for the status of the Holy Places as an absolute priority.” Navarro-Valls continued: Both “the fundamental agreement of 1993 between the Vatican and the State of Israel,10 as well as the 2000 basic agreement with the Palestinian Authority, include articles that sanction respect for the status quo of the Holy Places.”11 Again, Palestinians who forced their way into the church and the Israelis who remained outside were equated.

Father David Jaeger, spokesman for the CFTS, described the incident to Reuters as “an act of indescribable barbarity. It is a violation of every law of humanity and civilization. It is a violation of the explicit and repeated public and diplomatic guarantees of the State of Israel, with consequences that will be long-term and incalculable.”12 Father Jaeger reported that the Franciscans were under heavy pressure from Israeli officials to leave the Church of the Nativity. He added: “The friars have resisted that pressure, pointing out that the shrine is their home – served by the Franciscan order for centuries.”

Which Solution for the Barricaded Palestinians?

The solution that Father Jaeger would accept as “reasonable, honorable, and peaceful” was to have Israel let the Palestinian gunmen go free in a “convoy to another spot on the West Bank.” Inside the shrine, he said, conditions are “deteriorating, the tension is unbearable; the food emergency is now critical.”13 Already on April 5, the Nuncio was speaking privately about the possibility that the Palestinians would quit unarmed and go to Hebron or Gaza in a convoy under international escort.

In Rome on April 8, the pope told members of the Papal Foundation: “The spiral of violence and armed hostility in the Holy Land – the land of the Lord’s birth, death and resurrection – a land held sacred by the three monotheistic religions, has increased to unimaginable and intolerable levels.”14

At his public audience on Sunday, April 7 – a day he had dedicated to prayers for peace in the Middle East – Pope John Paul II condemned the “pitiless logic of arms” that dominates the situation in the Holy Land. The pope offered his special prayers for the Franciscan, Orthodox, and Armenian monks and nuns who had been living for almost a week inside the Church of the Nativity, under an Israeli siege that began when Palestinian gunmen sought protection there.15

On April 10, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the top foreign policy official at the Vatican, said:

The Franciscans are insisting that they are not hostages, and that they are staying in their monastery because they want to be faithful to their vocation. For centuries, popes have relied on them to safeguard the holy places. Generally speaking, all of the holy places of the three monotheistic religions can be regarded as inviolable. But with the Catholic sanctuaries, in particular, the tradition is reinforced by a recent specific agreement, codified in international law. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have entered into bilateral agreements [with the Holy See] in which they undertake to maintain and respect the status quo regarding the Christian holy places and the rights of Christian communities.

To explain the gravity of the current situation, let me begin with the fact that the occupation of the holy places by armed men is a violation of a long tradition of law that dates back to the Ottoman era. For a long time they were not occupied by any armed men. It has become a practical necessity to find a solution. Certainly we can understand that Israel must defend itself against terrorism. No one can justify terrorism in any form. The problem is to find a response. Too many times, it is the civilians who pay the price. The legitimate response must be a measured one. It is a question of proportion – between the evil and the means that are used against it.16

Father Giacomo Bini, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, said on radio in Italy that Franciscan monasteries gave shelter to Jews during World War II, and they should do so now.

In a telephone conversation with Yosef Neville Lamdan, Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, Bini, the superior of the 35 Franciscan friars and four nuns confined in Bethlehem, reminded him of “the heroism of the Franciscan friars during the Second World War.” They risked their lives and their own religious communities to save many Jews from extermination, the Franciscan superior reminded the ambassador.17 Thus, innocent Jews trying to escape a sure death were compared to armed Palestinian terrorists who should be brought to trial, while the Nazis of yesterday become the Israelis of today.

Bini stated on April 11 that Israeli soldiers appeared to have occupied part of the Franciscan monastery. This was another lie in the campaign of disinformation by the Franciscans, which also included an alarm as Bini said: “Since yesterday evening, the supplies of water and food have run out.” When journalists entered the church it became clear that there never was a lack of food or water.

