What follows is another excellent essay from my friend Franklin Lamb, detailing why ISIS is proving so seductive for Palestinians. Fundamentally, it seems to be the only show in town!
The allure of ISIS is the flip-side of the failure of the current Palestinian leadership to deliver. Both Fatah and Hamas seem to be equally riddled with corruption and compromise. To whom else are the Palestinians to turn?
Of course ISIS don’t really give a damn about the Palestinians. That was amply illustrated by their response to Israel’s last brutal assault on Gaza. What did ISIS do in response? Nothing! They didn’t even offer a word of criticism! Why? Because they hate the Muslim Brotherhood (ie. Hamas) more than they care about the Palestinian people. It is equally well-illustrated by ISIS more recent butchering of the Palestinians of Yarmouk in Syria.
I don’t expect to see ISIS boots on the ground in Palestine any time soon. Their goal is purely to win the PR campaign over their competitors, which only serves to highlight the need for a credible alternative – one that is genuinely committed to the needs of the Palestinian people.
If ISIS Doesn’t Liberate Palestine… Who Will?
Ein el Helwe Palestinian camp, Lebanon.
This is one of the questions ricocheting between Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon, posed also by ISIS (Da’ish) operatives, as the hot summer months and plummeting quality of existence raise tensions in the refugee camps and social gatherings.
With its resilience, on-the-ground “achievements”, adaptability, global franchising, copy-cat knock-offs, chameleon-like adaptations, combinations and permutations, and slick honing of medium and message, ISIS is offering oppressed and desperate populations in this region both hope and fantasy for escaping their deepening misery The dream is to escape abject poverty and indignity by any means necessary, and joining ISIS or other like-minded cash-flush groups, which seem to appear out of thin air these days, is the most promising way to do it.
Some people in Lebanon and Syria are wondering why it took ISIS so long to present a detailed plan to Palestinian refugees to liberate their country, now in its 67th year of brutal Zionist occupation. This subjugation has has created an Apartheid state that, according to South African leader Bishop Desmond Tutu and others, exceeds even the crimes of the Afrikaner National Party. And like the Israelis, the ANP also began their racist occupation of a majority-indigenous “less civilized” population in 1948. South African apartheid ended in 1994, but in Palestine it continues to metastasize. ISIS representatives in the camps are pledging to destroy the Zionist occupation and boast about opening up Palestine to Full Return within two years.
Who is listening to Da’ish (ISIS)?
In the early days of the crisis in Syria, many Palestinians fleeing to Lebanon quickly returned to whatever fate held back in Syria after they saw the conditions in Lebanon’s camps. But as the fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces intensified in Damascus, they became trapped in the camps. Alongside their fellow Palestinians in Lebanon, these new refugees sank ever more deeply into dire poverty.
During recent discussions with a sampling of refugees from several camps in Lebanon and Syria, it’s not surprising that the main part of the conversation quickly moves to subjects long familiar to those of us who have lived among Palestinians in this region. The list of grievances is ever-expanding and ISIS supporters and recruiters take advantage of this in order to round up recruits and sympathizers to join their growing ranks.
These grievances include frustration and anger over the perceived pervasive corruption among political and religious “leaders” who basically speak gibberish while urging patience for the next life, or promise the fruits of countless ‘dialogue’ sessions among sworn political enemies that to date have achieved absolutely nothing to help those most in need. Lebanon’s Parliament has recently ruled against the right to work and home ownership, and this now ranks near the top of any list of refugee grievances. One could also add: severe camp overcrowding, lack of hygienic infrastructures, declining health care, rising illnesses among children due to respiratory diseases and more than a dozen easily preventable communicable illnesses, shortages of medicines, drugs and drug gang violence, increasing tension and gun battles among militia (this is almost weekly – most recently in the Ein el Helwe camp in Saida and this week, in the infamous Shatila camp), domestic violence, petty crime, increase in school dropout rates, and the almost total inability of UNWRA to fulfill its mandate. Typical of the latter, is the closure of some 700 schools in Gaza, which will impact UNRWA’s work in Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank, and Syria. There are also worries here that some UNWRA schools, even those now operating on two shifts, may soon close in Lebanon and Syria.
