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Below is the draft itinerary of Pope Francis’ forthcoming visit to the Holy Land. I have a feeling that it’s going to come as a rude surprise to some of his hosts!

We only have to compare the Pope’s itinerary with that of the US President on his recent visit. Obama started in Jerusalem and paid obeisance to the political leadership in Israel before venturing further into the regions to which they are the US-backed gatekeepers. In contrast, Francis is following the path of the Lord Jesus Himself – starting off in Bethlehem and concluding his stay in Jerusalem (though we trust he won’t follow the Lord too closely and get himself killed there)!

I have no idea whether Netanyahu will consider this a slap in the face or not. Either way, Francis’ agenda is clear: the people of Palestine come first! He will meet with them, celebrate mass with them, eat with Palestinian families and speak with their leaders, and only when his time in the West Bank is concluded will he head to Israel proper. And even when he gets to Jerusalem, Francis is meeting first with Patriarch Athenagoras and the Grand Mufti before the schedule allows for any time with Israeli politicians! Surely this speaks volumes!

The only shame is that Francis hasn’t scheduled in any time in Gaza. That would be truly spectacular. Perhaps it could still happen? I don’t put it beyond him!

Father Dave

Pope Francis

source: al-bushra-updates.blogspot.com…

Pilgrimage of His Holiness Pope Francis in the Holy Land

Pilgrimage of His Holiness Pope Francis  in the Holy Land
on the occasion of the
50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem
between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras
(May 24 – 26, 2014)
Program as of March 27, 2014

Saturday, May 24, 2014

08:15   Departure from Rome Fiumicino Airport for Amman

13:00   Arrival at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman

13:45   ARRIVAL CEREMONY in the al-Husseini Royal Palace in Amman
COURTESY VISIT TO THEIR MAJESTIES THE KING AND QUEEN OF JORDAN

14:20   MEETING WITH THE AUTHORITIES OF THE KINGDOM OF JORDAN. Discourse of the Holy Father

16:00   HOLY MASS at the International Stadium in Amman. Homily of the Holy Father

19:00   Visit to the Baptismal Site at Bethany beyond the Jordan

19:15   MEETING WITH REFUGEES AND DISABLED YOUNG PEOPLE in the Latin church at Bethany beyond the Jordan. Discourse of the Holy Father

Sunday, May 25, 2014

8:15     FAREWELL FROM JORDAN at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman

8:30     Departure by helicopter from the Queen Alia Internal Airport in Amman for Bethlehem

9:20     Arrival at the helicopter port of Bethlehem

9:30     ARRIVAL CEREMONY at the Presidential Palace in Bethlehem
COURTESY VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE STATE OF PALESTINE

10:00   MEETING WITH THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY – Discourse of the Holy Father

11:00   HOLY MASS in Manger Square in Bethlehem. Homily of the Holy Father
REGINA COELI PRAYER. Allocution of the Holy Father

13:30   Lunch with families from Palestine in the Franciscan Convent of Casa Nova in Bethlehem

15:00   PRIVATE VISIT TO THE GROTTO OF THE NATIVITY IN BETHLEHEM

15:20   GREETING OF CHILDREN FROM THE REFUGEE CAMPS OF DEHEISHEH, AIDA AND BEIT JIBRIN at the Phoenix Center of the Deheisheh Refugee Camp

15:45   FAREWELL FROM THE STATE OF PALESTINE at the helicopter port of Bethlehem

16:00   Departure by helicopter from the helicopter port of Bethlehem for Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv

16:30   ARRIVAL CEREMONY at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Discourse of the Holy Father

17:15   Transfer by helicopter to Jerusalem

17:45   Arrival at the helicopter port of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus

18:15   Private meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem. Signing of a joint declaration.

