israel and palestine religion


Father Labib writes: Here is the final communiqué issued by the Bishops’ from US, Canada and Europe who attended the 2013’s Holy Land Coordination at the end of their visit in the Holy Land.


Final Communiqué Issued by the Bishops Attending the Holy Land Coordination

"Our Faith was Enriched by the Strength and Fortitude of the People we Met"

JERUSALEM, January 10, 2013 (…).

Since the Bishops of the Holy Land Co-ordination gathered in January 2012, the people in this region have lived through dark and dramatic events: conflict in Gaza and southern Israel; civil war in Syria, which has resulted in huge numbers of refugees pouring into other countries and putting an enormous strain on their resources; and increasing polarisation within Israel and Palestine. These developments have caused profound anxiety for all in this region, for the Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, and particularly for the dwindling Christian population.

This year we met Christian communities in Gaza, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Madaba and Zarqa. In the Cremisan Valley we heard about legal struggles to protect local people’s lands and religious institutions from the encroachment of the Security Barrier (“the wall”). We promise to continue urging our respective governments to act to prevent this injustice. We heard moving testimony from religious women involved in the care of migrant workers, trafficked persons and prisoners.

Our faith was enriched by the strength and fortitude of the people we met: those with whom we shared in a vibrant celebration of Mass in Zarqa in Jordan; those who care for the vulnerable, like the refugees from Syria and Iraq fleeing terror and violence; those struggling in the face of oppression and insecurity across the countries that make up the Holy Land. We are inspired to promote a just peace and call upon Christian communities in our home countries and people of goodwill everywhere to support the work undertaken in this region to build a better future. Good examples are two agencies we visited: Catholic Relief Services in Gaza and the Caritas refugee programme in Jordan.

We are also called to recognise and tell others how faith in God brings light into the lives of people in the Holy Land. One of the ways in which this happens is the Church’s commitment to education, a tangible investment in the future. Nowhere is this more evident than in the University of Bethlehem, where we were struck by the stories from students, and the American University of Madaba in Jordan. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI called upon staff and students in the region to be builders of a just and peaceful society composed of peoples of various religious and ethnic backgrounds.

With the local Bishops, we encourage practical support for the vulnerable, the formation of young people and every effort for the promotion of peace. We encourage Christians to come on pilgrimage to the Holy Land where they will experience the same warm hospitality we received. We shall work hard to persuade our respective governments to recognise the root causes of suffering in this land and to step up their efforts for a just peace. We echo the call Pope Benedict made recently in his speech to the Holy See’s diplomatic corps: “Following Palestine’s recognition as a non-member observer state of the United Nations, I again express the hope that, with the support of the international community, Israelis and Palestinians will commit themselves to peaceful co-existence within the framework of two sovereign states, where respect for justice and the legitimate aspirations of the two peoples will be preserved and guaranteed. Jerusalem, become what your name signifies! A city of peace, not one of division”.

In the words of one of the Psalms, which we prayed together each day: “for the peace of Jerusalem pray” (Psalm 122, v.6).

Signatories to the Final communiqué:

Archbishop Richard Smith – Edmonton, Canada

Archbishop Joan-Enric Vives – Urgell and Andorra, Spain

Bishop Gerald Kicanas – Tucson, USA

Bishop Stephan Ackermann – Trier, Germany

Bishop Michel Dubost – Evry, France

Bishop William Kenney – ComECE Representative

Bishop Peter Bürcher – Reykjavik, Nordic Bishops’ Conference

Bishop Declan Lang – Clifton, England and Wales.

