We seek to keep you literally "updated" on movement in terms of truth and justice in the Middle East in general with a particular eye on Palestine. The links below will take you to various articles and websites that offer the perspective of leaders in the religious, NGO, and human rights communities. Additionally, Al-Bushra, ever vigilant, provides links to regular reporting as well as opinion pieces by journalists. The dates given here indicate when the link was posted; the most recent posting is at the top. Check the article itself for the date the information was released by the source.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Churches seek peace and justice through dialogue in Assisi

The town of Assisi, Italy. Photo: Roberto Ferrari

At an interfaith gathering in Assisi, called by Pope Benedict XVI, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said, “The cross is not for crusades but a sign of God’s love embracing everybody”. He praised the role of “young change makers” in pursuit of peace and called faith leaders to engage in dialogue by addressing conflicts and accepting “the other”.

Tveit was speaking on a “Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world” on 27 October, an interfaith meeting called by the pope titled “Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”.

The event brought religious leaders from diverse backgrounds, and is a continuation of a tradition initiated by Pope John Paul II, who held this meeting in the town of Assisi 25 years ago.

Following the example of Francis of Assisi, Tveit highlighted the role of “young change makers”.

“Francis was a young man when he surrendered his life to God. His passion for the goodness of creation and example of radical daring for peace show the significance of faith and the courage of young people,” he added.

“Peace in the world requires the perspectives and the contributions of young people. A great obstacle to a just peace today is the high level of unemployment among young people all over the world. We need the vision and the courage of young people for the necessary changes, as we see how they lead processes of democratization and peace in many countries today.”

Representing the 349 member churches of the WCC, Tveit stressed the need for a “safe space” for all religions to engage in a dialogue, while not shying away from addressing the conflict.

“People are suffering due to clashes of interests as a consequence, since conflicts around Jerusalem are not solved. This city, holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is a visible symbol of our longing, our highest desires, our love of beauty and our desire to worship God. But it is also a powerful reminder of how this best can also go wrong.”

Tveit goes on to say, “Let us as religious leaders pray for justice and peace for Jerusalem and for all who live there. In a mysterious way, Jerusalem does not simply unveil these realities about the human condition but also challenges us at the same time to address them.”

Tveit was accompanied by Clare Amos, WCC programme executive for the Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation, who considers Assisi a significant event with a potential for dialogue contributing to peace and justice in the world.

“It is very good that this gathering is seen as a pilgrimage. We come together here sharing a pilgrim spirit of humility, and like all pilgrims we travel in the hope that we will transformed through our journey, and that we will eventually return to our everyday situations with renewed vision and determination to work for both truth and peace,” said Amos.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lebanon-based Maronite Church: “We must remain vigilant.”

Source: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/signs.cfm?signid=854

With world headlines tracking a breathtaking rate of change as the Arab Spring turned into an autumn of violence in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya, the new Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai cautiously welcomed the political movement’s potential for transforming the region. But, he warned, “We must remain vigilant.”

“The church abhors the use of violence to meet any goal,” he said. “We want to see a Middle East renewed in its respect of human rights and dignity, especially for minorities.”

Patriarch Rai, 71, was elected on March 25 as the leader of the Lebanon-based Maronite Church, the largest of the six Eastern Catholic patriarchal churches. At the close of a tour of the United States, before a visit with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in New York on Oct. 20, the patriarch expressed worry about the possible implications of the changes roiling the Arab world on the region’s Christians. Just days earlier a demonstration by Egyptian Copts in Cairo demanding protection ended in violence that left almost 30 people dead. As the patriarch spoke in the headquarters of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, rebel forces in Libya were closing in on one-time strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi; violence flared in Yemen; and a government crackdown on the opposition persisted in Syria.

The patriarch said Americans should understand that the region’s Christians “wish the Arab Spring to be really an Arab Spring. We wish the countries to adopt a separation between religion and state, the system that Lebanon has adopted, which respects all religions and all the values of each religion.”

Discussing the plight of Egypt’s Copts and the devastation visited on Iraq’s Christian community in recent years, the patriarch said that unless Arab nations support religious freedom and respect human rights, the Arab Spring movement will devolve into an “Arab winter.”

“We wish to see freedom being practiced in [Arab] countries. We wish to see all the values of human rights and democracy implemented in those countries,” he said. “It is not easy to talk about democracy in the Western sense in countries that have a theocratic system. Christianity divides politics and religion, and we wish Islam and other religions to do the same,” Patriarch Rai said. Failure to do so will result in civil wars, like the one in Iraq, he warned, and will lead to the rise of regimes “that are even more fundamentalist. This is something that will be to the detriment of everybody.”

Patriarch Rai said conflicts between Israel and the Arab countries and between Israel and the Palestinians have had a negative impact on the region’s Christians.

“The Arab-Israeli conflict is at the level of religion and culture. The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis is a conflict [about] a people whose sovereignty, whose land, was taken away, who were displaced and for 64 years have been promised by United Nations resolutions a right of return, but this has not happened,” he said.