Bini “urgently requested that the Palestinians be allowed to leave the building of the Nativity, guaranteeing them their life, and thus permitting our communities to take up their work of pacification once again.”18 Father Bini said that the Palestinian gunmen must be allowed to leave, in order to avoid “a humanitarian catastrophe” and “useless bloodshed.”19

Humanitarian Aid or Political Support to the Palestinians?

Caritas defines itself as “the Catholic Church’s international aid organization,” but in fact it is engaged in one-sided political action in favor of the Palestinians.

On April 15, Caritas Internationalis sounded a humanitarian alarm: “Ambulances are being prevented from saving lives and are even being shot at by the Israeli army. Palestinian clinics and hospitals are in need of medicines but cannot get them. Many children cannot go to school. There has been random shooting of civilians, including children and women, by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints. The showering of missiles on civilian areas by helicopters, bombers, and tanks is causing widespread terror. Israeli and Palestinian human rights defenders are prevented from doing their work. Journalists are denied access to areas where there is fighting. As long as the illegal occupation of Palestine continues there will be no peace; the organization calls for an immediate end to occupation and an international monitoring presence in the occupied territories: this would be a deterrent to violence and violation of human rights.”20

This declaration is full of lies. Ambulances were used by the Palestinians to transfer suspects, weapons, and ammunition, and therefore had to be checked; no random shooting of civilians occurred except by error or when the terrorists took shelter behind civilians; in the Jenin refugee camp there were 23 Israeli casualties just because Israel did not use helicopters or aircraft to bomb civilian areas.

On Sunday, April 21, the pope in the liturgy of Regina Coeli, said:

Every day I go to Bethlehem spiritually, to the Basilica of the Nativity, where I experienced unforgettable moments during my Jubilee pilgrimage. For almost 20 days, the Basilica and adjacent buildings have been the scene of clashes, threats and unbearable exchanges of accusations. May that place, and all the holy places, be restored quickly to prayer and the pilgrims, to God and to the human person. May the Blessed Virgin Mary obtain for the parties in conflict the courage of peace and for the international community an unyielding solidarity. May Israelis and Palestinians be able to learn to live together and may the Holy Land finally return to being a sacred land and a land of peace.21

Also on April 21, the Franciscan Generalate in Rome called Nemer Hammad, the diplomatic representative of the Palestinian Authority in Italy, and asked him to convey a message to Arafat about the “intolerable situation” in the Bethlehem basilica, and the urgent need for a peaceful solution.

Two Italian bishops also sent an open letter to the Palestinian leader, asking him to direct the Palestinian fighters inside the Church of the Nativity to seek a peaceful resolution. “To remain inside,” the bishops observed, “only serves to have them die of hunger and thirst, or bring about desperate attempts that would have mortal consequences for all.” The bishops warned Arafat that if the situation in Bethlehem continues to deteriorate, “the negative consequences could be attributed to your person, and will bring about an even more serious isolation for your people.”22

After 23 days, army spokesman Captain Joel Leyden said, “We do not want to prolong this, therefore we could resort to a military option,” indicating that talks aimed at resolving the impasse could not be pursued indefinitely. President George W. Bush called for a peaceful resolution to the standoff. Israeli officials had previously said the army would not storm the church.

That same day, Israeli soldiers shot and wounded two Palestinians inside the church compound. Israeli military sources said the two men were “high up on the list of terrorists in the church,” and that they had threatened soldiers after four other Palestinians left the church and surrendered. “Four unarmed Palestinians, two in police uniform, gave themselves up to our troops, and then two gunmen were spotted in the church compound, about to fire. Troops shot and wounded them, and then took them into custody for treatment,” the sources said.23

On April 24, at the conclusion of his regular public audience, the pope said: “My thoughts are constantly turned to the Church of the Nativity.” He observed that the conditions facing the Franciscan friars and nuns inside the church compound, “already quite serious due to lack of water and food, have been further aggravated by the break in telephone communications.”24