One of the most urgent crises in Lebanon’s camps is the fact that the few remaining Palestinian hospitals are also nearing collapse, particularly Haifa Hospital in South Beirut’s Burj al Barajneh camp.. The two main Palestine Red Crescent Hospitals, Gaza and Akka, closed decades ago. These problems are just a sampling of what life has become for Palestinians currently living in Lebanon, and for almost 50,000 more that have come from Syria and are still stuck here.
Da’ish – ISIS – has started to capitalize on these problems, as pressures mount under the long hot summer days and adequate water and electricity becomes ever more scarce. Some camp residents speculate about what kind of ‘explosion’ will happen during or after Ramadan begins…
What is Da’ish (ISIS) offering Palestinians?
First and foremost, Da’ish pledges Full Return for the nearly 12 million Palestinian refugees scattered around the world. Approximately 6.4 million Palestinians had their homes and lands occupied in 1948 (55% of the total population), 4.5 million now live outside historic Palestine, and some 18 million live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Da’ish is also offering an alternative to the half-century of fake “peace processes” and an alternative what increasing numbers of refugees claim is the quisling position of the current PLO leadership.
Understandably, jihadist appeals are finding an audience. The reason for this was best expressed recently by Dr. Mohsen Saleh, of the Zaytona Center in Beirut: “The refugee issue is the core of the Palestinian issue… the issue of a people who were uprooted from the land in which they lived for thousands of years. These people existed before the Israelites came to Palestine, and were present during their existence in Palestine and after they were gone. The Zionist project could only materialize after destroying the social fabric of these people, destroying more than 400 (531 villages: Ed.) of their villages and cities, confiscating most of their land, and usurping their properties, buildings, factories, and endowments.”
On 29/10/2013, the London-based al-Hayat newspaper published a report, based on Zionist sources, documenting that the Palestinian ‘negotiating team’ had given its Israeli counterpart a “position paper” on the core issues of the conflict. Eyewitness accounts claim that the Palestinian team actually offered to waive the right of return for Palestine refugees to their land, stolen in 1948. The Palestinian ‘negotiating team’ would give the refugees several choices: return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, accept cash reparations, move to a third country, or stay put in one of the 59 camps and three dozen settlements.
On 8/23/2013, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking to an Israeli delegation from the Meretz Party that visited him in Ramallah, reassured and guaranteed the Israelis that the PLO will not ask to return to Jaffa, Acre (on a clear day visible from villages, including Maron al Ras, in South Lebanon) and Safad (home for one third of the 1948 Nakba refugees who were forced to leave to Syria and Lebanon).
ISIS is making plain to all who will listen that they reject this ‘sellout position’ and that every Palestinian on this planet has the inalienable right of Full Return. This right can never be ceded by any leader and the Zionist regime which has put colonials from the West on their land has no right to even one grain of Palestinian soil.
There is fierce competition between Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS to woo Palestinians. Both groups vow that soon “the Zionist invaders will experience Allah’s wrath until they have been destroyed and Palestine is liberated.”
Meanwhile, Anthony Glees, Director of the Center for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, is warning that Zionists will be among the jihadis’ main targets in the coming days.. Daesh spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani predicts that Ramadan will be a “calamity for kuffars.”
Peter Neumann, director of International Center for the Study of the Radicalization and Political Violence at King’s College London claimed this week that Jewish institutions in Europe and in Occupied Palestine will also pay the price for the growing battle for influence between Al Qaeda (al Nusra) and ISIS.
Jobs for all who need them?
Young, fit Palestinians are at last being offered a job in a country where they are forbidden by law to work or own a home. Da’ish is reportedly paying an average of $300 a month, promising two and sometimes three days off each week to visit one’s family, cash bonuses for marriage and one-time child subsidies of $400 per child. Subsidies for food of $70 a month are also being offered, in the face of the fact that UNWRA has just reduced monthly cash for food stipends to a mere $30 per month. One can imagine what some of the camp residents are thinking: which horse is the best bet for an improved life and for full return to our own country?
Based on conversations with recently-arrived Palestinian refugees from Syria, as well as old friends in Lebanon’s camps, this observer is confident that today only a small percentage of Palestinians are responding to the siren-call of ISIS.
