Church of the Annunciation Attackers’ History of Protests

Not nationalist or religious extremists

Still in Israel, Ynet reports on Friday’s firework attack on the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, which led to a riot:

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.

…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.

The Habibis actually pulled the same stunt at the Church of the Nativity back in 2003:

An Israeli couple who had barricaded themselves inside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity on Saturday and threatened to set off an explosion surrendered to authorities, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

“Their explosives were in fact fireworks and they also had a plastic gun,” the officials said, adding the “affair is closed.”

…In November 2002, [Haim] Habibi staged a hunger strike inside the church, revered as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, to protest against his “persecution” by Israeli authorities.

…Palestinians said the couple had told them Israel was refusing to grant the wife citizenship and that their children were being held by Israeli social authorities.

An AP report – which I could find only in Spanish – adds that Haim’s wife is Polish, and that he had threatened to kill himself with the toy gun.

The Nazareth incident has led to Palestinian protests, as Haaretz reports:

Several thousand people – led by Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, local Christian leaders and Arab lawmakers – joined the protest, snaking through the town’s narrow streets to the basilica. Marchers clapped and sang songs, amid the chiming of church bells.

Participants held up Palestinian flags and banners with slogans such as “Israel breeds hate” and “they accuse us of terrorism but they do terrorism.”

Unfortunately, Sabbah didn’t check all the facts before he spoke out:

Latin Archbishop Michel Sabbah, the most senior Catholic figure in Israel, said the Vatican was following closely the events in Nazareth. Sabah said that the person who tried to perform the terrible deed was born and bred on racist views and wild incitement against Christians in particular and Arabs in general.

But it’s a strange Jewish extremist who marries a Christian and tries to get political asylum with the Palestinians, as was reported in detail in 1999:

Haim Habibi, 38, his wife Violetta, 33, and their three children aged six, 10 and 13, who come from Jerusalem, appealed to Palestinian deputy Hatem Abdel Qader Monday for “protection and political asylum.”

“I said ‘yes’ straight away as far as protection went,” Abdel Qader told AFP.

…Habibi, an unemployed Kurdish Jew, who is currently staying in a hotel in Ramallah, said he had done what he did because he was being harassed by the Israeli authorities.

“We are always being persecuted by the authorities, especially the social services, who want to take our children away from us,” he told AFP.

“They claim we are incapable of bringing them up and want to take them away and send them to institutions,” he added.

A 2000 follow-up added:

Haim Habibi, an Israeli Jew, returned to Israel after taking refuge in PNA territories for 8 months. Haim Habibi, who is a Jew of Iranian origin, took refuge together with his wife and children last August in the home of Hatem Abdel Kader, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Jerusalem. Abdel Kader was able to smuggle him into Ramallah with the help of activists in the Fatah movement.

…Regarding the circumstances surrounding Habibi’s return to Israel Abdel Kader said, “Habibi was exposed to harassment after his return. The Jewish rabbis took his children from him to bring them up and considered him unfit to bring them up because of religious reasons, and accused him of being psychologically disturbed.”

This is a bit vague – “the Jewish rabbis” do not run Israel’s social services. A report on Ma’an News claimed that Habibi was the victim of subsequent police harassment; however, the report is no longer on-line, and only a glimpse is available from Google (cache doesn’t work).

On the other hand, we can see why Palestinians would have assumed an extremist motivation for the attack. The Israeli far right has in the past plotted to destroy the Dome of the Rock, and in 1994 the Ibrahimi mosque at Hebron was famously attacked by Baruch Goldstein, killing dozens of worshippers. The influential Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph, (the spiritual leader of the Shas party, and whom I’ve blogged before), has also spoken against churches, complaining that (square brackets in citation):

The Israeli government is obligated by international law to guard the Christian churches in the land of Israel, even though those churches are definitely places of idolatry and cult practice. This is so in spite of the fact that we are commanded by our [religious] law to destroy all idolatry and its servants until we uproot it from all parts of our land and any areas that we are able to conquer… Surely, this fact continues to weaken the religious meaning of the Israeli army’s conquests [in 1967].

UPDATE: The BBC did at one point state that police are contradicting reports that Mrs. Habibi is a Christian, but the report has since been changed.

(Hat tips: World War 4 Report and Christianity Today Weblog)

(Name variations: Chaim Havivi, Haim Eliahu Havivi)