BETHLEHEM 

UNDER SIEGE

 

CHARLOTTE, NC —Andrew White took over from Terry Waite as the peacemaker for the Church of England. In April of 2002, Andrew was called from a hospital bed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to be a wounded healer in the midst of a conflict in Bethlehem - on the West Bank of the Jewish State of Israel. Who is this man named Andrew White and how did he come to be a peacemaker from the city of Jerusalem?

       Andrew White is no stranger to the deeper things of God, in fact he is a Spirit-filled Anglican Priest. One day in Jerusalem, a woman of faith prayed over him and said, "While Jerusalem will never be your home, you will come and go from this city with a divine mission. The Hand of God has been placed upon you for a divine work here, you will be a carrier of God’s peace during a desperate time." The lady who spoke over him was Ruth Heflin. At the time Andrew was a pilgrim to the Holy Land and was studying at Hebrew University. He had heard of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in that international city from a Jewish rabbi. The rabbi told Andrew about Mount Zion Fellowship that met in Jerusalem in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah at13 Ragheb Nashashibi Street. Thirteen years ago, Andrew White visited Mt. Zion Fellowship to hear Ruth Heflin speak. At the end of the meeting, she gave out Mars Bars and Snickers Bars. The words that Heflin spoke over White have since come true. He is the personal envoy to the Middle East for the Anglican Church and is trusted by Jewish and Arab leaders as a man of peace and faith.
To understand the conflict that happened last Spring at the Church of the Nativity, you have to understand how the city of Bethlehem has changed in recent years. Once a Christian city, Bethlehem has been besieged with different groups of Palestinians, and worse - the entire city now harbors some of the most radical terrorists who plot against the destruction of the Jewish State. Many have fired rounds into Israel from the holy sites and from the homes of Palestinian Christians for several years. This has caused the Israeli Army to return the fire, destroying the places where the shots have come from. In turn, this has caused the Palestinian Christian Community to take flight from the city. Bethlehem has completely changed over the last few years as tourism and visits from pilgrims have almost come to a stop because of the bloodshed.
The siege of Bethlehem began as the Israeli Army moved across the West Bank to engage the terrorists after a wave of terrorism in Israel. As the Israeli tanks moved through the city, the conflict came to a head in Manger Square at the Church of the Nativity; one of the most holy shrines in all of Christianity. More than 300 people were inside for more than two months. Among the people inside were13 terrorists, who have been traced to some of the most heinous criminal acts of violence against the Jewish State and Palestinian Christians. Some of these men were traced to the rape and violence against several of the Palestinian Christian women in the area of Bethlehem.

BETHLEHEM SHRINE ON THE EDGE OF VIOLENCE


                When it seemed that the Israeli Army would be forced to do violence within the church, the peace making process finally began. Everyone knew there was a lot at stake as the world looked on in horror. The peace making process in this part of the world is very risky. Anglican Priest Terry Waite had been called to solve a dispute in Beirut, Lebanon, and was imprisoned himself by a terrorist organization. Several years later the delegate was released by the terrorists to come home to freedom. Andrew White, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, replaced Terry Waite as the envoy to the Middle East for the Archbishop of Canterbury.
      While Andrew White was in Charlotte, North Carolina recently to speak at The Glory for the Nations Conference at All Nations Church, he gave a commentary on the events that surrounded that 38-day siege around the Church of the Nativity.  While in a hospital in London, the telephone rang at White’s bedside. On the other end of the phone was Yasser Arafat, "Andrew, Andrew come quickly! Andrew, you know what they’ve done with us? They’ve locked them in the church Andrew. Come quickly, by the way I’m locked also with no water (Yasser Arafat was in the city of Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli Tanks). Sort it out quickly for me Andrew. You’ve got to come, they have surrounded us. "The Israelis had entered Bethlehem and had pushed a group of Palestinians down to the square (Manger Square) towards the church. The group had entered the church through that tiny little four-foot high door (the door of humility). "I told him that I was slightly indisposed at the time," explained White, "but I would get there as soon as I could. A half-hour later, I got a call from Rabbi Michael Melchior, the deputy foreign minister of Israel. He wasn’t very nice at all. ‘What did I tell you, you go home and something like this happens! Didn’t I tell you to stay here at the moment, it’s too dangerous to leave - when you going to get it into your head?’ I told him, "Don’t worry, I’ll get over there soon." "What do you mean soon, we need you here now!’ I said, I am slightly indisposed at the moment, I’m in a hospital. ‘What do you mean you are indisposed?’ I’m in a hospital! ‘Can’t your boss do something about it?’ Then I asked him which boss - God or the Archbishop?"
        "Later on I got another call from my other boss, the Archbishop of Canterbury, asking me to try to arrange to go and see the situation at hand. I told him that I was in the hospital and I knew we had the prayers of Mahesh Chavda behind us.  When we first got there, the standoff at the church was turning into a negotiation. They asked both groups to submit a list of people who would negotiate in good faith. I was the only one on both lists. There were Catholics, Franciscans, Eastern Orthodox, and Armenians to deal with. I had to go and make it good with each group to represent each one of these different groups before I could begin negotiations."

