father dave

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Saturday, July 2nd, 2016: It was again my privilege to be invited to speak at an Al Quds Day event, this time in the grounds of the Kingsgrove Mosque.

I was surprised to receive applause about half-way through my brief address and I wasn’t sure at first what prompted it. It was afterwards that a Palestinian man came up to me and said “you said what we needed to hear. You told us not to forget Palestine. We are afraid that the world is forgetting us”.

Indeed the man’s plea makes sense. When there is so much trouble at home and abroad to absorb our energies, it is easy to forget the ongoing trauma of the Palestinian Occupation. The longer it goes on the more we are tempted to normalise it! In truth, we must never forget Palestine!

Father Dave

The video below covers the first half of my address. Please see the transcript below for the complete version.


Al Quds Day 2016

As most of you would know, I returned not long ago from Syria – my fifth visit there in the last four years. One of the great tragedies of Syria (and there are many tragedies associated with that great land at the moment) is that the violence and injustice being visited upon the Syrian people is so extreme that it can easily absorb all of our time and emotional energy and so distract us from other tragedies in our world that also deserve our prayers and our attention.

It’s not only Syria, of course. When we think of the suffering of the people of Yemen, and also of Iraq and Libya and the suffering of so many of our sisters and brothers around the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and have no space in our hearts left for the people of Palestine. After all, there’s only so many people you can pray for at any one time!

I recognise in myself that I have fallen victim to this. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I am president of Friends of Sabeel, Australia – the Australian church’s attempt at Palestinian Liberation Theology. I am supposed to be a recognisable face in the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom, and yet I find the concerns of the Palestinian people have taken a back seat for me as my energies have been absorbed by other concerns that seem even more pressing!

The truth is that there is no more pressing need in our world than that of justice for the Palestinian people, for in truth, all these global tragedies we grieve are connected. As my friend, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal (former Bishop of Jerusalem, himself a Palestinian) said “the road to world peace goes through Jerusalem”.

I believe this is true. I don’t mean that if we solve the Palestinian issue that all the other pieces of the puzzle will suddenly, magically fall into place, but I do believe that unless we put an end to the abuse and discrimination and disenfranchisement experienced by the Palestinian people, these other issues we struggle with will never be solved!

This year has been another hard year for the Palestinian people and, as I say, it has been a difficult year for all of us whose hearts yearn for Palestine. The problem has been further exacerbated too lately by initiatives taken within the Islamic world to divide the ummah over their attitude to Israel.

The Saudis have made a number of statements in recent months that seem to endorse the Israeli government and would thus encourage Muslims everywhere to accept the Palestinian Occupation as normal!

I don’t know whether the long term effect of this will be more love for the Israeli government or more hatred for the house of Saud. I suspect the latter. Either way though, I am tempted to say “welcome to the club”. The Christian community has been similarly afflicted for many years by prominent voices urging the faithful around the world to turn a blind eye to the abuse of the Palestinian people!

The other things I say is “thank God or Al Quds Day!”, and I mean that. In spite of the clamour of voices urging us to forget Palestine – voices coming through the media, through our political leaders, and (as I say) even from within the ranks of the faithful, on Al Quds Day we cannot forget Palestine!

The suffering of the Palestinian people is real and it is ongoing, and it cries out to Heaven for redress! God knows that the barriers to justice and freedom seem as intractable now as they ever have been, if not more intractable! Even so, we must do what we can and we must not give up! We must pray, and we must speak out, and we must take action wherever we can to uphold the dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people.

We may fear that our efforts will never amount to much. Even so, I am always encouraged in this regard by the comparison Jesus made between the Kingdom of Heaven and the yeast that’s sprinkled into dough to make bread.

Jesus told them still another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.” (Matthew 13:33)

The yeast seems insignificant when mixed in with the dough, and it is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the lump. Even so, we know full well that when the time comes, these small flakes of yeast become the agents of extraordinary transformation! This is our hope too – that even though our collective effort seems small, that God will work through us and through all who remember Palestine today to bring about extraordinary and genuine transformation.

Thank God for Al Quds Day. Thank God for the ongoing strength and resilience of the people of Palestine. Thank God for the privilege of being able to participate in the process of transformation towards justice and peace.

with my friend, Husain Dirani, on Al Quds Day

with my friend, Husain Dirani, on Al Quds Day

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The latest round of violence in Israel/Palestine is sickening. The Australian media coverage of that violence is also sickening.

The news reader reports “seven Israeli’s have now been stabbed by Palestinians”! She then adds (almost as a parenthesis) that “forty Palestinians have also been killed, including several of the attackers”.

Why are the facts always presented this way, as if Israeli lives matter more than Palestinian lives? Given that there were more than five times as many Palestinians than Israelis killed, why aren’t we told first that 40 Palestinians have been killed – the vast majority of whom were apparently not involved in attacking anyone when they were killed.

I appreciate that this is a very small point made with reference to a very small news segment, and yet this was the ABC – Australia’s government-owned national broadcaster!

I have a friend who works for the same broadcaster and she told me last year that ABC presenters were no longer allowed to use the word “Occupied Territories” when referring to the Palestinian West Bank. They now have to say “disputed territories”.

This may again seem like a very small point, and yet this is our government trying to control what we say in order to control what we think, and we simply should not have to tolerate this form of politically-inspired thought control!

The death of Israa Abed

israa abed

For me nothing sums up the current spate of violence more succinctly than this leaked video of the death of Israa Abed. Be warned that even though you don’t see any of the gory details of her death it is nonetheless gut-wrenchingly difficult to watch.