Franklin Lamb’s most recent book, Syria’s Endangered Heritage, An international Responsibility to Protect and Preserve is in production by Orontes River Publishing, Hama, Syrian Arab Republic. Inquires c/o firstname.lastname@example.org…. The author is reachable c/o email@example.com…
Brother Uri is an old man now and it must break his heart to see how the hopes he once had for Israel as a secular and democratic state have been shattered. Moreover, what Avnery has witnessed in his lifetime is a broad degeneration in Israeli society that now manifests itself in callous unconcern for the suffering of Arabs and which repudiates the very ideals upon which the state was supposedly founded!
I appreciate that it is always easier to highlight the shortcomings of a community that is not your own, and God knows that Australian society has a lot to answer for. Even so, the social malaise that Avnery highlights here is a deep sickness from which there may be no recovery.
BOMBS ARE raining on Gaza and rockets on Southern Israel, people are dying and homes are being destroyed.
Again without any purpose. Again with the certainty that after it’s all over, everything will essentially be the same as it was before.
But I can hardly hear the sirens which warn of rockets coming towards Tel Aviv. I cannot take my mind off the awful thing that happened in Jerusalem.
IF A gang of neo-Nazis had kidnapped a 16-year old boy in a London Jewish neighborhood in the dark of the night, driven him to Hyde Park, beaten him up, poured gasoline into his mouth, doused him all over and set him on fire – what would have happened?
Wouldn’t the UK have exploded in a storm of anger and disgust?
Wouldn’t the Queen have expressed her outrage?
Wouldn’t the Prime Minister have rushed to the home of the bereaved family to apologize on behalf of the entire nation?
Wouldn’t the leadership of the neo-Nazis, their active supporters and brain-washers be indicted and condemned?
Perhaps in the UK. Perhaps in Germany.
THIS ABOMINABLE atrocity took place in Jerusalem. A Palestinian boy was abducted and burned alive. No racist crime in Israel ever came close to it.
Burning people alive is an abomination everywhere. In a state that claims to be “Jewish”, it is even worse.
In Jewish history, only one chapter comes close to the Holocaust: the Spanish inquisition. This Catholic institution tortured Jews and burned them alive at the stake. Later, this happened sometimes in the Russian pogroms. Even the most fanatical enemy of Israel could not imagine such an awful thing happening in Israel. Until now.
Under Israeli law, East Jerusalem is not occupied territory. It is a part of sovereign Israel.
THE CHAIN of events was as follows:
Two Palestinians, apparently acting alone, kidnapped three Israeli teenagers who were trying to hitchhike at night from a settlement near Hebron. The objective was probably to use them as hostages for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
The action went awry when one of the three succeeded in calling the Israeli police emergency number from his mobile phone. The kidnappers, assuming that the police would soon be on their tracks, panicked and shot the three at once. They dumped the bodies in a field and fled. (Actually the police bungled things and only started their hunt the next morning.)
All of Israel was in an uproar. Many thousands of soldiers were employed for three weeks in the search for the three youngsters, combing thousands of buildings, caves and fields.
The public uproar was surely justified. But it soon degenerated into an orgy of racist incitement, which intensified from day to day. Newspapers, radio stations and TV networks competed with each other in unabashed racist diatribes, repeating the official line ad nauseam and adding their own nauseous commentary – every day, around the clock.
The security services of the Palestinian Authority, which collaborated throughout with the Israeli security services, played a major role in discovering early on the identity of the two kidnappers (identified but not yet caught). Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, stood up in a meeting of the Arab countries and condemned the kidnapping unequivocally and was branded by many of his own people as an Arab Quisling. Israeli leaders, on the other hand, called him a hypocrite.
Israel’s leading politicians let loose a salvo of utterances which would be seen anywhere else as outright fascist. A short selection:
Danny Danon, deputy Minister of Defense: “If a Russian boy had been kidnapped, Putin would have flattened village after village!”
“Jewish Home” faction leader Ayala Shaked: “With a people whose heroes are child murderers we must deal accordingly.” (“Jewish Home” is a part of the government coalition.)
Noam Perl, world chairman of Bnei Akiva, the youth movement of the settlers: “An entire nation and thousands of years of history demand: Revenge!”
Uri Bank, former secretary of Uri Ariel, Housing Minister and builder of the settlements: “This is the right moment . When our children are hurt, we go berserk, no limits, dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, annexation of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), execution of all prisoners who have been condemned for murder, exile of family members of terrorists!”
And Binyamin Netanyahu himself, speaking about the entire Palestinian people: “They are not like us. We sanctify life, they sanctify death!”
