There have been some very encouraging signs in the church of late regarding the Palestinian search for justice. If we can put to one side the epic failure of the US Episcopal church to get behind the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS), it seems that there is nonetheless a shift worldwide in Christian consciousness towards Israel and Palestine!
Even more encouraging is the initiative being taken by the Pope, taking the lead for millions of Catholics around the world in recognising the state of Palestine and insisting that no one race or religion has exclusive rights to the Holy Land.
Evidently this stance has come at no small cost. Apparently the Sanhedrin is going to put him on trial unless he renounces his apostasy! Yes, you heard right – the Sanhedrin (or at least some self-appointed group calling themselves the Sanhedrin). Surely it would only be self-defeating for any such body to try to do to such a church leader what was done to her founder!
Regardless of what happens to Pope Francis, this new shift of Christian consciousness is greater even than he, and perhaps the most encouraging signs are those coming from within the Holy Land itself!
Archbishop Attallah Hanna is Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in Israel/Palestine. As a Palestinian he has had to endure the Israeli Occupation for all his adult life, but now he has to face an additional new threat – that of ISIS, who are threatening all kinds of violence towards Christians as a part of their promised ‘liberation’ of Palestine.
The Archbishop’s response is a courageous one. He refuses to abandon either the land or the Palestinian cause, and he refuses to distance the Christian community from their Muslim sisters and brothers with whom they share their land. Moreover, he refuses to give in to hate, saying “our Christian dictionary does not include the language of vengeance, hatred and rancor”.
New pamphlet by “Jerusalem ISIS” issued; Archbishop Attallah Hanna reacts
A few days following the issuance of its first pamphlet, the so called “Emirate of Beit Al Maqdis” (Emirate of Jerusalem) issued its second pamphlet on Monday, June 29 in the Beit Hanina area, north of Jerusalem, pledging to expel Christians from the areas mentioned in the first pamphlet, “except those who espouse Islam.”
For its part, a local Palestinian agency noted that “the citizens believe that such statements are produced by the Israeli occupation intelligence. They assert that they do not believe their vallidity, where neither the Palestinian National Authority nor the Palestine Liberation Organization nor even the Palestinian factions did react to these statements on the view that they do not deserve any reaction or be given any attention since they are tendentious and suspicious being designed to bring discord and division.”
The extremist group threatened on Thursday, June 25, to slaughter the Christians living in Jerusalem, if they do not leave the city before Eid Al Fitr (the feast marking the end of the month of Ramadan). The areas that would be “cleared” of Christians were identified as “Beit Hanina and Shu’fat, up to the remaining quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.”
Commenting on the pamphlet, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that “the pamphlet was distributed in areas controlled by Israel.” He alluded, in an exclusive interview with “Al Arabia” channel, to the possibility of having a suspicious relationship between Al-Nusra Front, that is fighting in Syria, and Israel. He said: “When we learn that members of this group are being treated in Israel, how can this situation be comprehended?”
Greek Orthodox Bishop of Sebastia Attallah Hanna said:”To all those who classify themselves as ISIS, we would like to tell them that we will stay in Jerusalem and in Palestine. We will continue to be the genuine children of this Holy Land, Muslims and Christians, and we will not leave our Holy Land under any pressure or blackmail, at any price.” He expected that ”these malignant and suspicious statements, aimed at our Palestinian people and rejected categorically, would not stop.”
He continued, “I ask those who issue such statements to stop the sedition and abandon their evil deeds. Do believe in God and in every human being created by God, whether Muslim or Christian.” He added: “Do repent and restore reason, for what you are undertaking is a heinous crime against your religion in the first place and secondly against your Jerusalem and homeland.” He called on them to realize the fact that “your words will only consolidate our steadfastness and increase our mutual cordiality and brotherhood.”
Bishop Atallah pointed out that “Christians are advocates of peace, love and brotherhood in this land. They, as well as their Muslim brethren, will not give up their values, morals and principles. If this statement, as is the case with other suspicious statements, is designed to erect a separation wall between Muslims and Christians in this land, we tell them that our religions are not walls that separate human beings from their brethren, but they rather set up bridges of love and brotherhood.”
The Orthodox bishop continued, “these racist ideas are doomed to dissipate because they are based on falsehood. We do not wish evil on you, but we plead the Lord to brighten your hearts and minds, so that you may repent and come back to reason.”
He concluded by saying that “our Christian dictionary does not include the language of vengeance, hatred and rancor. Our Teacher (Lord Jesus Christ) urges us to wish sinners repentance and forgiveness.”