“The atmosphere that was created by those conflicts has impacted the Christian presence in the Middle East, causing some to leave for economic and security reasons,” he said. “There will be no peace in that part of the world until Judaism, Islam and Christianity separate church and state,” he said.

Patriarch Rai said that in Lebanon, 18 distinct religious groups live together, a sign of hope for people of the region.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

WCC appoints new programme executive for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation

Source: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1634/wcc-appoints-new-programm.html


Clare Amos, WCC programme executive for interreligious dialogue and cooperation

When the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit attends a day of prayer for peace in Assisi, Italy on 27 October, he will be accompanied by Clare Amos of the Church of England the new WCC programme executive for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.

The interfaith meeting in Assisi is called by Pope Benedict XVI a “Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world”.

“The event of Assisi has a great potential for peace. There cannot be peace in the world without peace among the religions. Efforts of coming together as religions to work for common concerns are imperative to peace, which is the message of Assisi,” said Amos.

Amos, who joined the WCC this fall, specialized in theology at the University of Cambridge and Ecole Biblique et Archeologique Francaise in Jerusalem, after which she spent more than ten years in Jerusalem and Lebanon where she was deeply involved with interfaith concerns and theological education.

She has authored several books on biblical studies, interfaith relations and spirituality.

After being married to Alan Amos, then Anglican chaplain in Beirut, Amos worked for the Middle East Council of Churches and the Near East School of Theology in the early eighties. While living in Beirut, her experience of dialogue was rooted in the difficult years of Lebanese civil war and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Amos considers engaging churches in the Middle East in dialogue as one of the priorities in her tasks at the council.

“In the Middle East one cannot ignore the dimensions of other faiths. We were confronted by the challenges of how to read the New Testament given the influence of Christianity’s relationship with Judaism, while not ignoring how the Hebrew scriptures were used to justify political actions of the modern Israeli government, which affected the lives of Christians and Muslims in the holy land,” says Amos.

The WCC programme on Christian self-understanding amid many religions is a major initiative of inter-religious dialogue, says Amos. She envisions a special emphasis in this area, which she feels is essential in understanding our own traditions as Christians.

“Interfaith engagement is also about discovering who we are. This is why the WCC programme of Christian self-understanding in the context of religious plurality is important. This is where Christians along with Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists rediscover their own identities – an important motivation for interfaith dialogue.”

Amos also hopes to develop inter-religious cooperation in the area of advocacy for religious freedom, human rights and protection of religious minorities which have formed a focus of the WCC programmes. At the same time, she is hoping to work extensively for ecumenical and theological dialogue.

“I am keen to work towards ecumenical dialogue, which happens among Christians. The similarities between interfaith and intra-faith dialogue are complex. I am looking forward to addressing these challenges in my work at the council.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Miami Herald: Israel's travel ban harms 'entire generations'


Posted on Sun, Oct. 16, 2011

Israel's travel ban harms 'entire generations'



Last month's decision by the U.S. Congress to block hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians because of the push for statehood at the United Nations will mean more hardship for Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation.

And while Palestinians have not won statehood yet, and there is no agreement about what steps should be taken in order to create it, almost everyone can agree that laying the foundations for statehood - shaping democratic values, building functioning institutions and a functioning economy, and investing in education - will reap benefits for both Palestinians and their neighbors in Israel and around the globe.

Which makes it all the more tragic that, while thousands of young Americans return to school this fall to continue or begin their higher education, many Palestinian students are unable to do so because of Israeli policies that severely restrict their freedom of movement. As the Vice Chancellor of Bethlehem University, the only Catholic university serving students from the occupied Palestinian territories, I have the honor to be involved in a process of building a better future in this region. Since its founding in 1973, Bethlehem University has granted degrees and diplomas to more than 12,000 graduates from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

Unfortunately, since the year 2000, Israel has not allowed students from Gaza to enter the West Bank to study at any Palestinian university. This includes the Vatican-sponsored Bethlehem University in the Latin Patriarchate, which offers degrees in vital fields that are not available in universities in Gaza. Bethlehem University has been creative in making some programs available at a distance to students in Gaza and some students have benefited from these.

However, these adjusted programs are not what are best for the students or for the future of Palestinian society and Israel. A university education is about much more than the classroom transmission of knowledge. It is also about being exposed to new ideas, people, and places, discovering knowledge and truth, engaging in research, and participating in campus life.

In 2006, a group of ten young people from Gaza wanted to study occupational therapy, as there is a great need for this service in their society. Because the program is not offered at any university in Gaza they chose Bethlehem University. They enrolled and sought permission to travel to Bethlehem, which was a challenge to the Israeli-imposed restriction on travel for Palestinians. Permission was denied.

Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization, took this matter to Israel's Supreme Court on behalf of the students. The court ruled that individual security checks were not good enough because young people are part of a "high-risk group." Israeli officials saw these ten promising students as prospective threats instead of the potential positive contributors to Palestinian society that they are.