19.00   ECUMENICAL MEETING on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. Discourse of the Holy Father

20:15   Dinner with the Patriarchs and Bishops and the Papal suite at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem

Monday, May 26, 2014

8:15     VISIT TO THE GRAND MUFTI OF JERUSALEM in the building of the Great Council on the Esplanade of the Mosques. Discourse of the Holy Father

9:10     VISIT TO THE WESTERN WALL in Jerusalem

9:45     Laying a wreath at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem

10.00   VISIT TO YAD VASHEM in Jerusalem. Discourse of the Holy Father

10:45   COURTESY VISIT TO THE TWO CHIEF RABBIS at Heichal Shlomo Center in Jerusalem, next to the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. Discourse of the Holy Father

11:45   COURTESY VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem. Discourse of the Holy Father

13:00   PRIVATE AUDIENCE WITH THE PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL at Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem

13:30   Lunch, the Papal suite at Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem

15:30   Private visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at the building next to the Orthodox church of Viri Galileai on the Mount of Olives

16:00   MEETING WITH PRIESTS, MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS AND SEMINARIANS in the Church of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Discourse of the Holy Father

17:20   HOLY MASS WITH THE ORDINARIES OF THE HOLY LAND AND THE PAPAL SUITE in the room of the Cenacle in Jerusalem. Homily of the Holy Father

19:30   Transfer by helicopter from the helicopter port on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv

20:00   FAREWELL FROM THE STATE OF ISRAEL at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv

20:15   Departure from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv for Ciampino Airport in Rome

23:00   Arrival at Ciampino Airport in Rome

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Post-apartheid South Africa has played a special role in the Palestinian struggle. Nelson Mandela was a personal friend of Yasser Arafat – a man who he saw as being on a parallel struggle for justice and freedom for his people. And as the church helped lead the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, so it comes as no surprise that South African church leaders have come in firmly behind the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) campaign against the Israeli government.

Defenders of Zionism  are quick to ridicule any comparison between South African apartheid and the State of Israel’s policies that favour Jews over Arabs. As South African pastor, Rev. Dr. Moss Nthla, points out though, he is in a better position than most white people to judge whether the apartheid label is valid. He and other South African church leaders suggest, in fact, that the Israeli system of racial discrimination is actually worse than what they experienced under apartheid!

Father Dave

If you can’t view this video, click here.

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This latest move by the Knesset, initiated by coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin, appears to be an attempt to divide the Palestinian population!

The actual changes enacted by the new law are only minor but their ramifications could be huge. The law increases Christian representation on the advisory committee appointed under the ‘Equal Employment Opportunities Law’ from five to ten persons.  The new law thus seems inoffensive in itself, but critics see it as part of a larger strategy to integrate Christians more into Israeli society and so divide them from their Arab sisters and brothers.

Levin more or less confirmed that this was his aim in an interview with Israeli newspaper Maariv. “This is an important historic move that can balance Israel and bring us closer to the Christians”, he said, “and I am careful not to call them Arabs, because they’re not Arabs.” He added that Christians “are our natural allies, a counter-balance against the Muslims who want to destroy the state from within.”

The truth is, of course, that Christian Arabs are Arabs, and Christian Palestinians have suffered alongside their Islamic Palestinian sisters and brothers since ‘Al Nakba’ of 1948.

From my perspective, Levin’s new law might be trying to accomplish more than simply ‘divide and conquer’. It may also be an attempt to win back diminishing support from Christians in the West, particularly from the USA where right-wing Evangelicals have always been amongst the Jewish state’s most unquestioning supporters.

Whatever the grand plan, it is quite possible that it could all backfire. What if Palestinian Christians unite in their opposition to the new law – refusing to accept any special privileges above Muslim Palestinians? This could be a powerful witness for the church in Israel/Palestine as well as a serious setback for the Zionist agenda!

Father Dave

Rev. Naim Ateek - founder of Sabeel

Rev. Naim Ateek – founder of Sabeel

source: al-bushra-updates.blogspot.com…

Divide and Conquer: New Israel Legislation

by Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek

On Monday, February 23, 2014, the Israeli Knesset enacted a new law that recognizes Muslim and Christian Arab communities as separate identities, giving them their own representation in an employment commission. The law passed by a margin of 31 to 6.

The new law passed by the Knesset favoring Christians is, to say the least, a deceitful political stunt by Likud-Beiteinu members aimed at sowing seeds of division among Christians and between Christians and Muslims.

For the last sixty-five years, the government of Israel has not shown favoritism or bias towards the Christian community of the land, so why now?

During the Nakba of 1948, the Christians, like the Muslims, were dispossessed by the Zionists and were forced out of their homeland. Furthermore, during the military rule imposed by Israel on all Palestinians who stayed inside the Israeli state (1948-1966), Israel did not show favoritism to Christians over Muslims. Both were discriminated against and both were treated as unwanted aliens in their own land. There is a plethora of documentation to substantiate the history of that period. The problem for Israel in those days was not the Palestinians’ religious affiliation but their Palestinian national identity.