Father Roy

Father Roy


There’s a story I tell every chance I get.  I would like everybody on the mailing list to know the origin of the thirty-five (35) words in the following paragraph.  I discovered them myself … my claim to fame …  back in the early 1980’s … buried (if I remember right) on page 16 of my Church’s monthly national magazine:  Episcopal Life.  The words were included in a letter written by the Rt. Rev. Edmond Browning to the Women of the Church in the Holy Land.  I was the Vicar at St. Elizabeth’s Church, San Diego at the time.  Bishop Browning was TEC’s Presiding Bishop with an office in New York City.  His wife, Patti, read the letter at a meeting because the PB’s schedule had not permitted him to accompany her that trip.  Usually they traveled together.  Have you noticed?  Sometimes it takes a prolonged incubation period before truly prophetic words can take traction.

“As we Christians make our rightful claim to Jerusalem, we acknowledge that Muslims and Jews also have rightful claims to Jerusalem from their perspectives.  It is useless to argue about sovereignty in the Holy City.”

Peers,  I bid your prayers for the Peace of Jerusalem.  My personal prayer is that Muslims and Jews will be led to stretch and motivated to grow and eventually to make parallel claims and acknowledgements … parallel, i.e., to the Christian claim and acknowledgements … for God’s sake.  From my perspective, these few words summarize the most reasonable systematic plan for justice and world peace.  Does anybody have a better idea?  If so, please share. 



I guess it should not surprise us to see both the Israeli and the Palestinian governments vying for support from the Christian West by demonstrating their love for Christmas.

Both governments released official videos this Christmas (featured below), highlighting how Christmas-friendly (and Christian-friendly) their governments are.

Netanyahu’s video is very explicit about the way his country embraces religious minorities in contrast to so many of his intolerant neighbours. Frankly, I find his rhetoric as sickening as it is misleading.

Certainly I would prefer to be a Christian living in Israel than in some of the West’s other staunch Middle-Eastern allies, such as Saudi Arabia or Jordan, but the truth is that the current Israeli government has done little to stop the recent ‘price tag’ attacks by settlers against churches and monasteries. Netanyahu has voiced official disapproval but at the same time he has enlarged the settlements from which these attacks are carried out!

(click here if you can’t see the video)

The Palestinian video is wordless. I wish it said more. At least it does illustrate what the majority of Christians in the West seem to have forgotten – namely, that the Christian population of Israel/Palestine is almost entirely Palestinian.

(click here if you can’t see the video)


Here is a truly incarnational Christmas sermon. Perhaps it’s the one I should have given!

It is remarkable the extent to which Bethlehem today reflects the ‘little town’ of Biblical times. It’s not so little now of course but it’s still a town under occupation and foreign visitors to the town are still questioned as the Magi were.

Father Dave

Bethlehem today

Bethlehem today


Bethlehem Then and Now

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb’s Sermon

“O little town of Bethlehem” is one of the most famous Christmas Hymns. Bethlehem has become almost a mythological place: Children imagine it with a few “huts,” a few camels and the holy family. At the time of Jesus, Bethlehem was a little town of 300-1,000 inhabitants. What people might not know is that the city of Bethlehem today is not in Israel but in Palestine, and that it is a bustling city with 28,000 people. One third of them are Palestinian Christians.

When Christians today sing “O little town of Bethlehem” they seldom think of the real city with the real people. When it comes to Bethlehem and to Christmas, Christianity has become so spiritualized and so commercialized.

It’s all about Santa, the Tree, the gifts, and the food. But what happened in Bethlehem 2000 years ago was something real. Jesus was born as a refugee. His family was forced to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem. Later his family had to flee the brutality of King Herod and go into hiding in Egypt for two years. Today Bethlehem has almost 20,000 Palestinian refugees who lost in 1948, when the State of Israel was established, their land, homes and belongings and came to Bethlehem seeking refugees. They are still living in three refugee camps waiting for a just solution.