Since 2006, a few more students from Gaza have been accepted by Bethlehem University, but each year Israel has denied them permission to come study. Sadly, for the current academic year, no Gazans have applied because they see no chance of overcoming the travel ban, and so have either resigned themselves to staying in Gaza or to studying abroad. The travel ban on students is one of the most tangible examples of how ordinary Palestinians and Palestinian society suffer from Israeli policies that seem temporary but actually harm entire generations.

These restrictive realities beg the question: What kind of state building can be envisioned under these circumstances? It also causes me to wonder what the state of Israel stands to gain or lose by preventing these young people, who are their neighbors, from accessing educational opportunities. Whether a Palestinian state is created or negotiated this year or next, or ten years from now, should not have any bearing on our ability to invest in our most valued assets and our best hope for the future - our young people and their education.

Peter Bray is vice chancellor of the Bethlehem University in the Holy Land.

Greetings from Bethlehem University

17 October 2011
Dear Alumni and Friends of Bethlehem University,

Greetings from the Holy Land where we are about halfway through the Fall semester of classes.

On Sunday, 16 October 2011, The Miami Herald published an Op-Ed piece, Israel’s travel ban harms ‘entire generations,’” written by our Vice Chancellor, Brother Peter Bray. As you will see, Brother Peter writes about the value of investing in education as we build a nation and on the negative impact of Israel's travel bans that prevent freedom of movement for education, especially freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank for education -- which is part of our ongoing efforts of the Gaza initiative at which we continue to work. Here is the link to the article in The Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/10/16/2454501/israels-travel-ban-harms-entire.html

Allow me to share with you some good news about some activities here at Bethlehem University.
  • We recently learned about the publication of a book edited by one of our 2010 graduates, Ms. Marian Saadeh, along with Mr. Harry Katz, one of our benefactors from the United States whose son in of Palestinian ancestry in that his maternal grandfather was born in Bethlehem. The book, which is available on Amazon.com, is entitled: A People Without a Country: Voices from Palestine. It is a collection of essays about life in the occupied Palestinian territories written by Christian and Moslem Palestinians. The collection from students, artisans, housewives, historians, and everyday people presents eyewitness accounts of the impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian daily life.
  • This Week in Palestine, the largest cultural publication in Palestine, included a profile of Mr. Ibrahim Daboub, friend and benefactor of Bethlehem University, in their October 2011 edition. Mr. Dabdoub has recognized the unique quality of Bethlehem University and our business faculty, which is being named the Shucri Ibrahim Dabdoub Faculty of Business in honour of the late son of Mr. and Mrs. Ibrahim Dabdoub. “I have a great desire to see the young generation of Arabs have the opportunity to benefit from a first class business education at such a prestigious institution as Bethlehem University,” says Mr. Dabdoub. Click here to read the write-up from This Week in Palestine.
  • Mr. Isam Andoni, a 1986 mathematics graduate of Bethlehem University, is now married, living and working in the United States as the President and Chief Technology Architect at ZEVA, a Microsoft Certified Gold Partner in Identity and Security, and a comprehensive leading provider of solutions and expert consulting services in the field of Enterprise Identity Management. He and his wife, Jihan, also a Bethlehem University graduate, have hired two other graduates of Bethlehem University. One of whom is working at their Virginia-based technology company and the other is working full-time with the company from his home in Bethlehem. We are delighted to see the Andoni's doing well in their business and also hiring some of the Bethlehem University graduates. You can read more about the Andoni’s and the upcoming Young Arab Science and Technology Competition they are sponsoring by visiting our website.

VISITORS: We are grateful you keep coming to visit us!
  • Fr. Robert Kurvers also led the pilgrimage of The Netherlands Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order.
Thank you for your support, prayers, and visits – all deeply appreciated.

Blessings to you,
Brother Jack Curran, FSC, PhD
Vice President for Development

Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Rue des Freres
Bethlehem - Palestine
Tel: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440

Zenit: Jerusalem Patriarch Meets With Pope on Mideast Situation

Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-33667?l=english

ROME, OCT. 14, 2011 (Zenit.org).- "I think it is always good to be together, to pray together, to listen together."

These were the words of Foaud Twal, speaking to Vatican Radio in his role as president of the Conference of Latin Bishops of the Arab Region, after he had a private meeting with Benedict XVI on Thursday.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem was among several bishops of the region completing a three-day conference at the Vatican.

"Each bishop came here with his problems and his hopes and his aspirations" for his "country and Church," he said.

"We ... have something in common in all the Middle East," the patriarch added.

He and the Pontiff discussed the "fear of our Christians in Egypt" as well as the problems of emigration, "the freedom of movement of our Christians," and the question of Syria.

Archbishop Twal also said the two discussed the Pope's desire that they prepare themselves for the upcoming Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Ireland, and next year's synod on the new evangelization.

