Vatican offers forgiveness to Havivis

Police to increase security at Nazareth shrine following Friday attack.

The Vatican offered official forgiveness to the Havivi couple Monday morning. The couple, Haim and Violet Havivi are suspected of detonating firecrackers in Nazareth's Basilica of the Annunciation on Friday night. A representative of the Catholic Church in Israel, Pierre Batista Piza'bella, met with the couple in the office of the Amakim District Police Commander Asst.-Cmdr. Ya'akov Zigdon. During the meeting, the couple apologized to the prelate, saying that "we didn't expect the outcome." They hugged and kissed him, and at the end of the meeting, the Vatican representative said "these actions hurt us very much, but we do not maintain grudges or hatred. We must pass along a message of peace."
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Northern Region police chief Cmdr. Dan Ronen has called for increased security at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth following the riots in the town on Friday, which were sparked by a man throwing firecrackers in the church. On Sunday, Ronen and other senior officers carried out a tour of the church - one of the holiest sites in Christendom - with the management and the head priest. Ronen recommended using guards at the entrance and installing closed-circuit television cameras, as well as learning from the experience of churches and other holy places in Jerusalem. The officer said this would help ensure the balance between protecting the shrine on the one hand and the freedom of religion and worship and the receiving of visitors on the other. However, Ronen also warned that police intended to identify and investigate those who took part in the riot, attacked police and burned patrol cars. The clashes were sparked when former policeman Haim Eliahu Havivi, 44, his wife Violet and their daughter Odelia, 20, went into the church and threw firecrackers. They then had to be rescued from an angry mob by security forces, who disguised the family as policemen to extricate them from the compound. The Havivis had entered the basilica unchallenged with a buggy full of small explosive devices. Their lawyer, Pninat Yanay, said they had no intention of causing any damage, but wanted to find a way of wresting three of their children back from social services. The youngest child is two years old and was taken into care on Wednesday last week. "The couple came to the place in the hope that their voices would be heard, and didn't have any intention of damaging the church or its symbols," Yanay said. The couple were remanded in custody for 15 days on Saturday night, but their lawyer filed an appeal against the decision. "From the evidence in their file, the 'explosive material' that they held was not material that endangered anybody's life or had the potential to damage property," she wrote as an explanation. To back her up, Yanay quoted Ronen as saying that "even if all the detonators in their possession had exploded, I am telling you that nobody would have been hurt, nor would the property in the church have been damaged." No police spokesman could be reached to confirm the statement. During the time that they have been fighting the social services, the Havivis have not worked and have been receiving financial help from a church in Jerusalem. "They appreciate the representatives of the church who have helped them so much. This is a tragic affair that has no connection with politics. The couple have asked to express their sorrow and pain at the chain of events," said Yanay, who has been working pro bono on their case. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert slammed Arab politicians' use of the incident in the church for their own political purposes. "There is something almost ridiculous about the Muslim public, which has not been distinguished by its tolerance toward Christianity and that community's leaders, marching at the head of the protest over an incident caused by a strange couple, and trying to raise this as an issue during the election period," Olmert said at Sunday's cabinet meeting. Olmert's statements caused outrage among Jewish and Arab leaders. Arab MKs accused Olmert of trying to divide the Arab community in Israel. MK Muhammad Barakei, leader of the Jewish-Arab Hadash party, called Olmert "sick with racism." Dov Khenin, a Jewish lawyer and No. 2 on the Hadash list, told The Jerusalem Post, "I don't know where Olmert is coming from, but apparently he doesn't live in Israeli society if he isn't aware of the growing trend of racism." MK Ahmed Tibi of Hadash said Olmert's response to the attack was "a surprising statement by someone who wants to see us as separate ethnicities and not a national minority." Tibi said Olmert's goal was to divide Muslims, Christians and Druse to weaken the Arab minority. Nevertheless, he added, "I am proud that the Muslims defended the Basilica of the Annunciation and I am sure that the Christian Arabs would not hesitate to defend mosques." Meretz leader Yossi Beilin accused the government of not preventing such attacks. "The people who were involved with the attack on the church are probably unbalanced," he told the Post. "But the problem is that unbalanced Palestinians usually attack Israelis and unbalanced Jews usually attack Arabs... This is why it's not so easy to say 'it's a bunch of lunatics' and to carry on. We have to understand that these lunatics have the same target and we have to do whatever we can to prevent it in the future." He added that "tolerance is something that all of us have to learn. The current situation is far from satisfying for Jews, for Muslims and for Christians." "This was a sad incident that could have had much more serious consequences," Olmert said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. Since its founding, Olmert said, Israel "has scrupulously upheld freedom of worship and freedom of religion and full tolerance towards the institutions of the religions active in the country. This is our faith, this is our way, this is how we have acted, and this is how we will continue to act." During the cabinet meeting, Deputy Social Affairs Minister Avraham Ravitz briefed the ministers on the treatment and care the Havivi family has received from the welfare authorities. The perpetrators of the attack have been well-known to social service workers for the past 12 years. According to Nahum Ido, spokesman for the Social Affairs Ministry, the Havivis and their four children have been monitored by the ministry's Jerusalem branch since 1994 and the three oldest Havivi children have been in the state's care since 2000. Ido also said that on several occasions the Havivis had kidnapped their children out of social workers' care during unsupervised visits, and that the father had even once threatened to set fire to himself and his children if welfare workers did not leave the family alone. Ido claimed that the family had been visited regularly by social workers, who had given the parents advice on caring for their children. However, the children still did not attend school or receive appropriate clothing and food, said Ido. "It is very difficult to give adults help if they refuse to take what is offered," said Ido, adding that the Havivis continually refused psychological counseling and accommodation offered to them by the state. He said on numerous occasions that the couple, whose fourth child was born in 2003, was arrested and offered accommodation in a hotel or hostel. He added that the family had recently vanished, reappearing only at protests outside Jerusalem's social welfare office and ministry. The parents even refused social workers' invitations to meet with their older children on supervised visits, said Ido. Last Wednesday night, the couple found out the address of their 13-year-old son's foster home and arrived there unannounced at midnight. According to Ido, when the police arrived at the scene they discovered the Havivis' two-year-old son with them and handed him over to social services. This, according to comments made by Havivi, provoked his actions on Friday night in Nazareth. He said he was only trying to gain attention to his plight and to have his children returned to him. A source close to the family put a slightly different spin on the events of last Wednesday. The family turned up at the foster home only after the 13-year-old had called them and asked them to take him back, the source said. The family caring for him refused to allow the Havivis to see their son and called the police, after which the two-year-old was taken into care. The couple have another child aged 16, and their daughter was in care until she turned 18. The source said that when Violet was ready to give birth to their youngest son, she refused to go to the hospital because she feared social services would take the baby away. It was only when she met Shas MK and former minister of labor and social affairs Shlomo Benizri in the tent of poverty campaigner Vikki Knafo that she agreed to go to the hospital, as he assured her that the child wouldn't be removed. For the last two years the couple have had no fixed address, although in recent months they have been living in a hostel in Tel Aviv, said Yanay. About 100 people gathered outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem after Mass on Sunday morning to protest the attack in Nazareth. Sheera Claire Frenkel and AP contributed to this story.