GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Palestinians who were were deported from Bethlehem to the Gaza Strip in 2002 after taking refuge in the city’s Nativity Church on Sunday marked their 13th year in exile with a rally in front of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s offices in Gaza City.
Taking part in the rally were the 26 deportees who have lived in the Gaza Strip since May 10, 2002, when Israeli forces ended a nearly 40-day siege on the Nativity Church in Bethlehem.Around 220 locals, including several dozen resistance fighters as well as around 40 priests and nuns, sought sanctuary inside the church on April 2, 2002 when Israeli tanks surrounded Bethlehem.The church leaders accepted their request for sanctuary based on an age-old custom, but the Israeli military outraged the world by responding with attacks on the ancient holy place that left eight dead and 27 injured.
The siege came to an end when the Israelis struck a deal with Palestinian leaders that ultimately saw 39 Palestinians exiled to Gaza and Europe.On Sunday a spokesman for the Nativity Church deportees in Gaza Fahmi Kanan called on President Mahmoud Abbas to pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court and exert pressure on all levels to ensure that the deportees return to their homes in Bethlehem.
Kanan also urged Palestinian resistance factions “starting with Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades” to include their case in any future prisoner exchange deals with Israel.Kanan urged Palestinian factions to close ranks and maintain national unity. In March, the deportees issued a statement to mark five years since one of their members, Abdullah Daoud, died in exile in Algeria.
The statement said: “As the anniversary of his death comes, Nativity Church deportees in the Gaza Strip and European countries still suffer from being banished, eliminated, forgotten and ignored by everyone, without any exceptions, as they cannot see their families, travel and are deprived of their rights of having a decent living.”Last month, Palestinian theater group Freedom Theater opened a play in Jenin entitled “The Siege” that recreated the 39-day siege.The play’s co-director Zoe Lafferty said: “Why do people pick up arms in Palestine? It’s not because they’re crazy religious fanatics as is always said; it’s because there is a deep wish to defend their families.”