Zenit: Europe's Bishops Call Continent to Defend Egypt Minorities

Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-33657?l=english

Reiterate Solidarity With Coptic Christian Community

ST. GALLEN, Switzerland, OCT. 13, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Europe's bishops are answering Sunday's violence in Egypt with a call to their governments to take a stance in defense of minorities.

Cardinal Péter Erdő, president of the Council of the Bishops' Conferences of Europe (CCEE), released a statement reiterating the prelates' "closeness to all citizens in Egypt, and especially to our brothers in the Coptic Christian community, affected in these days by the murderous violence against peace, harmony between religions, freedom and human dignity."

The statement follows the bloody weekend clash between Egyptian military and police and a group of mostly Coptic Christian protestors. The clash left 26 people dead. Witnesses said the Copts were attacked by crowds throwing stones, followed by military intervention. Some of those killed died of gunshot wounds, but most were crushed by armored military vehicles.

Copts and other Christians make up 10% of Egypt's population. The demonstrators were protesting the burning of a Christian church.

The bishops' council pointed out that Coptic Christians have been present in Egypt since the time of the Evangelist Mark.

They urged European governments to "take a stance in defense of all those who, as Christians, are subjected to attacks because of their religious, ethnic or social belonging."

"We pray to the Lord for all Christians in Egypt, that he may give them the strength to continue to be authentic witnesses of Christ and of fraternity with all people, without which there will not be a better future for individual nations or humanity," the CCEE statement concluded.

Benedict XVI on Wednesday expressed his own concern over the situation.

The Pope said, "I unite myself to the suffering of the families of the victims and to that of the entire Egyptian people, torn as it is by attempts to undermine the peaceful coexistence of its communities, [a coexistence] that instead, it is necessary to safeguard, especially in this moment of transition."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

ELCA: U.S. Christian Leaders Response to the Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem On the Palestinian Application to be a Member State of the U.N.

Source: http://blogs.elca.org/peacenotwalls/files/2011/10/2011.09.30-Response-to-Communique-from-the-Heads.pdf

September 30, 2011

We received your “Communiqué from the Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem” and affirm the principles outlined in your statement. We continue to hear and heed your call to “intensify the prayers and diplomatic efforts for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

As Christian leaders in the United States engaged in relationships with Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities in this country and the Holy Land, we are concerned for the future of all people living in Israel and Palestine. Our churches have long been engaged in efforts to support actions and policies that promote the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the stability of the entire Middle East region. We have come to understand that neither conflict resolution nor stability can be achieved without simultaneously pursuing justice, a conviction also borne out by the events known collectively as the ‘Arab Spring.’

We recognize the complex and difficult situation regarding the current and future realities of the Middle East. It is impossible to know with certainty what political directions will be taken and how the people directly affected by those political decisions will respond. Regardless, as Christian leaders because of the unity we share through our baptism, our primary concern is with the people and not self-serving national interests. We recognize, however, that public policy decisions will greatly impact Palestinian and Israeli lives as well as our own. Therefore, we must speak out against policies which do not serve the cause of peace and justice.

Our churches have spoken plainly and repeatedly for the recognition of the Palestinian’s right to self determination and an end to the Israeli illegal military occupation of Palestinian territory as a result of war in 1967. For nearly two decades, the end of this occupation has been entrusted to a peace process, led by the United States, which has had the effect of continual expansion of illegal settlement activities, even during periods of direct negotiations. It is understandable, therefore, that Palestinian leaders have rejected this pattern which has rendered a two-state solution more and more difficult.

As Christian leaders, we continue to resolutely reject the use of violence by any party to the conflict. Furthermore, we have a strong and enduring commitment to Jerusalem as a shared city, a secure state of Israel and a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. Relevant UN Security Council resolutions, such as 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), must be fully implemented.

As Christian leaders in the United States, we are dismayed that the Obama administration has actively opposed Palestinian efforts to achieve a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through appeal to the United Nations. We recall that it was this body which proposed the partition in 1947 that led to the creation of the state of Israel the next year. This body has also been the focus for decisions which the United States has either initiated or been an affirming party. We are concerned U.S. opposition to Palestinian efforts at the United Nations will be perceived as a callous rejection of the Palestinian right of self-determination, further damaging relationships at all levels in the Middle East and around the world, and leading to further conflict and strife.

Together with you, we will continue to advocate to our respective governments and engage the international community in multilateral efforts, such as those undertaken through the United Nations or at Madrid in 1991, to work for peace between Israel and Palestine as well as with other nations in the region.

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,
for he who has promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)

In God’s Grace,

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Rev. Dr. Thomas R. De Vries
General Secretary
Reformed Church in America

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

Rev. Paula Clayton Dempsey
Minister for Partnership Relations
Alliance of Baptists

Dr. Richard L. Hamm
Executive Director
Christian Churches Together in the USA

Shan Cretin
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee

Friday, October 14, 2011

Zenit: US Bishops Visit Iraq, Urge Plan for Peaceful Future

ZE11101207 - 2011-10-12
Permalink: http://www.zenit.org/article-33651?l=english

Visit Site of Last October's Bombing That Claimed 58 Lives

WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 12, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Two leaders of the U.S. bishops have visited their brother prelates in Iraq, saying one of the most moving moments of the four-day tour was a stop at the Syrian Catholic church where 58 people were killed a year ago.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, and Bishop George Murry, of Youngstown, Ohio, were in Baghdad from Oct. 2 to 5.