Yasser Arafat the Palestinian Negotiations With Canon Andrew White

         The full story of the negotiation process will never be told. The agony, the loss, the shootings, and the infighting within each group - in the end, the only two teams who really trusted each other were the Israeli delegation and the Palestinian delegation. "There were screaming matches between the Intifada leaders and Yasser Arafat, who was barricaded in Ramallah surrounded by Israeli tanks. Also, the people
who had assassinated the Tourism Minister in Jerusalem were in there with Chairman Arafat. People were trying to interfere from every side. We finally got to the end of the negotiations and things were going very well. We had a plan of action - to go in and get a list of everyone that was inside. We planned that the Italians would take some of the really bad ones. The Israelis then asked the Palestinians who was inside of the church. The Palestinians accused the Jews of already knowing who was inside, as they believed that the Israelis knew because of their powerful secret service agency.
      All of a sudden - we were removed from the process. Those in the Israeli government wanted us to withdraw, but then asked that we do one last thing. They wanted us to go inside of the church and get the list of those who were there. I asked, ‘why should we go in and get the list if you are about to sack all of us and the work we have done in the last two weeks?’ We did do it though. After we went in to get the list, we were asked to come to the King David Hotel the next day at 4:30 in the afternoon. Intelligence officials from Israel, the United States, and the Palestinians were there. They asked us if we would continue in the negotiations. After we were called back into the peace process, we then found out how difficult the list was that we had obtained.
       There were some really bad guys on that list and essentially there were three types of people inside of the church. There were young boys who had been caught up in the moment, then there were police who had been forced in during the siege, and there were some really hardened criminals. By the time we got into this process, the only people left were those who had blood on their hands and the really bad ones."
The ones with blood on their hands could go to Gaza but the main ones who were the really bad guys - they were another story. The bad ones had more than just blood on their hands - these were the individuals who started the Intifada (popularly translated as "uprising," but literally means "shaking off"). These were the individuals who had been terrorizing the people of Bethlehem, raping and kidnapping the Christian women. This is not widely known and is not spoken of by most of the people in this area, due to fear of retaliation. When the Italian delegation found out who these bad ones were, they began to say they knew nothing about those individuals and they would not take them into Italy. We talked to the Italian officials and they said that, ‘there is a difference in taking three individuals and taking thirteen hardened criminals.’ We began to start looking at other plans of getting the ‘not so bad’ guys out and where we could isolate the ‘really bad guys’ into one area, that way the siege could be lifted. We asked the Mayor of Bethlehem for plans of the church. He told us that he didn’t have any and that the church predated the municipality. We finally obtained the plans from Oxford University in England and were able to identify the area where we would hold these people once we understood the layout of the church. We finally had a plan, but then we learned another thing - that you do not negotiate between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, because that is when Arafat has his sleep time. We realized that he is the only one who makes decisions on anything regarding the Palestinians."

        Andrew White returned to his family after the siege ended and a place was found for the 13 men to be taken to - an Island in Cypress, to a Hotel called the Pink Flamingo. The men who were held with Chairman Arafat, who had killed the Tourism Minister in Jerusalem, were taken to Jericho where they were tried and found guilty. It was important to remove everyone in the church without any of the hardened criminals dying. If one of the 13 hardened men had been killed within the church, it would have made the church into an Islamic shine for a martyr. Afterwards, an arsenal of guns and explosives were found inside the church. The church had been desecrated as a holy place.

      White acted as a negotiator for both sides during the conflict, but he was also called to assist a heart patient who was dying because he could not get back to his doctor. In a very daring move, White found a driver who was willing to take him into Bethlehem during the siege. (Without the cooperation of the Israeli Army, White could not have done this). Reaching the dying man, White, who had worked in the cardiac ward in a hospital at one time, knew exactly what the man needed. He contacted his doctor in Jordan and then returned the next day to administer medication to the man. The man survived the long ordeal. On the way out of the city, the Israeli army officers asked White to follow them all the way out, but the driver of White’s car took a turn down another street. When White questioned the driver, the man just smiled. Later, an Israeli officer told White that after the driver pulled away from them and went down another street, a bomb was thrown in the roadway where White’s car would have been if it hadn’t turned off! Andrew White knows that only the power of God and an angel could have directed this driver to make a wrong turn. The Islamic radicals have brought such hardships upon the Palestinian Christians and the Palestinian people. During the lock down of the entire city, several families suffered from lack of food and medical care. Bethlehem and the surrounding cities have been peaceful in past years, but now that is all changed. Everyone who lives in that area lives under the terror of these extremists. It seems as if peace is far from the table in Jerusalem, but God has put His servant in place to put the pieces back together. Many say that Ruth Heflin was a powerful seer and prophet and she knew Andrew White was special when she spoke over him. Andrew White is a wounded healer, but while poor in health, he is not poor in spirit. The fire of the Holy Spirit is in him and he has the mind of Christ to deal with the difficult situations in the Middle East. Bless you, Andrew. You are the apostle of peace that the church has been calling forth in these last days.