The Christmas story of the Bible has nothing to do with what we know today as Christmas. Take the story of the Magi or the kings from the East. That story is read in a nostalgic way and is being performed over and over again. But a closer look at the story will show that it talks about the Roman Empire and their occupation of Palestine. Empires do not control only the native people they rule; they also work to ensure that visitors coming in contact with the land and its native people are controlled. In 2010 a well-known evangelical preacher came to attend a theological conference in Bethlehem. Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israeli officials told him that they would like to invite him for a cup of coffee in their offices and have a chat. For almost four hours he was questioned about his decision to attend a conference in Bethlehem, what he thought of the Palestinian Kairos Document, and how he knew some of these “radical” Palestinian theologians. This was supposed to be VIP treatment.. Others who are part of solidarity movements with Palestine are often detained at the Israeli airport and sent back to their home countries.

When this highly reputed American evangelical preacher told us his story I told him, “Welcome to Palestine. As someone who knows his Bible well you should not have been surprised by such treatment. The same VIP treatment was also extended to the Magi from the east that came to see Jesus in Bethlehem. Herod too invited them ‘for a cup of coffee’ to ascertain why they wanted to travel to Bethlehem, and how they knew about the newborn child. So now you have experienced something biblical. Welcome to the Holy Land!”

I still recall how everyone in the group laughed. Then an American woman attending the conference asked me, “So what should we tell the Israelis at the airport when they question us about where we have been? What should we say?” I replied “I wish I could tell you what the angel told the Magi, after visiting Jesus; basically showing them another route not controlled by the Empire. Unfortunately, all roads, airports and borders are controlled by Israel. By the way, an invitation to drink a cup of coffee by Israeli or Arab intelligence authorities is known in political jargon as interrogation.” We seldom read the story of the Magi as them being interrogated by the occupation that holds the power. But this is what it was.

Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus was a besieged city. Today Bethlehem is again a besieged city surrounded from three sides by a 25 foot high concrete wall. So what if Jesus were to be born today in Bethlehem? If Jesus were to be born this year, he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would not be allowed to enter from the Israeli checkpoint, and so too the Magi. The shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. Jesus might have been born at the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while having the Magi and shepherds on both sides of the wall.

So where is the Gospel in all of this? The good news is this: God came into no other than this troubled, wounded and real world. He is real and wants to enter into our real world with all its complexities and fears. Christmas is real. It is not a myth or a wonder world. The Gospel is that God became one of us, one like us. He came as a child, vulnerable, and weak. And yet through his vulnerability was able to overcome the empire. Christmas is God’s promise to us that we will have life, peace, and future. For us Palestinian Christians and citizens of Bethlehem the Christmas story of then is our story today. Praise God that Jesus is the same: yesterday, today and forever.


Twal’s speech recognises that the birth of the Palestinian state is one of deep spiritual significance as well as a political victory!

The following article is an extract.

Archbishop Fouad Twal

Archbishop Fouad Twal


Roman Catholic cleric celebrates Palestinian state

By DALIA NAMMARI | Associated Press

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land celebrated the United Nations’ recent recognition of a Palestinian state in his annual pre-Christmas homily on Monday, saying that while the road to actual freedom from Israeli occupation remains long, the Palestinian homeland has been born.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal told followers at the patriarchate’s headquarters in Jerusalem’s Old City that this year’s festivities were doubly joyful, celebrating “the birth of Christ our Lord and the birth of the state of Palestine.”

“The path (to statehood) remains long, and will require a united effort,” added Twal, a Palestinian citizen of Jordan.

From Jerusalem, he set off in a procession for the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Jesus’ traditional birthplace. There, he was reminded that life on the ground for Palestinians has not really changed since the U.N. recognized their state last month in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Hundreds of people were on hand to greet Twal in Manger Square, outside the Church of Nativity. The mood was festive under sunny skies, with children dressed in holiday finery or in Santa costumes, and marching bands playing in the streets.

A lavishly decorated 55-foot (25-meter) fir tree with a nativity scene at its foot dominated the plaza. Festivities were to culminate with Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.

Devout Christians said it was a moving experience to be so close to the origins of their faith.

“It’s a special feeling to be here, it’s an encounter with my soul and God,” said Joanne Kurczewska, a professor at Warsaw University in Poland, who was visiting Bethlehem for a second time at Christmas.

Read the full article here:…