?The PLO came and bombed the church without entering it. They kicked open the door and threw in the grenades.? - Father Mansour Labaky of Damour in Lebanon, 1976.

The foregoing quotation represents one aspect of the massacre of Christians carried out by PLO forces in the Lebanese city of Damour in 1976. ?An entire family had been killed, the Can'an family, four children all dead, and the mother, the father, and the grandfather. The mother was still hugging one of the children. And she was pregnant,? Father Labaky described the PLO assault, ?The eyes of the children were gone and their limbs were cut off. No legs and no arms. It was awful.? After brutally killing 582 people in the town and terrorizing the rest of the 25,000 residents into fleeing, the PLO forces took over Damour and began using it as a base for their terrorist activities. The Church of St. Elias, the one that was gutted by PLO grenades, was turned into a combination garage and gun range. Targets were painted on the eastern wall of the nave.

With that, and other atrocities, in the back of their minds, the Christians of southern Lebanon probably took the just-freed PLO warlord Yasser Arafat a bit less than seriously when he maniacally shouted at assembled journalists to ?investigate the crimes? of the Israeli ?terrorists, Nazis and racists? stationed around the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. An editorial in the Egyptian government newspaper al-Ahram in the past week joined with Arafat in spreading lies and calumny about the Jewish soldiers. Columnist Salah e-Din Hafez combined new and ancient anti-Jewish blood libels, asking, how could US President George Bush, ?the orthodox Christian? accept that Israelis publicly desecrate the Church of Nativity? Brought up as a Christian, Bush should know that in the past it was Jews who betrayed Christ, just as today it is they who slaughter the priests of his Church.?

However, a couple of weeks prior to the recent Arafatian outburst, a window into the truth of the situation in the Church of the Nativity was opened by three elderly Armenian monks who managed to flee the church, with the assistance of Israel Defense Forces soldiers. One of the monks, Narkiss Korasian, told reporters, ?They stole everything, they opened the doors one by one and stole everything... they stole our prayer books and four crosses... they didn't leave anything.? The monks also told of beatings administered to several Christian clergymen held in the church by PLO gunmen. To the Israelis, he said, ?Thank you for your help, we will never forget it.? The testimony and gratitude expressed by the Armenian monks who escaped their PLO captors in the Church of the Nativity puts the lie to the bombastic exclamations by Arafat and the Egyptian media. Ralph Peters, a retired military officer, wrote in the May 3rd edition of the New York Post, ?The war crime - committed brazenly before a global audience - is the occupation of the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, by Palestinian terrorists? The immediate and well-organized occupation of one of Christianity's holiest shrines was an illegal, cynical gambit.?

The PLO attempt to foster hatred of Jews among Christians is even more outrageous in light of the condition of the Christian minority under PLO rule in Judea and Samaria. Prior to the PLO takeover of Bethlehem, the Christians were in the majority in that ancient city. Today, Christians make up about 20% of the population. Anyone who was able to leave once Arafat?s hordes took over, did so. Nearby Beit Jalla, another town with a majority of Christians, has had PLO terrorists infiltrating and using residents? homes and churches for cover as they sniped at the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. As a result of the PLO rule in Beit Jalla, more Christians from the town now live in the Central American state of Belize than remain in Beit Jalla itself. A similar process of Islamization has also occurred in Ramallah, with the number of Christians dropping drastically as the PLO extended its control over the city. In Jerusalem, in 1997, the Arafat-appointed waqf (Moslem religious authority) put a latrine servicing the al-Hanaqa mosque on the roof of the adjacent Church of the Holy Sepulchre. An addition to the mosque was built in such a way that it leaned on the wall of the church and darkened it by its height. The work was ultimately stopped only after Israel, the sovereign in the city, threatened legal action against the waqf.

Of course, it is not just Christians and their religious sites that have been violently desecrated by PLO terrorists. At the very start of the current ?Oslo War?, Arabs of Shechem (Nablus), backed by Palestinian Authority policemen, gutted and took over the Tomb of Joseph, converting the Jewish prayer and study hall there into a mosque. Druse soldier Madhat Yusuf was killed attempting to defend the site from the armed Moslem mobs. When Israel returned to Shechem in the context of Operation Defensive Shield, the soldiers discovered that the PLO had placed mines and other explosives around the Tomb. Similarly, Arab rioters also firebombed the ancient Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho almost two years ago. Even Moslem sites have not been immune to PLO manipulation: In the town of el-Bireh, a suburb of Ramallah, IDF troops discovered Qassam missiles and launchers stored in a local mosque.

On the other hand, apologists for the PLO justified the launching of a two year long campaign of terrorist bombings and shootings against Israeli civilians by saying that then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon?s visit to the Temple Mount, itself holy to Jews, was a ?defilement? and a ?provocation?. In addition to being another admission that Arabs have no respect for the religious rights of the Jews in the Land of Israel, the very claim itself is an indication of the level of violence they are willing to employ when they perceive a threat to their religion. In that case, the Arabs of the Palestinian Authority are quite lucky that Israel is not a Moslem state.


Nissan Ratzlav-Katz is an Editor for Arutz Sheva?s Israel National News.com. He can be contacted at [email protected].