I believe that the new law reflects the moral bankruptcy of the government of Israel. Indeed, it must be in trouble to allow itself to stoop so low as to blatantly use this tactic to attempt to win the support of some Christians abroad, and, at the same time, sow dissent among Christians and Muslims. It is the old adage of “divide and rule.” This law is sinister in that it exploits the sensitive tensions among the religious communities of the Middle East, especially in light of what has been happening in Egypt and now is happening in Syria.

I am certain that the Palestinian community is mature enough not to fall into such a despicable religious trap.

There is another dishonest and hidden angle to this law. Jewish religious tradition has always considered Christianity, not Islam, as the mortal enemy of Jews and Judaism. This is due to the fact that the Christian faith came out of the same foundation as the Jewish faith, namely, the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. the Christian Old Testament. I still remember the Israeli religious establishment discouraging Jewish students from visiting Christian churches while encouraging them to visit Muslim mosques. The advisory pointed out that there was greater affinity between Judaism and Islam, while the gap was quite wide between Judaism and Christianity.

What has caused this sudden infatuation with Palestinian Christians to merit new legislation? Or is it just an ugly political stunt? What favors can the right-wing Israeli government give the Palestinian Arab Christians who are Israeli citizens? Will it restore their confiscated land to them? Will it grant them equality with their fellow Jewish citizens? Or are we witnessing another divisive Israeli ploy similar to when Israel set the Druze community apart from its Arab base?

It is worth mentioning that over sixty years ago, Israel managed to make the Druze religion a separate ethnic entity, thus separating them from their Arab roots. Through this new legislation, Israel wants to make the Christian religion a separate ethnic identity in order to separate them from their Arab Palestinian roots. But in spite of what Israel has done to the Druze community, an increasing number of young Druze men have been resisting imposed Israeli military service.

Israel has been very shrewd in concocting devious ways and means to impose its will on the Palestinians and keep them weak and divided. It continues to connive ways to limit and even deprive them of their rights to the land so they will give up and leave.

I am certain that the Christian community in Israel will see through this new Israeli legislation, will expose its sinister nature, and reject it. It is my hope also that our people’s resilience and maturity will foil the Israeli government’s insidious objectives. This we can do through our unity and solidarity, as well as through our determination to continue to work for a just peace, inclusive democracy, and human dignity for all the people of our land.

Naim Ateek

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
Jerusalem

The Rev. Dr. Naim Stifan Ateek (Arabic: نعيم عتيق‎, Na’īm Ateeq) (born in the Palestinian village of Beisan in 1937) is a Palestinian priest in the Anglican Church and founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.[1][2] He has been an active leader in the shaping of the Palestinian liberation theology. He was the first to articulate a Palestinian theology of liberation in his book, Justice, and only Justice, a Palestinian Theology of Liberation, published by Orbis in 1989, and based on his dissertation for his degree in theology.[3] The book laid the foundation of a theology that addresses the conflict over Palestine and explores the political as well as the religious, biblical, and theological dimensions. A former Canon of St. George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem, he lectures widely both at home and abroad. His latest book, A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation, was published by Orbis in 2008.

 

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Maired Maguire in Beirut

with Maired in Beirut

My friend Mairead Maguire is currently on route to Gaza, joining an international delegation of 100 women who will be delivering solar lamps to the women of Gaza. The people of Gaza have been suffering severe electricity shortages due to the Israeli blockade.

Mairead has joined countless others around the world in putting her support squarely behind the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ campaign (BDS) against the government of Israel. 

she writes:

‘The Palestinian narrative is a story of a prolonged occupation by Israel based on policies of Apartheid and racism, ongoing building on Palestinian land of Israeli settlements, house demolitions, and the continued denial by Israel of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.  Gaza, the largest open air prison in the world, of which Israel is its jailer as it holds the keys and totally controls all aspects of life of the people of Gaza.  One and a half million people in Gaza, mostly under 2l years of age, continue in the words of Israeli Professor and Academic, Jeff Halper, to be ‘warehoused’ by Israel with all rights being violated by Israel. The Gaza port has been closed for over 40 years, their airport destroyed and crossing into West Bank blocked.  The people of Gaza do not have the basic right to travel into the West Bank to visit relatives without passes from Israel, and students in Gaza are forbidden to travel to study outside Gaza.  These conditions mean that Gaza is still under occupation. The Israel policies of divide and rule, keeping Gaza and West Bank cut off from each other, ensures that neither human contact or real peace negotiations can take place, (as is evidenced by the fact that at the current Peace Talks presided over by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, Gaza palestinians (in which 40% of Palestinians live) are not represented at the negotiating table.)