When the bodies of the three were found by tourist guides, the chorus of hatred reached a new crescendo. Soldiers posted tens of thousands of messages on the internet calling for “revenge”, politicians egged them on, the media added fuel, lynch mobs gathered in many places in Jerusalem to hunt Arab workers and rough them up.
Except for a few lonely voices, it seemed that all Israel had turned into a soccer mob, shouting “Death to the Arabs!”
Can anyone even imagine a present-day European or American crowd shouting “Death to the Jews?”
THE SIX arrested until now for the bestial murder of the Arab boy had come straight from one of these “Death to the Arabs” demonstrations.
First they had tried to kidnap a 9-year old boy in the same Arab neighborhood, Shuafat. One of them caught the boy in the street and dragged him towards their car, choking him at the same time. Luckily, the child succeeded in shouting “Mama!” and his mother started hitting the kidnapper with her cell phone. He panicked and ran off. The choking marks on the boy’s neck could be seen for several days.
The next day the group returned, caught Muhammad Abu-Khdeir, a cheerful 16-year old boy with an engaging smile, poured gasoline in his mouth and burned him to death.
(As if this was not enough, Border Policemen caught his cousin during a protest demonstration, handcuffed him, threw him on the ground and started kicking his head and face. His wounds look terrible. The disfigured boy was arrested, the policemen were not.)
THE ATROCIOUS way Muhammad was murdered was not mentioned at first. The fact was disclosed by an Arab pathologist who was present at the official autopsy. Most Israeli newspapers mentioned the fact in a few words on an inner page. Most TV newscasts did not mention the fact at all.
In Israel proper, Arab citizens rose up as they have not done in many years. Violent demonstrations throughout the country lasted for several days. At the same time, the Gaza Strip frontline exploded in a new orgy of rockets and aerial bombings in a new mini-war which already has a name: “Solid Cliff”. (The army’s propaganda section has invented another name in English.) The new Egyptian dictatorship is collaborating with the Israeli army in choking the Strip.
THE NAMES of the six suspects of the murder-by-fire – several of whom have already confessed to the appalling deed – are still being withheld. But unofficial reports say that they belong to the Orthodox community. Apparently this community, traditionally anti-Zionist and moderate, has now spawned neo-Nazi offspring, which surpass even their religious-Zionist competitors.
Yet terrible as the deed itself is, to my mind the public reaction is even worse. Because there isn’t any.
True, a few sporadic voices have been heard. Many more ordinary people have voiced their disgust in private conversations. But the deafening moral outrage one could have expected did not materialize.
Everything was done to minimize the “incident”, prevent its publication abroad and even inside Israel. Life went on as usual. A few government leaders and other politicians condemned the deed in routine phrases, for consumption abroad. The soccer world cup contest elicited far more interest. Even on the Left, the atrocity was treated as just another item among the many misdeeds of the occupation.
Where is the outcry, the moral uprising of the nation, the unanimous decision to stamp out the racism that makes such atrocities possible?
THE NEW flare-up in and around the Gaza Strip has obliterated the atrocity altogether.
Sirens sound in Jerusalem and in towns north of Tel-Aviv. The missiles aimed at Israeli population centers have successfully (up to now) been intercepted by counter-missiles. But hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are running to the shelters. On the other side, hundreds of daily sorties of the Israeli Air Force turn life in the Gaza Strip into hell.
WHEN THE cannon roar, the muses fall silent.
Also the pity for a boy burnt to death.
read more of Uri Avnery’s writings on the Gush Shalom website
What exactly was going on outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Easter Sunday? I’m not sure. Even so, I know some of the signatories to this declaration, and I know that they are not brash or inflammatory people. Further, this list seems comprehensive! It seems that all the Christian leaders of Jerusalem are united over this!
It would appear that the Israeli government is trying to make life in the ‘Holy Land’ as uncomfortable as possible for Christians. This makes sense in terms of the goal of maintaining Israel as a Jewish state. The problem is that such actions potentially do enormous damage to the country’s traditional religious support base – American Evangelical Christians!
A Statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches inJerusalem, concerning the Israeli police measures on Holy Saturday- May 2013
We, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, watched withsorrowful hearts the horrific scenes of the brutal treatment of our clergy,people, and pilgrims in the Old City of Jerusalem during Holy Saturday lastweek. A day of joy and celebration was turned to great sorrow and pain for someof our faithful because they were ill-treated by some Israeli policemen whowere present around the gates of the Old City and passages that lead to theHoly Sepulcher.