On April 26, Archbishop Tauran said: “The entry of those armed men is a violation of a holy place. However, the problem will not be resolved by force. The Vatican has proposed the establishment of an Israeli-Palestinian bilateral commission to address the question. More generally, we can see, as history teaches, that guarantees diminish when the protection of holy places is entrusted to only one national authority. This is why we again ask that the international community be the guarantor of places loved by Jews, Muslims and Christians – loved by faithful of the whole planet.”25

Evidently, the pope was kept in the dark concerning the real situation inside the Basilica, and his only source was probably Father Ibrahim Faltas, a Franciscan, who was highly unreliable. The Vatican’s daily Osservatore Romano, which was violently against Israel, wrote on the same day: “An inhuman situation, the cry of the pope in the public audience was for the people who without water nor food, were suffering inside the Basilica.”

This is in contrast with what was found by the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem. A hearing was requested by Mohammed Almandi, the Palestinian governor of Bethlehem, and Israeli Knesset members Ahmed Tibi and Mohammed Barakeh, demanding “to provide food, water, medicine to the religious personnel; to connect the compound to electricity and water and bring a doctor into the compound, and to allow two bodies to be removed.” The court, in rejecting the petition since it did not want “to interfere in the process underway in the midst of a military operation,” noted that “seventeen priests (out of forty-eight in the compound) left of their own volition. Water and food are being brought in as necessary. Medicines were brought in to the compound according to prescriptions relayed to the IDF by the religious personnel.” The two bodies had been already buried, “the problem of all requiring medical treatment has been solved.”

Even the problem of water and food had been solved “as far as the religious personnel are concerned. The problem is restricted to the Palestinians in the church.” The IDF, as respondent, noted that “there is a well in the compound, and in certain areas of the compound, electricity is being provided by a generator. Palestinians who left the compound relayed that there are bags of rice and legumes inside.”

The court stressed that there is a difference “between a democratic state fighting for its life, and the fighting of terrorists rising up against it.” “The means [used by Israel] are proportional means, which refrain from the use of military force in order to burst into the compound, and allow the armed Palestinians to leave the compound at any time they should wish to do so, and if they do so without their weapons, they will not be hurt, rather arrested.” “Like the priests, who exit the church for religious affairs and then return, so will unarmed civilians be allowed to leave the compound, receive extra food and then return.” The court also noted “the gravity of the act of taking over a holy place by armed Palestinians, defiling its sanctity, and holding civilian hostages.”26

On May 1, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray was sent to Bethlehem as a special envoy of the pope to solve the crisis “caused by the Israeli army siege around the Church of the Nativity,” according to a press release by the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem.27

On May 2, a group of activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) evaded Israeli military patrols and entered the church. They arrived with supplies of rice, flour, salt, and sweets, and left ten of their party in the church. While not participating openly in the ISM initiative, Pax Christi USA offered the group public relations support and sent a special “legal observer,” Dennis B. Warner.

On May 8, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, Pope John Paul’s special envoy to the Holy Land, stated in Jerusalem:

The tragic and intolerable situation in which the Church of the Nativity finds itself for over a month is at the heart of everyone’s concerns by reason of the symbolic character of this holy place, but also as a test of the common will of the leaders of the two peoples to reach a true peace throughout the Holy Land. Pope John Paul II, through his prayer, words and gestures, and through the diplomatic action of the Holy See, has never ceased sharing in the sufferings and the hopes of the population of Bethlehem. I had asked to go to this place and to pray in particular with the Franciscans who, in solidarity with the Greek-Orthodox and Armenian Churches, bear the spiritual responsibility of this sacred place: Despite great insistence, I was refused what is, properly speaking, a religious step.