South African visitors to Palestine have described the situation of blockade, occupation, as far worse than anything they experienced under the South African Apartheid era.

Why has this desperate injustice perpetrated upon the Palestinians by Israeli Government Policies been allowed to go on for over 60 years, in spite of United Nations over 60 resolutions, calling on Israel to uphold International law, but continuing to be ignored by Israel?

When anyone in International community is brave enough to articulate the facts of Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people they are bullied, threatened and accused of anti-Semitism.  This insidious practice by Israeli Government and its policy supporters has been very effective in silencing critique or debate on Israeli/US military and financial supported foreign policy, but also causes self-censorship by many concerned for their political and professional careers, or trading profits.  However, the Palestinian people take hope from those who are brave enough to take a stand, such as the Irish Trade Union Movement, Stephen Hawkins, Russell Tribunal on Palestine, and a growing international movement of support.

We all know the Jewish Narrative, particularly the story of the holocaust, but our sadness for this one of humanities greatest acts of inhumanity, should not stop us from speaking out on Israel’s current policy of a ‘silent genocide’ of the Palestinian people, and currently today of the people in Gaza.

The denial by Israel of Palestinian basic freedoms is not a natural humanitarian tragedy, it is an Israeli Government policy, in which many Governments, Media, Corporations, and Companies (such as Hewlett Packard and G4S who profit from the illegal occupation) are all complicit if not by supporting Israeli Government through funding, trading,etc., then by their  silence.

But, there is much we can all do.  The greatest hope we can give Palestinian people is to tell the Palestinian narrative, even at the risk of being called anti-Semitic.  This will give legitimacy to the Palestinian people and in time will force Israel to choose peace not land, as it has done for so long.   The Palestinian people have asked the International community to support their nonviolent BDS campaign (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and I applaud the recent actions of the Irish Academics in responding to this Appeal, and calling for a Boycott of Israel Universities, as indeed they are part of the system which upholds Apartheid and occupation by Israel.

Professor Falk, the UN special rapporteur for Palestine, who in his 6 years has often been refused entry into Palestinian territory, by Israel authorities, has recommended that UN member states should impose a ban on imports of products from Israeli settlements.  I hope many will follow his advice.

As a well supported International BDS campaign helped end Apartheid in South Africa, the Palestinian people believe, as do growing sections of the International Civil Community, that a similar International campaign will help end Israel’s denial of Palestinians human rights, freedom and peace.

Get more wisdom from Mairead on the ‘Peace People’ website: www.peacepeople.com…

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I still remember when Morde Vanunu disappeared in 1986. He had been a part of our church community. He had gone to London to share his story about the secret Israeli nukes with the world. He was a man on a mission, convinced that God had called him to blow the whistle on his country. I spent many sleepless nights over the following 18 years thinking about how we could have done things differently so that he would have been better protected.

In 2004, after serving his complete 18-year sentence, Morde was ‘released’ but with ‘release conditions’:

  1. He wasn’t allowed to leave the country
  2. He wasn’t allowed to go near a foreign embassy
  3. He wasn’t allowed to speak to foreign members of the press.

Evidently the Israeli government wasn’t ready to let go of him, and the third condition suggests that there was information that Morde had that the government didn’t want to circulate worldwide. But what could Morde have known that could still embarrass Israel? The purported reason – that he still had sensitive information about Israel’s nukes – was ridiculous. 

Dyer addresses these issues though he himself doesn’t seem to be convinced by the answer he gives. Is Vanunu’s ongoing punishment really only to preserve the USA from embarrassment? And how embarrassed is the US likely to be, even if it can be shown that the President knew about Israel’s nukes but didn’t say anything?

My guess is that the US may have been a lot more involved in the development of Israel’s nuclear arsenal than Dyer believes. At the same time though I don’t think Morde Vanunu really knows as much about Israeli-US nuclear complicity as they think he does.

