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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 30, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 52
Priests behaving badly: Christmas brawl in Bethlehem
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Priests behaving badly: Christmas brawl in Bethlehem

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Palestinian riot police armed with batons and plexiglass shields had to break up a brawl between Greek and Armenian priests in Bethlehem on December 29.

About 100 priests were involved in the fight, which broke out as the two factions were sweeping the Church of the Nativity - the traditional birthplace of Jesus - in preparation for Orthodox Christmas services on January 7.

Like other Christian sites in Palestine, the Church of the Nativity is divided into several zones, with each one controlled by a different church.

The brawl apparently broke out after a priest of one church - either Greek Orthodox or Armenian Apostolic, it's not clear which - accidentally pushed his broom into space controlled by the other group.

Video posted on the Al Jazeera website shows rival priests swinging brooms at each other as pilgrims try to get out of the way and police try to restore order.

The division of the church into rival zones has led to similar clashes in the past.

'It was a trivial problem that & occurs every year,' Bethlehem police Lt. Col. Khaled al-Tamimi told Reuters reporters.

Al-Tamimi said that no one was seriously injured in the incident and no arrests had been made.

'Everything is all right and things have returned to normal,' he told reporters. 'No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God.'

The 1,700-year-old Church of the Nativity, which ranks as one of the holiest sites in Christianity, is reportedly in a state of disrepair because priests of the rival churches can't agree on who should maintain it.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem - the traditional site of Jesus' tomb - is also divided among several churches and has experienced similar problems.

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