One must actually be there to measure the mistrust, disdain and vengeance that have accumulated on the steep path to peace. How many ruins to clear away, material, but especially moral! At this very hour, as the negotiations for Bethlehem seemed to be reaching the finish line, a further obstacle is preventing the happy denouement awaited by everyone. I am thinking in particular of those who are in the Basilica of the Nativity, or in the adjacent convent, and also of the inhabitants of Bethlehem and environs: For them, above all, there must be no further waiting.28

On May 8, Msgr. Sabbah published a long and detailed declaration on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reaffirming his well-known pro-Palestinian stand. He wrote among other things:
“The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is not basically a question of Palestinian terrorism that threatens security or the existence of Israel. It is a question of Israeli military occupation that started in 1967, which provokes Palestinian resistance, which then threatens the security of Israel.”29 In Sabbah’s view, the reason for Palestinian violence is to be found in the Israeli occupation and he practically justifies “violent Palestinian reactions” as a reaction to “oppression and humiliation.”

The Crisis Ends

The crisis in Bethlehem came to an end after long negotiations under CIA auspices. Thirteen Palestinian terrorists were sent to Europe, and 24 Palestinians to Gaza.

An American correspondent reported on what he saw inside the church just after the Palestinians departed:

A baptism font, festooned with bottles of Ajax bleach, appeared to have been used to wash dishes. An altar had served as a table. Cooking pots and gas stoves shared floor space with abandoned camouflage fatigues….A Mexican priest trapped in the church, the Rev. Nicolas Marquez, said that in the early days some gunmen stole articles from the Armenian section of the church – a bishop’s gold chain and pectoral cross, a candelabrum, an icon. But they put them back later.

Greek Orthodox priests said that, initially, some gunmen or youths slept in the grotto where Jesus’ birth is venerated, before priests persuaded them to sleep elsewhere behind the church’s thick walls.

After the Palestinians and others left the church today, American agents collected tens of assault rifles left behind by the gunmen under the terms of their release. Israeli officers said their experts had found 40 “explosive devices,” including booby traps. Soon afterward, as the church reopened, Pietro Sambi, the Vatican’s Jerusalem representative, in tailored robes trimmed in purple, entered the church, surveyed the evidence of recent occupation – abandoned soup bowls and cooking gas cylinders – and pronounced that this did not amount to formal desecration.30

According to the Osservatore Romano, the Christian world raised a prayer of thanks for the end of the siege at the Church of the Nativity. The Franciscans will be able to go back to their task, which is custody of the site where Jesus was born. Force must be refused as an instrument of solving disputes and only dialogue and understanding of the other will allow the solving of controversies.31


The huge Catholic machinery including the pope, Msgr. Tauran, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Franciscans, Pax Christi, and Caritas International were all spreading strong anti-Israel propaganda in various degrees. Not a word of criticism was heard about the armed Palestinians who entered the church. On the contrary, Father Bini compared the situation in Bethlehem with that of Jews persecuted by Nazis and saved by Franciscans during World War II.

Beyond the crisis at the church, Catholics in Israel are represented by a Latin Patriarch who is openly and publicly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. The State of Israel did not reserve the right of veto on nominations of bishops made by the Church, but something must be done to make the Vatican aware of the gravity of the situation. If Msgr. Sabbah cannot keep silent on political issues, he should be replaced. Alternatively, the Israeli government could cut off all contact with him and suspend his diplomatic privileges to clearly express the difference of opinions.