Father Dave

Morde Vanunu and me after his 'release' in 2004

with Morde Vanunu after his 2004 ‘release’

source: www.thespec.com…

Dyer: Israel’s nuclear hypocrisy

Time to own up to the truth about not-so-secret arms cache

By  Gwynne Dyer

When Mordechai Vanunu, a humble Israeli technician who worked for years at Israel’s secret nuclear site at Dimona, spilled the beans about Israel’s nuclear weapons in 1986, very bad things happened to him. He was lured from safety in England for an Italian holiday by a woman who was an Israeli secret agent, drugged and kidnapped from Italy by other Israeli agents, and imprisoned for 18 years (11 of them in solitary confinement).

When Avraham Burg, the former speaker of the Israeli parliament, said last month that Israel has both nuclear and chemical weapons (you know, like the nuclear weapons that Iran must not have and the chemical weapons that Syria must give up), nothing bad happened to him at all. He is protected by the Important Persons Act, the unwritten law that gets powerful and well-connected people off the hook in every country.

They didn’t even go after Burg when he said that Israel’s long-standing policy of “nondisclosure (never confirm or deny that it has nukes) was “outdated and childish.” But even 10 years after Vanunu finished serving his long jail sentence, he is not allowed to leave Israel, go near any foreign embassy, airport or border crossing, or speak to any journalist or foreigner.

Vanunu defies the Israeli authorities and speaks to whomever he pleases, of course. But he really can’t get out of the country, though he desperately wants to leave, and his decision to live like a free man gives his watchers the pretext to yank his chain by arresting him whenever they feel like it.

The Israeli government’s excuse for all this is that he may still know secrets he might reveal, but that is nonsense. Vanunu hasn’t seen Dimona or talked to anybody in the Israeli nuclear weapons business for 30 years. What drives his tormentors is sheer vindictiveness, and he may well go on being punished for his defiance until he dies — while Avraham Burg lives out his life undisturbed and offers occasional pearls of wisdom to the public.

So here are the “secrets” that Vanunu and Burg revealed, in rather more detail than Burg chose to give and in a more up-to-date form than Vanunu could give from personal knowledge.

Israel has a minimum of 80 and a maximum of 400 nuclear weapons, those limits being based on calculations of the amount of fissile material that it has enriched to weapons grade. The best guess is that the total is around 200 warheads, most of them two-stage thermonuclear devices (hydrogen bombs).

At least some dozens are “tactical” weapons designed to be fired by 175 mm and 203 mm artillery pieces at ranges of 40 to 70 kilometres. The remainder are meant to be delivered by missiles or aircraft, and Israel maintains a full “triad” of delivery systems: land-based missiles, sea-launched missiles and aircraft.

The missiles are mostly Jericho II medium-range ballistic missiles, which can reach all of Europe and most of western Asia. Since 2008 Jericho III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) have also been entering service, with a range that would allow Israel to strike any inhabited point on the planet except some Pacific islands. Both can carry a one-megaton warhead.

Why such remarkably long ranges, when Israel’s avowed enemies are all relatively close to hand? One speculation is that this is meant to encourage caution in other nuclear states (Pakistan? North Korea?) that might at some future time be tempted to supply nuclear weapons to Israel’s near enemies.

The maritime leg of the triad is highly accurate cruise missiles that are launched from underwater by Israel’s German-built Dolphin-class submarines. These missiles constitute Israel’s “secure second-strike” capability, since it is extremely unlikely that even the most successful enemy surprise attack could locate and destroy the submarines. And finally, there are American-made F-15 and F-16 strike aircraft that can also carry nuclear bombs.

Israel probably tested its bomb in the southern Indian Ocean in 1979 in co-operation with apartheid South Africa, which was also developing nuclear weapons (subsequently dismantled) at that time. The test was carried out under cover of a storm to escape satellite surveillance, but a rift in the cloud cover revealed the characteristic double flash of a nuclear explosion to an American satellite, Vela 6911.

This was a violation of the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty, which forbids open-air nuclear tests, but the United States did not pursue the matter, presumably in order not to embarrass Israel.

The United States did not help Israel to develop nuclear weapons in the first place (France did that), and even now Washington does not really approve of Israel’s nukes, although it tolerates them in the interest of the broader alliance. But why, after all these years, does Israel still refuse to acknowledge that it has them?

The only plausible answer is: to avoid embarrassing the United States in ways that would make it restrict its arms exports to Israel. But realistically, how likely is that to happen? The U.S. Congress will ensure that Israel goes on getting all the money and arms it wants no matter what it says about its nukes, and it is high time to end this ridiculous dance around the truth.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.