Hopes are running high world-wide that the new Pope will bring sweeping changes both within the church and to the church’s relationship with other religious and political bodies. At such a critical juncture for the future of Palestine, the leaders of both Fatah and Hamas in Palestine will be keen to establish a positive relationship with the new Pontiff.
Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, was somewhat of a failure when it came to Palestinian rights. While the Vatican was always supportive of Palestinian statehood, Pope Benedict made an unfortunate statement in 2006 about the history of Islamic violence that put a lot of Muslims offside. Moreover, being German and growing up in the Nazi era, Benedict was constantly on the back foot with regards to Israel.
Hopefully the new Pope will bring in a new era, but we must not count our chickens before they hatch. It is worth remembering that it is not the Pope but the Curia who control the church, and the Curia has not changed (not yet, at any rate).
The New Pope and Palestine
By: Daoud Kuttab for Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse
What concerns people the most is the political direction that the leader of the world’s more than 1 billion Catholics will take on issues such as women’s rights, relations with other faiths and foreign policy.Electing the leader of the world’s Catholic faithful is always an unpredictable affair. The choice of Argentina’s cardinal, now Pope Francis, has lived up to the mystery.
Palestinians and peoples of the Middle East have been searching hard in the new pontiff’s history to try and figure out where he will stand on the issues that are of concern to them.
Two issues were prominently talked about in this regard. The Jesuit background of the new pope was quickly picked up as a sign that the new leader of the Catholic Church will pay attention to socio-economic issues and not just theological ones.
In the Middle East, Jesuits are known to have established schools of higher education and other projects supporting the poor. His coming from a non-European country (apparently the first time in a millennium) also ensures, many believe, a more internationalization of the Vatican.
The Palestinian leader who congratulated the new Pope was naturally quick to invite the Holy Father to visit the birthplace of Christianity. The congratulatory cable to the Vatican included an invitation to the pontiff to visit Bethlehem. Pope Benedict, as well as Pope John Paul, had visited the Holy Land, including an important visit to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
The Vatican has generally been supportive of Palestinian rights and the need to end the occupation of Palestine. But equally the leaders of the Catholic Church have placed tremendous efforts to improve relations with Israel and also with world Jewry.
A recent agreement between the Vatican and Israel was signed that resolved a number of issues regarding Catholic holy sites in Jerusalem and the status of priests in Jerusalem and the area. Some felt that Vatican gave too much to the Israelis, especially allowing them control over the Last Supper room.
The compromise in which the Vatican will retain a symbolic seat on the table was seen as too much of a compromise to an occupying power that took sovereignty by military control.
The Vatican’s auxiliary bishop in Jerusalem, William Shomali, a Palestinian, told the National — an English language newspaper based in Abu Dhabi — that he hoped the new leader would continue with the church’s policy of addressing the difficulties facing Christians in the region, especially in countries such as Iraq, where many have been forced to flee because of sectarian fighting.
Bishop Shomali also expressed optimism that Pope Francis’ Argentine nationality could help breathe new life into the Israel-Palestinian peace process because, he said, Argentina “was a friend of the people of the holy land.”
But perhaps the most important issue of interest in the region is the possibility and potential of Catholic/Christian relations with Muslims. Pope Benedict caused a rift in relations with a statement in 2006 in which he quoted an anti-Muslim thinker’s statement on Islam.
The head of Islam’s leading higher educational institute, Al-Azhar, was quick to welcome the new Pope Francis and has called for change. “We are hoping for better relations with the Vatican after the election of the new pope,” said Mahmud Azab, an adviser to Ahmed al-Tayyeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar.
Arab Christians, while dwindling in numbers, are still an important influential group on Arab nationalism and intellectualism. Christians in areas such as Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine will be looking closely as to what the Catholic Church under Pope Francis will say and do in order to stem the migration epidemic and to encourage remaining Christians to stay in their countries.
Palestinian Christian leaders have been insisting that the emigration problem is turning holy sites and churches into dead rather than living stones. The need to encourage and empower this dwindling group is much bigger than their percentages in society.
Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor‘s Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. Active in media-freedom efforts in the Middle East, Kuttab is a columnist for The Jordan Times, The Jerusalem Post and The Daily Star in Lebanon, and has co-produced a number of award-winning documentaries and children’s television programs.
Read more: www.al-monitor.com…
Father Roy writes: The highlights in the following essay are mine. Avigail Abarbanel was born and raised in Israel. She moved to Australia in 1991 and now lives in Scotland. She works as a psychotherapist in private practice and is an activist for Palestinian rights. Avigail is the editor of Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012). Her website. Peace, Roy
Happy Hanukkah? Thanks, but not for me
By Avigail Abarbanel
Every year since I left Israel, at about this time of year, well-meaning, polite people wish me Happy Hanukkah. But I don’t celebrate Hanukkah because it is a festival that offends my values and ethics. People tend to think that it’s some kind of a Jewish version of Christmas, but they are wrong.
The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem as part of a successful rebellion against the Greek occupiers in Judea during the period 175 to 134 BC.
After Alexander’s death the Greek empire was divided and Judea became part of the Greek Seleucid Empire, which also included Syria. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the ruler of the Seleucid Empire, turned Jerusalem into a Greek-style polis, built a gymnasium, turned the Jewish temple into a temple for the Greek god Zeus, and brutally suppressed Jewish religion. Practices like reading the Torah, circumcision and observing the Sabbath were banned and punishable by death.
The rebellion led by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers was run as a guerrilla war against the Seleucid army but initially involved murdering Jewish collaborators who adopted Hellenic culture and religion.
This guerrilla war involved many battles and in the end Judea was able to establish itself as a Roman client state and free itself from the Greeks. During one of the battles a band of rebels was able to overcome a small Seleucid garrison guarding the temple. They took it back and rededicated it as a Jewish temple. The word Hanukkah is derived from the root of the Hebrew word ‘inaugurate’ or ‘dedicate’.
This event is celebrated in the festival of Hanukkah as a miracle from god with a few myths thrown in.
One of those is the myth of the little can of consecrated olive oil that was found in a corner of the temple, and that miraculously lasted eight days allowing the Menorah to be lit for the eight days of the celebration.
The Bar-Ilan University professor who taught us about Hanukkah as part of a unit on Jewish festivals said no one knows who made up this myth, but it stuck. It is told every year to little children in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world, as a way of conferring divine blessing on the successful rebellion against the Greek occupation forces.
The problem I have with Hanukkah (and many other Jewish festivals) is that I refuse to celebrate a blood bath, glorify war or justify murder of anyone, even in the name of our own liberation or survival.
Many Jewish festivals are based around stories of our deliverance from oppression, and triumph over those who wished to annihilate us or just gave us a hard time. To my taste, too many of them rejoice in the killing of others and justify what we did in the name of the survival of our Jewish identity. (I don’t celebrate Passover either, because I can’t rejoice in the death of all the eldest sons of Egypt, or Purim where Hamman and his ten sons were murdered for plotting to kill the Jews.)
Growing up, I learned so many stories about how our people resisted occupation and subjugation. They weren’t always about battles and wars. Sometimes they were just about the human spirit resisting subjugation regardless of a horrible cost.
One of the goriest stories, and one that as a child I found also deeply moving, was about Hanna and her seven sons who were brutally murdered one by one in front of her because she refused to eat pork. We were taught in no uncertain terms that one does anything to be free, one does not bow to occupiers and one does not tolerate oppression or any attempt to subjugate our religion, our way of life or our national character.
Given the realities of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, I find the hypocrisy of Hanukkah intolerable. It’s OK for us Jews to celebrate (hugely and spectacularly) our efforts to liberate our own people from occupation, no matter the cost, no matter who lives or dies on our side or the other. But it is not OK for the Palestinians.
No-one condemns Judas Maccabeus and his rebels as terrorists.