* * *


  1. Sergio I. Minerbi, “The Treaty with the Vatican; Achieved Objectives and Problems Still Open,” Gesher, 130 (Winter 5755):42-52 (Hebrew).
  2. David Jaeger, “Chiarificazione del Portavoce della Custodia di Terra Santa,” April 3, 2002; the text is in Italian with an official translation into English.
  3. Anat Ciegelman and Amos Harel, “The Church: Israel Pressuring to Take Out the Friars,” Ha’aretz, April 8, 2002.
  4. “Pope, Vatican Monitor Mideast Conflict Carefully,” Vatican, April 2, 2002,
  5. VIS, “Holy See Statement on Middle East Crisis,” Vatican, Holy See Press Office Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls, April 3, 2002. On April 3, Msgr. Celestino Migliore, Undersecretary for Relations with States, received Mohammad Ali Mohammad, Director of the Delegation of the League of Arab States to the Holy See, insisting, in particular, on the necessity to put an end to indiscriminate acts of terrorism.
  6. “Urgent Appeal from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem,” April 2, 2002.
  8. Pax Christi USA, “End the Occupation: End the Cycle of Destruction,” April 5, 2002;
  9. “Franciscans Fear Israeli Assault on Nativity Shrine in Bethlehem,” April 5, 2002, Fides/ Under an agreement negotiated by the Nuncio Pietro Sambi with Israeli and Palestinian officials, four friars were taken to a medical clinic for emergency treatment.
  10. Minerbi, “Treaty with the Vatican.”
  11. “Vatican Insists on ‘Absolute Priority’ of Holy Places,” Vatican, April 8, 2002,
  12. “Vatican: Respect for Holy Sites is ‘Absolute Priority,'” Ha’aretz, April 8, 2002,
  13. “Gunfire Hits Franciscan Monastery in Bethlehem,” Catholic World News, April 8, 2002, Fides/
  14. “Pope Decries Levels of ‘Intolerable’ Violence in Holy Land; Fallout of Sept. 11 Lingers, He Tells Members of Papal Foundation,” Vatican, April 8, 2002,
  15. “Pope Leads Special Day of Prayer for Mideast Peace,” Vatican, April 8, 2002,
  16. “Top Vatican Official Speaks on Bethlehem Crisis,” Vatican, April 10, 2002,
  17. “Israelis Cut Off Bethlehem Franciscans’ Telephone; Friars’ Superiors Make Appeal to Embassy and to Palestinian Officials,” Rome, April 23, 2002,
  18. “Franciscan Proposal to End Siege of Bethlehem Basilica Requests Negotiated Solution to Palestinians’ Confinement,” Rome, April 11, 2002,
  19. “Bethlehem Franciscans Plead for Negotiated Withdrawal,” Jerusalem, April 11, 2002, Fides/
  20. Fides, April 15, 2002.
  21. Pope John Paul II, “Regina Coeli,” April 21, 2002. Official translation.
  22. “Franciscans, Pope Prod Arafat on Bethlehem Stalemate,” Jerusalem, April 22, 2002, Fides/
  23. “Violence May be Used to End Bethlehem Standoff,” Bethlehem, April 26, 2002,
  24. “Pope Repeats Request for Prayers for Bethlehem,” Vatican, April 24, 2002,
  25. “Vatican’s Position vis-a-vis the Holy Land; Interview with Archbishop Tauran,” April 26, 2002, Zenit.
  26. Judgment of the Supreme Court sitting as the High Court of Justice, H.C. 3451/02, May 2, 2002. I thank the President of the High Court, Prof. A. Barak, for sending me the text of this judgment.
  27. Raed Abusahlia, “Arrival of Cardinal Etchegaray to the Holy Land,” Jerusalem, May 1, 2002.
  28. “Statement from Cardinal Etchegaray in Jerusalem,” Vatican, May 8, 2002.
  29. Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, “Perspectives on the Conflict between Palestinians and Israelis,” Jerusalem, May 8, 2002.
  30. Alan Cowell and Joel Greenberg, “In Church of Nativity, the Refuse of a Siege,” New York Times, May 10, 2002.
  31. L’Osservatore Romano, Maggio 12, 2002.

Sergio I. Minerbi was senior lecturer at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University (1972-1978), and visiting professor at the Department of Political Science at Haifa University (1992-1995). He served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1961-1989), including Ambassador to the European Communities, Belgium and Luxembourg and Deputy Director General for Economic Affairs. His books include The Vatican and Zionism (1990).