We understand the necessity and the importance of thepresence of security forces to ensure order and stability, and for organizingthe celebration of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Resurrection. Yet, it isnot acceptable that under pretext of security and order, our clergy and peopleare indiscriminately and brutally beaten, and prevented from entering theirchurches, monasteries and convents.
We urge the Israeli authorities especially the Ministry ofInterior and the police department in Jerusalem, to seriously consider ourcomplaints, to hold responsibility and to condemn all acts of violence againstour faithful and the clergy who were ill-treated by the police. We deplore thatevery year, the police measures are becoming tougher, and we expect that theseaccidents will not be repeated and the police should be more sensitive andrespectful if they seek to protect and serve.
We also denounce all those who are blaming the churches and holdingthem responsible of the Israeli measures during Holy Week celebrations. On thecontrary, the Heads of churches in Jerusalem condemn all of these measures andviolations of Christians’ rights to worship in their churches and Holy Sites.Therefore, we condemn all measures of closing the Old City and urge the Israeliauthorities to allow full access to the Holy sites during Holy Week of bothChurch Calendars.
The Heads of Churches of Jerusalem
- +Patriarch Theophilos III, GreekOrthodox Patriarchate
- +Patriarch Fouad Twal, LatinPatriarchate
- +Patriarch Norhan Manougian,Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate
- +Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm,Custos of the Holy Land
- +Archbishop Anba Abraham, CopticOrthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
- +Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad,Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
- +Aba Fissiha Tsion, Locum Tenensof the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
- +Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey,Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate
- +Archbishop Moussa El-Hage,Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
- +Bishop Suheil Dawani, EpiscopalChurch of Jerusalem and the Middle East
- +Bishop Munib Younan, EvangelicalLutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
- +Bishop Pierre Melki, SyrianCatholic Patriarchal Exarchate
- +Msgr. Joseph Antoine Kelekian,Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
Australian Catholic Bishop Pat Power prepared the following paper for the ‘International Conference on Jerusalem’ that was held in Doha, Qatar, in late February 2012. Unfortunately the paper was not discussed.
My personal thanks go out to Bishop Power for allowing his excellent paper to be published in this blog.
Bishop Pat Power (pic taken from Catholic News)
Perspective of an Australian Catholic Bishop
Doha, Qatar. 26-27 February 2012
My father was of Irish descent and my mother’s parents (Abukhalil) migrated from Lebanon to Australia in the 1890s. I am proud of my ancestry but painfully aware of many of the cultural and religious conflicts in both Ireland and Lebanon; at the same time I am heartened by the restoration of peace in both nations in recent times. One of my hopes when made a bishop over 25 years ago was to do what I could to be a bridge-builder and a peace- maker both within my own Church and in the wider community.
Visiting the Holy Land as a pilgrim in 1973 and again in 1988, I was deeply disturbed by what I observed as the harsh treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli authorities. I recognise that there is fault on both sides but there is also a great imbalance of power. On my 1988 visit I witnessed fighter jets, helicopter gunships, armoured tanks and a menacing military presence on the streets, and at one point was confronted with tear gas in Jerusalem.
I deplore any form of violence, but while the Australian/Western media make much of occasional outbreaks by desperate Palestinians, it is rarely acknowledged that in the overall conflict, Palestinian casualties outnumber those of the Israelis by about ten to one.
The increasing number of illegal Israeli settlements resulting from the unjust confiscation of Palestinian homes and land by Israelis is another example of criminal behaviour which the international community, including the United States of America seemingly condones.
In my time as bishop, I have done what I can in Canberra and more widely through the media to other parts of Australia to protest against the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinian people. I welcome participation at this conference as an opportunity to be better informed on the issues and to make whatever contribution I can to peace in the Holy Land.
The Kairos Palestine Document. A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering.
This incisive document was issued on 11 December 2009 and is available in a number of languages at www.kairospalestine.ps
It represents a heartfelt cry from Palestinian Christians “from within the suffering of our country, under the Israeli occupation, with a cry of hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God’s divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land…..We address ourselves to our brothers and sisters, members of our Churches in this land. We call out as Christians and as Palestinians to our religious and political leaders, to our Palestinian society and to the Israeli society, to the international community and to our Christian brothers and sisters in the Churches around the world.”