They are revered as freedom fighters with a just and even divinely decreed cause regardless of their brutality. The Greek occupiers are despised venomously in the story of Hanukkah, but no-one thinks there’s a problem with Israel being an occupier.
Of course at this point supporters of Israel are likely to say that the comparison is unfair. Israel isn’t an empire like Greece was; it is only trying to be a safe haven for the long persecuted Jewish people.
But do the reasons behind occupation and colonisation matter when their evils and crimes are the same?
Another thing that is revealed in the documents behind Hanukkah is that there was horrible and bloody infighting within the Jewish community itself during that period.
There was corruption and endless intrigue in relation to the position of the High Priest and his relatives, collaboration with the Greek occupiers, power, status and money. This is the kind of dynamic that happens when a people are under occupation, the power struggles that go with that and the different approaches to dealing with the occupation. It’s never pretty.
So when people criticise the Palestinian people, I stay out of it and I always think to myself, What do you expect? This is what happens when people are under occupation. They are responding as human beings have always responded under similar circumstances, including us Jews. Why should the Palestinians be held to a different standard than the Jews back then, or the French during the Nazi occupation, India during British colonisation, the Scots or any other occupied group throughout human history?
The problem is never with the response; it is always with the occupation. Colonisers and occupiers are not benign. They are cruel and exploitative, and there is nothing the colonised and occupied can do that will ever be right. No occupier ever tolerates any resistance, peaceful or violent. They crush them both because they interrupt and threaten the agenda of the occupier. Occupied people can do nothing right when dealing with a force bent on taking what they have and destroying them if they get in the way of it.
I used to like Hanukkah as a child because it’s fun for children. You get to light pretty candles, sing really nice, albeit gory, traditional songs (Maoz Tzur is positively shocking if you know what the words mean), and eat yummy sweet, fatty food, like fried potato patties (latkes) and jam doughnuts (sufganiot). (Both of these are traditional Eastern European dishes, not really Jewish as such, but Israel has always been dominated by Ashkenazi culture.) So when I gave up all of this years ago, it was a little sad, but it’s been a worthwhile sacrifice to make so I can live according to my ethics.
It’s time for Jewish supporters of Israel around the world, and in particular for Israeli Jews, to wake up and see the terrible irony of celebrating Hanukkah while Israel occupies the Palestinians.
Why can’t they see that they are playing the part of the Greeks and that the Palestinians are responding the same way the Jewish rebels did back then? If Jewish culture glorifies and celebrates our rebellious and uncompromising spirit, why does it condemn that same spirit in others?
Surely Noam Chomsky is one of the greatest minds of this generation, and has a heart as great as his mind!
I appreciate that Chomsky’s role as an advocate for Palestinian rights is often held up to scrutiny because of his refusal to support the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) campaign against the Israeli government. Even so, his commitment to justice and freedom for the Palestinian people is surely beyond question.
Chomsky Tells Israel from Gaza: “End the Blockade”
October 19, 2012
In his first visit to Gaza, American linguistic scholar Noam Chomsky on Thursday called on Israel to end a six-year blockade of the occupied territory.
During his first visit to Gaza, American linguist and Jewish-American scholar Noam Chomsky, 84, reportedly called on Israel to end a blockade of the occupied territory. Chomsky, 84, is a frequent critic of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and American foreign policy.
He is scheduled to deliver a speech on the Arab Spring and the future of foreign policy in the region at Gaza’s Islamic University on Saturday, reports Agence France-Presse.
“The Palestinian people have a right to live peacefully and in freedom,” Chomsky said, according to Jamal Khudari, a member of Gaza’s legislative council and head of the Islamic University administrative staff.
“Our trip to Gaza was very difficult,” Chomsky said in remarks broadcast on Palestinian television, “but we arrived here and I saw several things which I hoped before to see.”
Chomsky is a professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 2010, he was barred from entering Israel when he tried to enter Gaza through Jordan to lecture at a Palestinian University, Haaretz reported.
On this trip, Chomsky is traveling with an academic delegation and coordinated his entry through Egypt.