They made the trip as representatives of the USCCB and visited the four Christian communities in Baghdad, the Chaldean, Latin, Armenian and Syrian Catholics.

"The Christians in Baghdad have suffered greatly; their faith has been tested," said Bishop Kicanas, according to a statement from the U.S. bishops' conference. "One of the most moving moments in the visit was praying with Archbishop Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka, archbishop emeritus of Baghdad, in the Syrian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Deliverance where so many were killed in the bombings and shootings that took place there on Oct. 31 of last year."

The bishops prayed at the tomb of the two priests killed in the attack and viewed the damage done to the church by four suicide bombers.


Bishop Murry also noted how one Chaldean priest told "the chilling story of his kidnapping and being held for ransom by two different groups. Many people had similar stories to tell."

The bishops toured Caritas Iraq programs in Baghdad that serve Christians and Muslims. These included a well-baby program, programs for people with special needs, and peace building and reconciliation programs.

"In every instance we were impressed by the great good being done by the Caritas staff and volunteers," said Bishop Murry.

But, said Bishop Kicanas, "instability and the fear of violence permeate the city. People pray and long for peace. The sanctions, war, and occupation have taken a heavy toll on the people. (...) Christians will remain in Iraq only if there are opportunities to work, if greater stability and peace can occur."

Bishop Murry and Bishop Kicanas will inform the U.S. bishops, the CRS Board, and the U.S. government on what they saw and experienced.

"As the United States military moves to the planned withdrawal from the city in the next months, it is critical that a plan be in place for a peaceful transition," Bishop Murry said, "and not one marred by more violence and the killing of innocent people."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Zenit: Arab Spring Becomes Terrible Autumn

Egyptian Bloodshed Darkens Horizon

Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-33643?l=english

By Robert Cheaib

ROME, OCT. 11, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Until Sunday, shining in the eyes of youth was the image of Egyptians -- Muslims and Christians -- united in a whimper that became a cry, which awakened the noblest desires: the desire for liberty and justice and the hope for a better future.

Until Sunday, because the image of armored vehicles crushing paralyzed protesters drowned the dream and opened eyes to a sight that clouds the horizon of the Arab Spring. The dream -- whose protagonists were Muslims and Christians of Egypt gathered as one people in Al Tahir Square -- faded with the outbreak of violence and became a nightmare with an unpredictable future.

A peaceful protest ended with scenes of unheard of violence described in the Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat as "the most bloody event since the revolution of 'Jan. 25,' which led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship." According to the Egyptian Ministry of Health, there are 24 dead and 212 wounded.

It all began last Sunday with a peaceful protest by Coptic Christians, upset over the recent attack on a church in Assuan, in southern Egypt. The protesters deplored the silence of the authorities regarding what happened. The Copts were calling for the resignation of the governor of the province, Mustafa As-Sayyed, accusing him of having caused the attack. As-Sayyed said -- as confirmed by the newspaper Tariq Al-Akhbar -- that the church was illegal, inasmuch as the building had been transformed into a church by manipulating the authorizations. The extremists took note of these statements and set fire to the place of Christian worship.

The day after the attack, instead of condemning it, As-Sayyed said that "there has been no attack because there are no churches in Assuan," as reported on the Christian Web site Coptreal. Such statements sparked Coptic indignation, which led to Sunday's protest that began in the Shabra neighborhood and marched to the headquarters of the national television, appealing for state protection for places of Christian worship and equality of rights for all citizens. The protesters also called for the resignation of As-Sayyed, accusing him of sympathizing with the Muslim extremists. The crowd, made up not only of Christians but also Muslims who support their rights, also deplored the line adopted by state television to awaken anti-Christian feelings.

During the protest, some vandals threw stones and fired at the crowd. The Copts responded by throwing stones in turn. At that moment, security forces and the army intervened violently repressing the protesters with armored vehicles. Coptic priest Father Daoud said he saw a tank roll over five protesters.

The situation degenerated into total chaos, the army and police began to throw tear gas and rubber balls at the protesters, who then threw anything within their reach in response. State television reported that the protesters set some police cars on fire.

The army and police intensified their presence and imposed a curfew beginning Monday morning.

France Press reported on the situation of the wounded and dead in Cairo's Coptic hospital, stating that some of the corpses were completely disfigured and unrecognizable.

Al-Hayat reported that that night a group of peaceful Muslims marched to the Coptic hospital raising signs and crying out: "Christians and Muslims, just one hand," and deploring what happened.

Reaction of the Coptic Church

In a communiqué to ZENIT, the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Egypt commented on the lamentable events, and exhorted the military council and the Egyptian government "to assume its national responsibilities and manage the present situation, guarding justice and protecting the dignity of all citizens without discrimination."