I view my participation in this conference as in some small part responding to this moving appeal.
The Palestinian Christians see Jerusalem as central to their struggle: “Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace. Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt. Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights organisations, the injustice continues.”
As the Kairos Palestine Document reaches its conclusion it raises hopes which I am sure are on the hearts of us all at this conference. “Jerusalem is the foundation of our vision and our entire life. She is the city to which God gave a particular importance in the history of humanity. She is the city towards which all people are in movement – and where they will meet in friendship and love in the presence of the One Unique God according to the vision of the prophet Isaiah: ‘In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. He shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares , and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’(Isaiah 2,2-5).Today, the city is inhabited by two peoples of three religions; and it is on this prophetic vision and on the international resolutions concerning the totality of Jerusalem that any political solution must be based. This is the first issue that should be negotiated because the recognition of Jerusalem’s sanctity and message will be a source of inspiration towards finding a solution to the entire problem, which is largely a problem of mutual trust and ability to set in place a new land in this land of God.”
The National Council of Churches in Australia meeting in Canberra in July 2010 responded to the Kairos Document adding its voice “to Christian voices throughout the world calling for an early end to the occupation of Palestine through a freely and peacefully negotiated solution in accordance with international law and United Nations resolutions.”
I am aware that historically conflicts between Muslims , Jews and Christians have caused untold loss of life and property and given rise to much hatred and suspicion. But I also believe that these three great faiths which all recognise Abraham as their father in faith are able to draw on the best of their traditions to find solutions which recognise the rights of all the people involved. In publicly opposing the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I asked the question “Is an Iraqi life of any less value than an
American life, a British life or an Australian life?” I ask this conference “Is every life in Jerusalem of unique value and is every human right to be strenuously defended? What practical proposals are we able to offer the international community in the quest for peace in Jerusalem and the Holy Land?”
Statement by Australian Church Leaders, Bethlehem 18 December 2007
This delegation of nine people from a broad spectrum of Christian Churches reported after widely travelling and consulting in Jerusalem and throughout the Holy Land. What follows is the substance of their report.
“We were distressed to hear Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, relate the suffering and fear experienced daily by large numbers of their people. We saw and heard evidence of systematic harassment, physical and psychological oppression, widespread unemployment, poverty, and economic deprivation, resulting directly or indirectly from Israeli military occupation of the West Bank. Their suffering compels us to respond, and we assure Palestinians of our compassion and concern.
“We visited Yad Vashem and laid a wreath in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. We heard of Israeli grief and pain resulting from violent attacks and continuing fear of terrorist activity. We condemn all acts of terrorism and assure Israelis of our compassion and concern.
“We recognise the complex nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We strongly affirm the right of both Israel and Palestine to political autonomy, security and self-determination. We join with a large majority of the people of Palestine and Israel in longing for a just and lasting peace. We understand the reluctance to make concessions or to trust those who are the source of fear and oppression, but the time for courageous and inspiring leadership has come.
“In the light of what we have seen and heard during this visit, we support actions to enable Israel and Palestine to negotiate just outcomes on borders, settlements, water, refugees, prisoners, Jerusalem and security.
“We are particularly concerned by the imprisonment of teenagers, mothers with dependent children, and those detained without trial for long periods. We encountered the debilitating effects on the Palestinian economy and impacts on daily life of the segregated road system, the proliferation of checkpoints and road blocks throughout the West Bank, restriction on movement of people and goods, and the effective isolation of Palestinian communities from one another. We were repeatedly told that these matters stand in the way of a just peace.”
These observations are consistent with what I understand about the situation in Israel and Palestine.