According to the Times of IsraelIsraa Abed was a would-be assassin. According to the Jerusalem Post, she was a ‘female terrorist’. According to both reports she was brandishing a knife and told to put it on the ground before being shot by IDF soldiers.

No knife can be seen in this video. What we see is a girl with her hands in the air. Certainly, even if she’d been carrying a large machete, she would have posed no threat at all to the ten heavily armed soldiers who surrounded her.

Other reports say she was refusing to take off her hijab when she was shot. Her father and her brother (both of whom were arrested after the shooting of Israa) said that she suffered from mental illness. Perhaps that explains why she didn’t remove her clothing when ordered to do so, or perhaps she was just scared?

Israa was 28 and the mother of two children. I’m guessing that she was one of the ‘several attackers’ mentioned in the news report who were amongst the 40 killed. I wonder what the others did that warranted their execution.

Father Dave

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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!

For one thing, the United Church of Christ displayed great moral courage at the very point where the Episcopalians failed. They voted to get behind the BDS!

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”.

Father Dave

Archbishop Attallah Hanna

Archbishop Attallah Hanna

source: abouna.org…

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.”

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Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

In the name of God –merciful and compassionate (bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm), and with respect to the traditional custodians of this land (the Gadigal people):

Jesus weeps for the people of Gaza and yet the so-called Christian leaders of our world say nothing! Mr Obama, Mr Abbott – you claim allegiance to Christ above all others. Christ is standing on the beaches of Gaza, grieving with the mothers of dead Palestinian children and yet you say nothing!

Martin Luther King said that the greatest tragedy that history would record would not be “the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” I do not know if our great ‘Christian’ leaders are good people but I do recognise that their silence is appalling!

Since 2005 the population of Gaza have been subjected to what Israeli historian Ilan Pappé refers to as ‘incremental genocide’. They have been sealed off from the outside world since then and every item of food, medicine and clothing going into Gaza is subject to the discretion of the Israeli military, while farmers and fishermen are prevented from accessing land and sea.

For nine years the people of Gaza have endured deprivation and a virtual imprisonment, and now (once again) they are being killed in their homes! The wailing of the mothers of Gaza echoes across the oceans and cries out to Heaven for redress, but in Washington and in Canberra there is silence!

I look to the Muslim political leaders of our world – Prime Minister Erdogan (the Ottoman protector), the proud princes of the house of Saud, General Sisi of Egypt. I hear words of concern but I do not understand why there is so little in the way of tangible action! Why aren’t any of these great powers stepping in to defend the people of Gaza?

Sisters and brothers, it is up to us! Even if the great powers of our world chose silence over integrity we will not remain silent. We will not stay quiet in the face this violence – the injustice and oppression of our Palestinian sisters and brothers. We will NOT sit down and shut up – not so long as this reign of death and terror continues!

Even if our political leaders are too corrupt and comprised to take any real initiative, we – ordinary people from Sydney, Australia, and from around the world – can be the leading edge of real change!

We ordinary people – Christians, Muslims and Jews, Sunni and Shia, people of all faiths and people of no faith – can bring about real change BUT we must act together!

These architects of the destruction of Palestine are powerful and they are united. Their narrative is well rehearsed, their propaganda is sophisticated, they are well financed and powerful and they speak with one voice! If we are going to stand against them we too must be united.

Muslims and Christians and Jews – all of us who stand with the suffering people of Gaza – we must stand together, and we must stand together not because there are no differences between us. There are profound differences between us but we must stand together because our Palestinian sisters and brothers are worth it!

The great Latin American Bishop, Dom Helder Camara, said “when one man dreams it is just a dream but when we all dream together it is the beginning of a new reality”. Let us together dream a dream of Palestine. Let us together dream of a world where mothers will never again have to wail as they watch their children slaughtered as they play.

Let us dream together in faith, and commit ourselves to the building of that new reality, believing that under God all things are possible – knowing that justice can come and that justice will come enshallah, enshallah!

speech delivered by Father Dave at the Sydney Gaza Rally, Sydney Town Hall, July 20th 2014

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It’s disappointing that Pope Francis has had to put on record that his visit to Palestine and Israel next week (in that order) is for religious purposes only – disappointing but totally understandable.

In point of fact religion and politics can never be easily separated. Politics is about people, and so you can no more separate religion and politics than you can religion and people, and there is no doubt that Francis’ visit has the potential to have an enormous impact on the political situation across the Levant.

Even so, Francis is not being dishonest. As he spells out, his primary goal is meet with his ‘brother’, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. What could be more religious than healing a one thousand year old schism in the church. Of course, renewed fellowship between the Catholic and Orthodox wings of the church will have ramifications that touch every level of society but that doesn’t make the meeting any less religious!

The same can be said of the priority Francis has given to Palestine over Israel in his itinerary (see here). Is the fact that he is going straight to Bethlehem from Jordan and not going via Jerusalem (let alone Tel Aviv) a de facto recognition of the State of Palestine on the part of the Vatican?

Certainly many will see it that way, and many Palestinians will gain new strength and hope from such recognition, but it is hard to accept that Francis is doing anything more than his religious duty in dispensing comfort and hope. 🙂

Father Dave


TEXT IN ENGLISH:

“This upcoming Saturday, I will travel to the Holy Land, the land of Jesus. It will be a strictly religious visit. 
 
“First, I will meet with my brother Bartholomew I, to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Paul VI and Athenagoras I. Peter and Andrew will meet once again, and that is very beautiful.
 
“The second reason is to pray for peace in this land that has suffered greatly. I ask you for your prayers for this trip.”