The Egyptian Catholic prelates also affirmed that the Catholic Church in Egypt "raises her prayers to God to protect Egypt and its people" and assures her prayers for the victims of the latest episodes of violence.

Egypt has been the scene of growing interreligious tensions in recent months. A number of Christian churches have been the target of terrorist attacks.

The new Egyptian authorities have tried to change some discriminatory laws that placed severe restrictions on the construction of Christian places of worship, but these laws are faced with great opposition by fundamentalist currents that aspire to presidential power in this November's elections.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land: The Environmental Education Center in Beit Jala

Source: http://www.elcjhl.org/ed/programs/environmental/environmental.asp

The history of the Environmental Education Center (EEC) of the ELCJHL began with a broad educational project initiated by the ELCJHL Schools and Bir Zeit University, a large Palestinian university near Ramallah, in 1986. Education for Awareness and Involvement (EAI) was a cooperative project to integrate themes of civic responsibility and environmental issues into the existing school curriculum. The program emphasized political and social norms; it encouraged students to become involved in various activities that would improve their communities.

The EAI program’s activities formed the basis for founding Children for the Protection of Nature in Palestine (CPNP) in 1992. This organization formalized and strengthened the ELCJHL’s commitment to environmental education. Without office facilities or grounds of its own, the CPNP program worked within the ELCJHL Schools and other local public, private, and UN-administered schools. It introduced young people to their Palestinian natural heritage and biodiversity, and, seeing them as the future stewards and caretakers of the Palestinian environment, taught them about conservation measures and environmentally-conscious lifestyles. In 1998, the CPNP moved into office facilities and grounds on the spacious campus of the Talitha Kumi School in Beit Jala and became a formal educational program of the ELCJHL.

With permanent office space and a large area of natural land at its disposal, the CPNP immediately began to broaden the range of its educational offerings. A botanical garden featured local plants from both Biblical and modern times; a Palestine natural history museum, an interactive environmental exhibition, and a ringing and monitoring station for studying bird migration trends were soon also established. At the same time the program added teachers, women, and local graduate students and decision-makers to the list of groups served.

In keeping with the program’s growing vision and offerings, the CPNP was renamed the Environmental Education Center (EEC) in 2002. Educating the next generation of Palestinian citizens and leaders is still central to the EEC’s mission: Children for the Protection of Nature in Palestine today remains one of the primary educational initiatives of the EEC.

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America: Bishop extends support for Lutherans in Jordan, Holy Land

Source: http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=5166

September 23, 2011


CHICAGO (ELCA) - The presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Mark S. Hanson, sent a letter on Sept. 22 to Bishop Munib Younan and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), expressing the support of this church for a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hanson drafted the letter in response to growing tensions in the Middle East as Palestine submitted a formal proposal for full membership in the United Nations. The United Nations Security Council is expected to consider the request next week.

“As leaders of government debate Palestinian membership in the United Nations, we want you to know of our continued commitment to accompany you on the road to a just two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Hanson wrote. He noted the ELCA’s commitment runs deeper than national interest and reflects “active engagement in Palestine and Israel as it is articulated in the ELCA Peace Not Walls Campaign.”

Earlier in the week Hanson wrote to President Barack Obama, asking the United States not to block an initiative to admit Palestine as a member state of the United Nations. Such a move, the bishop observed, would be acting not only in the best interests of the United States, but of all people in the region.

Outbreaks of violence have been escalating in the region, especially around security checkpoints, which have raised concerns about the 14 ELCA church workers currently supporting the work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Robert O. Smith, area program director for the Middle East and North Africa, and coordinator of the Peace Not Walls campaign, reported that the ELCA has been involved in security and contingency planning for several weeks.

“We are concerned not only for the safety and security of our ELCA church workers, but for the well-being of our companions in the ELCJHL and all persons who may be caught in potentially dangerous situations,” Smith said. “Our Young Adults in Global Mission are especially concerned for the safety and security of the Muslim and Christian children they accompany every day in the schools.”

Of the 14 ELCA church workers serving in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, five have long-term assignments, six are Young Adults in Global Mission and three are with The Lutheran World Federation program in Jerusalem.

The ELCJHL and the ELCA are members of The Lutheran World Federation, a global communion with 145 member churches in 79 countries representing over 70 million Lutherans.

“At such a time it is important to reach out to sisters and brothers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land,” said Hanson. “For the unity we share in Christ is stronger than all the forces that might divide us. That unity calls for our public witness as we join with other Christians, Jews and Muslims advocating for a lasting and just two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. It compels us to reject violence by any party to the conflict.”

The presiding bishop said, “It is my hope that ELCA members are praying for peace even as they deepen their awareness of the issues and advocate for a peaceful and just resolution. We join with Muslims, Jews and other Christians trusting it is God's will to hold heaven and earth in a single peace.”

