Court sentences church riot instigator

Haim Havivi and his wife had thrown firecrackers into Basilica of Annunciation.

havivi 298.88  (photo credit: Channel 10)
havivi 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
An Israeli who attacked a Christian shrine in Nazareth earlier this year was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison on charges of public disorder, uttering threats and conspiracy to commit a crime. Haim Eliyahu Havivi, a Jewish Israeli, was arrested along with his Christian wife Violet at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the traditional boyhood town of Jesus, after a March 3 attack during a Lent service, in which the couple and their 20-year-old daughter set off firecrackers inside the church. Violet received a three-year suspended sentence. Attorney Pninat Yanai, who represents the couple, told Army Radio that the sentence handed to Haim Havivi was too harsh and she would file an appeal. According to Yanai, "The judges even wrote in their verdict that the couple had no intention of harming the relationship between the different religions and sects in the country." The attack caused only light damage but sparked rioting that injured two-dozen people, including 13 police officers. The Habibis were beaten by enraged worshippers before they were spirited out the church by police. At the time, the daughter told investigators her parents carried out the attack to draw attention to financial troubles and to protest that two of their children had been taken into care by Israeli authorities. Regarding the family's current situation, Yanai reported that the couple's older daughter, Odelia, had been returned to her family, two other children had been handed over to foster families, and the baby had been given back to the couple after they had filed a suit in the matter. The basilica is built on the site where Christians believe the Angel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary and foretold the birth of Jesus. The Vatican's representative in Israel has expressed his forgiveness to the Havivi family. Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, met with the family shortly after the incident. "The family is at a loss. They are suffering because one of their children was taken from them by the social services," said Pizzaballa. "Really, they are poor people. I was deeply touched. They asked for pardon for what they did, and I granted it."