Statements of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI
The Holy See (Vatican) has consistently supported the notion of Jerusalem being a city shared by Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Jews and Christians. The Vatican entered into diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994 and in January 1996, Pope John Paul II welcomed the Representative of the Palestinian People to the meeting with the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. At this meeting the Pope spoke of the need for a just and adequate solution to be found for the problem of Jerusalem. “The religious and universal dimension of the Holy City demands a commitment on the part of the whole international community, in order to ensure that the City preserves its uniqueness and retains its living character. The Holy Places, dear to the three monotheistic religions , are of course important for believers, but they would lose much of their significance if they were not permanently surrounded by active communities of Jews, Christians and Muslims enjoying true freedom of conscience and religion, and developing their own religious, educational and social activities. The year 1996 should see the beginning of negotiations on the definitive status of the territories under the administration of the National Palestinian Authority, and also on the sensitive issue of the City of Jerusalem. It is my hope that the international community will offer the political partners most directly involved the juridical and diplomatic instruments capable of ensuring that Jerusalem, one and holy, may be truly a ‘crossroads of peace.’ “
At the outset of his visit to the Holy Land in March 2000, Pope John Paul expressed his hopes: “I pray that my visit will serve to encourage an increase of interreligious dialogue that will lead Jews, Christians and Muslims to seek in their respective beliefs, and in the universal brotherhood that unites all the members of the human family, the motivation and the perseverance to work for the peace and justice which the peoples of the Holy Land do not yet have and for which they yearn so deeply.”
At the January 2001 assembly of the Diplomatic Corps at the Vatican, Pope John Paul reflected on his visit to the Holy Land the previous year.” It is time to return to the principles of international legality: the banning of the acquisition of territory by force, the right of peoples to self-determination, respect for the resolutions of the United Nations Organization and the Geneva conventions, to quote only the most important. Otherwise, anything can happen: from unilateral rash initiatives to an extension of violence which will be difficult to control.”
Pope Benedict has continued along similar lines to his predecessor. He visited the Holy Land in May 2009. He spoke with sadness of the lack of peace in Jerusalem and throughout the Holy Land. “Even though Jerusalem means ‘city of peace’, it is all too evident that, for decades, peace has tragically eluded the inhabitants of this holy land. They eyes of the world are upon the peoples of this region as they struggle to achieve a just and lasting solution to conflicts that have caused so much suffering. The hopes of countless men, women and children for a more secure and stable future depend on the outcome of negotiations for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In union with people of good will everywhere, I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognised borders. In this regard, I hope that a greater climate of trust can soon be created that will enable the parties to make real progress along the road to peace and stability.”
At the beginning of 2010, Pope Benedict again spoke strongly about the Holy Land, making a number of points:
- The right of the State of Israel to exist and to enjoy peace and security within internationally recognised borders.
- The right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign and independent homeland, to live in dignity and to enjoy freedom of movement.
- The protection of the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem, and of its cultural and religious heritage which is of universal value.
At Christmas 2010, the Pope repeated his plea for genuine peace in the Holy Land while in his 2011 World Day of Peace message he spoke of the need for genuine religious freedom as a path to peace.
No fair-minded persons can be happy with the current treatment of the Palestinian people. In the face of an Israeli government which is becoming more and more intransigent and dismissive of the rights of Palestinians, they must wonder why the United States and other Western countries stand by idly and helplessly in the face of blatant injustices perpetrated by a government which is scornful of any questioning of its inhumane policies. The treatment of the people of Gaza, the confiscation of Palestinian land and homes, the construction of illegal Israeli settlements, the building of a wall separating Palestinians from each other as well as other obstacles to freedom of movement, the unfair allocation of water are just some of the violations of justice against the Palestinian people. Successive Popes have pointed out that there can be no genuine or lasting peace which is not underpinned by justice. Jerusalem, which is the particular focus of this conference, highlights the plight of the Palestinian people. Deprived of their freedom, homes, property, the opportunity to trade and to work, Palestinians in Jerusalem are even in danger of losing their identity when their papers are confiscated by Israeli authorities.
The 64 years of pain and suffering the Palestinians have endured are enough. This paper has shown how the Catholic Church and other Christians have cried out for peace and justice in the Holy Land.
The Arab League has rightly demanded that Israel end the occupation and withdraw to the 1967 borders. Jerusalem needs to be secured as a city for all faiths with Muslims and Christians from outside Jerusalem being given the opportunity to pray in the Holy City. Provision needs to be made for the millions of Palestinian refugees by providing a right of return and just compensation in accordance with UN Resolution 194.
I plead for patience and restraint on the part of the Palestinian people, for good will, a sense of justice and practical peace-making actions on the part of Israel and a firm resolve on the part of the international community to broker a peace which is based on justice and respects the dignity and rights of all the people involved. I pray for that climate of trust called for by Pope Benedict and I pray that the God of Abraham will bless these steps towards a peaceful solution in the Holy Land.
(Bishop) Patrick Power