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wallwritings: Palestinians Are “Marching To Freedom Land”

by James M. Wall
[a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine and an ordained Methodist clergy person]

Source: http://wallwritings.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/palestinians-are-marching-to-freedom-land/

A warning to the United States and Israel is embedded in a New York Times analysis entitled, “Arab Debate Pits Islamists Against Themselves”.

The warning lies in the reality that the Palestinian people are on the same march against the same obstacles that have stirred the quest for freedom throughout the region.

The warning is there, even as the Times editors chose to leave Palestine on the editing room floor. Anthony Shadid, who co-wrote the analysis with David D. Kirkpatrick, may have wanted to include Palestinians, but it is a strong possibility the Times editors had a different agenda.

What the analysis delivers, however, demonstrates a deep understanding of the rise of a younger Arab/Muslim generation which seeks to balance secularism with Islam.

The people of Palestine know they are a part of this uprising. They, with others in the region, will not be denied. This is the “moment” when the Palestinian people are joining in the march to freedom land. Here is part of Shaddid’s analysis:

The moment is as dramatic as any in recent decades in the Arab world, as autocracies crumble and suddenly vibrant parties begin building a new order, starting with elections in Tunisia in October, then Egypt in November. Though the region has witnessed examples of ventures by Islamists into politics, elections in Egypt and Tunisia, attempts in Libya to build a state almost from scratch and the shaping of an alternative to Syria’s dictatorship are their most forceful entry yet into the region’s still embryonic body politic.

“It is a turning point,” said Emad Shahin, a scholar on Islamic law and politics at the University of Notre Dame who was in Cairo.

At the center of the debates is a new breed of politician who has risen from an Islamist milieu but accepts an essentially secular state, a current that some scholars have already taken to identifying as “post Islamist.”

Its foremost exemplars are Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in Turkey, whose intellectuals speak of a shared experience and a common heritage with some of the younger members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and with the Ennahda Party in Tunisia. Like Turkey, Tunisia faced decades of a state-enforced secularism that never completely reconciled itself with a conservative population.

A party formed by three leaders of the [Egyptian] Brotherhood’s youth wing says that while Egypt shares a common Arab and Islamic culture with the region, its emerging political system should ensure protections of individual freedoms as robust as the West’s.

One of three leaders of the youth wing, Islam Lotfy, argues that “the strictly religious kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where the Koran is ostensibly the constitution, was less Islamist than Turkey”. He then points out, “It is not Islamist; it is dictatorship”.

The Palestinan people are significant players in this uprising. They, too, face a dictatorship, the US-backed Israeli government that controls every aspect of Palestinian life with controls that are illegal, immoral and ultimately, self-defeating.

The Palestinians have joined the “march to freedom land”. They now have their own self-governing plan.

On September 9, 2009, I [James M. Wall] wrote on my blog

Another encouraging sign is the program Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (pictured here) has developed, a lengthy document describing a future Palestinian state alongside Israel, with borders along the 1967 Green Line.

In his [Washington] Post column, President Carter referred to the Fayyad program, [and to] Javier Solana, secretary general of the Council of the European Union, for the United Nations [who is] is a strong supporter of the two-state solution:

. . . Solana proposes that the United Nations recognize the pre-1967 border between Israel and Palestine, and deal with the fate of Palestinian refugees and how Jerusalem would be shared.

Palestine would become a full U.N. member and enjoy diplomatic relations with other nations, many of which would be eager to respond. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad described to us [the Elders traveling with Carter on a recent visit] his unilateral plan for Palestine to become an independent state.

The US and Israel knew this was coming. Jimmy Carter and Javier Solana told them. Salam Fayyad showed them his plan.

Which explains why the US and Israel have done all they could do to exacerbate the differences between the two opposing Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas, hoping to prevent a unified Palestine from going to the UN. Fatah and Hamas still have their differences, but they are unified in their shared need to be free of Israeli occupation.

The Palestinians are now at the front door of the UN. Whatever finally happens there, and the betting is that the US will barricade the front door with another veto, the Palestinians will move forward.

John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer, based in Paris, writes,

The number of UN member states extending diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine has now risen to 131, leaving only 62 UN member states on the wrong side of history and humanity.

If one ignores small island states in the Caribbean and the Pacific, almost all of the non-recognizers are Western states, including all five of the settler-colonial states founded on the ethnic cleansing or genocide of indigenous populations and all eight of the former European colonial powers.

A few years back, neo-conservatives were pushing a propagandistic theory they called, “The Clash of Civilizations”, by which they meant “Western Powers versus Islam”. It was a fear tactic that fell apart upon closer examination. The neo-cons should have called their clash, “declining colonialist powers versus emerging states of the future”.

It is because of this “clash” between the past and the future, that Palestine will take its place as a UN member in good standing. That will not happen in this session. The US has embarrassed itself by its veto and its shameful campaign to bully Security Council members into rejecting the Palestinian request for membership.

The veto will only further damage US influence in international affairs. It will delay Palestinian elevation to full UN membership, but in the long run, there is no question but that the US and Israel have lost this political struggle.

A new generation of Palestinians no longer tolerates the pro-Israel “road maps for peace” which were obviously designed as an Israeli cover for Israeli expansion. Even the current Palestinian leaders are rebuking the the Quartet—the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia—for making Tony Blair, former British prime minister, their official point man with Israel and the Palestinians, a bad mistake from the outset.

The bias Blair had toward Israel has finally led the Palestinian Authority to openly take note of Blair’s bias. One Palestinian official, expressing his disapproval of Blair, paid him a back-handed compliment: “He is not as bad as Dennis Ross”, referring to the US point man for the region who has served three duplicitous diplomatic stints under three different US presidents.

The Palestinians are on the march for freedom. Sporadic outbursts of violence from Hamas have been pointless. The path of non-violent protests have been far more effective. BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is having its strong effect, hitting Israel where it hurts, its international public image.

And that Gaza blockade that Israel tried to protect by killing eight Turkish citizens and one American citizen? Gazans are sending out the word that they are ready again to receive visitors. A remarkable statement, “A Call from Gaza, to the People of Conscience worldwide to break the Israeli Blockade”, has been sent out, inviting other nations, with other ships, to come to Gaza’s shores.

The world now listens to Palestinian voices. When I first started regular visits to the region in 1973, those voices were barely audible. Now they are being heard.

Prominent among voices that are reaching the outside community is Zoughbi Zoughbi, Director of Wi’am, The Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem. Zoughbi knows a great deal about resolving conflict peacefully. In a recent interview, Zoughbi looks to the future:

Let’s put the world in front of its political responsibility once more. They have held on to the guilt they had for the Jewish people, which resulted in the UN resolution of 1947 that created Israel, but what makes us a lesser nation?

We are the victims of the victims of the holocaust, and thus its direct victims and we too need our home, our safe haven.

It is a symbolic victory on the General Assembly level but it will lead the Palestinians to think of different strategies for continuing their nonviolent struggles on the ground and to continue negotiations on equal footing.

The younger generations might start to believe that they are giving the leadership their last chance for negotiations and then they will start the 3rd intifada. It is worth mentioning that 75% of the population in Gaza is under the age of 30 and 60% of the population in the West Bank is under the age of 24.

The “victims of the victims of the holocaust” are “marching to freedom land”.

President Obama and the US Congress, would be well-advised to fall into place in that march, because in the words of the African American spiritual, the Palestinians, one by one, “ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around”.

Joan Baez sings her version [on YouTube]:

Joan Baez’ version of this spiritual/civil rights song is from Youtube. The picture at top is from a Ramallah rally, taken when President Mahmoud Abbas spoke after returning from speaking to the UN in New York. It is from Al Jazeera.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pilgrims' Post: Archbishop Elias Chacour—A Letter of Friendship and Solidarity

Source: http://www.pilgrimsofibillin.org/images/stories/Newsletters/pilgrims_post__october_2011_standard.pdf

September 27, 2011

My dear Friends,

I am glad for this chance to share thoughts with the Pilgrims of Ibillin. It is not a luxury to write to you; we feel it is a real need to keep in touch with everybody to express our sincerest appreciation and our determination to go ahead with our dream of creating better relations among ourselves and between ourselves and the Jews.

For long we have stopped thinking that we in the Holy Land are condemned to live together, despite all the suffering, the disappointments and the disillusionment. Instead, we opt for a new approach: we are not condemned to live together, we are rather privileged to live together, to accept each other and to become a sign of hope for our local people, for the Middle East and for all those thousands who visit the Holy Places.

Despite what appears on the political news we remain hopeful and are encouraged to see more and more officials on the Palestinian side seeking the implementation of their ancestors' rights, without any denial of any similar rights on the Jewish side. Charity and peace can start only when there is a genuine mutual recognition of each other.

You have been extremely important with your solidarity to encourage us all, teachers and students, to persevere in our search for God in the face of our neighbors. The present difficult time of the stiffening of positions shows a real, deep fear that was planted and nurtured over the last 63 years since the creation of the State of Israel.

I call on you, dear brothers and sisters, to continue believing that you personally can make a difference for the better, not only through giving money, but more important than money is your prayer and solidarity. Money is extremely important to develop the schools and to bring children from different affiliations to come together to be helped to write together their common future. We ask you, please, not to deprive us from either of them.

Some of you have asked where things stand regarding the money for back teacher salaries owed to us by the Ministry of Education. We still do not have the final verdict from the Israeli Court. We have been waiting for over two months and our legal advisor assures me that the verdict is imminent, it is a matter of days. We will share the good news as soon as we have it.

I am sorry to give you, however, additional bad news: our Israeli Ministry of Education made another cut in the meager subsidy to the Christian schools so we will receive 20% less than last year. We will have either to manage through raising the fees that the parents pay or simply close schools. We will be informing you of any further developments.

Yours with warm affection and very heartfelt gratitude,

Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Galilee