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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

America Magazine: Syria's Late Spring

the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

According to the Syrian novelist Dima Wannous, the seed of Syria’s Arab Spring revolt was planted in Damascus in February 2011. A policeman insulted a shop owner, and a crowd of young workers and traders formed chanting, “The Syrian people cannot be humiliated.” The interior minister arrived to scold the crowd: “Shame on you. This is a demonstration!” He had no idea, says Wannous, that “demonstration would become revolution.” As a result, Syria, once ruled by a clique, is faced with a demand for a free society.

In the 21 months of conflict, Syria has not followed the pattern of the Arab Spring, replacing a dictator with incipient structures of democracy. President Bashar al-Assad has repeated the policy of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who in 1982 crushed a Sunni insurgency by destroying the city of Hama.

The statistics shock. An estimated 40,000 people have died. At least 2.5 million Syrians are displaced and a half million have fled into neighboring countries. The shelling of cities has rendered 1.5 million homeless. The government imagines this will make the people submit.

Proposed solutions extend from greater use of force—arm the opposition, assist it with air support or create no-fly zones—to more intensive diplomacy. The justification for outside intervention has several sources: the United Nations itself; Catholic just war theory shared by secular governments; the emerging principle of the responsibility to protect.

The opposition has been divided. The Syrian National Council, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, is headquartered in Istanbul. Disparate rebel groups receive help from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Salafis, extreme Sunni Muslims, belong to several rebel groups. Western powers, especially the United States, remain hesitant to better equip the resistance, aware that advanced weapons might ultimately fall into the hands of extremists. The Italian Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio, which has a history of peacemaking, met in July in Rome with opposition Islamists, leftists, secular democrats and Kurds. They have called upon the Free Syrian Army to rethink its strategy and return to the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict.

A military intervention, even one embraced multilaterally, seems hard to rationalize according to just war principles: noncombatants will surely be endangered; even greater disorder threatens; and a successful outcome is hard to perceive. Though the death toll now seems horrific, President Assad has promised to deploy chemical weapons should an international coalition appear to join sides with the Free Syrian Army.

This does not mean, however, that the international community can reside on the sidelines of the horror. Not intervening similarly offers a litany of potential noxious outcomes. Under the doctrine of responsibililty to protect, in fact, the international community has a moral obligation to respond when sovereign entities exhibit such a complete disregard for the lives and well-being of their own people. How then to proceed?

In a statement in July, the Syrians who convened with Sant’Egidio in Rome declared: “We cannot accept Syria being transformed into a theatre of regional and international conflict. We believe the international community has the strength and the necessary ability to find a consensus that would be the basis of a political solution... a real global negotiation that excludes no one and a process that would be completed with real national reconciliation based on justice.” These are nonviolent words worth hearing as the Syrian civil war hangs in bloody irresolution, seemingly on the verge, as winter approaches, of spiraling into something even worse.

In the gloom of this war, even with the option of direct military intervention properly off the table, there remain opportunities for active interventions by the United States and other global powers, particularly Syria’s patron, Russia, that can even at this late moment snatch a diplomatic victory from the jaws of this ongoing defeat for humanity. With the right pressure, creative proposals and determined, persistent diplomacy, President Assad may still be made to see reason and assent to a cease-fire that can reboot a process toward a political settlement that could establish the foundation of a long-term regional peace.
All options should remain open, including allowing Assad to remain, albeit in an altered capacity, and even proposals that consider redrawing the colonial boundaries of Syria to better represent the Alawite and Sunni, Christian and Kurd populations. The peacemakers must use every means to convince President Assad and the members of the international community, who are now ready to throw up their hands in frustration, that the whole world loses if Syria dies.

Source: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13730

Holy See Statement Regarding UN Vote on Palestinian Authority

"This result does not constitute, per se, a sufficient solution to the existing problems in the Region"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 29, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a statement from the Holy See regarding the United Nations vote today, by which the Palestinian Authority was given the status of non-member state. The vote was 138 in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions.

* * *

Communiqué of the Holy See
Today the General Assembly has given majority approval to the Resolution by which Palestine has become a Non-member Observer State of the United Nations.

1. The Holy See has followed actively the steps which have led to this important decision, while striving to remain neutral between the Parties, and to act in accordance with its particular religious nature and universal mission, and in consideration also of its specific attention to the ethical dimension of international problems.

2. The Holy See considers, moreover, that today's vote should be placed within the context of the efforts of giving a definitive solution, with the support of the international community, to the question already dealt with by Resolution 181 of the General Assembly of the United Nations of 29 November 1947. That document is the juridical basis for the existence of two States, one of which has not been constituted in the successive sixty-five years, while the other has already seen the light.

3. On 15 May 2009, while departing from "Ben Gurion" International Airport, Tel Aviv, at the conclusion of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Pope Benedict XVI expressed the following: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice, let there be genuine reconciliation and healing. Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream.

4. In the wake of that appeal, the Holy See's Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, speaking before the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2011, expressed the hope that the competent Bodies of the United Nations would adopt a decision which would help give concrete implementation to that goal.

5. Today's vote manifests the sentiment of the majority of the international community and recognises a more significant presence to Palestinians within the United Nations.  At the same time, it is the conviction of the Holy See that this result does not constitute, per se, a sufficient solution to the existing problems in the Region: which, in fact, can only find an adequate response through the effective commitment to building peace and stability, in justice and in the respect for legitimate aspirations, both of the Israelis and of the Palestinians.

6. Therefore, the Holy See, at various times, has invited the leaders of the two Peoples to restart the negotiations in good faith and to avoid actions, or the placing of conditions, which would contradict the declarations of goodwill and the sincere search for solutions which could become secure foundations for a lasting peace. Moreover, the Holy See has made a pressing appeal to the International Community to increase its commitment and to encourage its creativity, through the adoption of suitable initiatives which may help to achieve a lasting peace, that respects the rights of Israelis and of Palestinians. Peace needs courageous decisions!

7. Considering the outcome of today's vote of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and to encourage the International Community, and in particular the Parties directly concerned, towards concrete action in view of the aforementioned objectives – the Holy See welcomes with favour the decision of the General Assembly by which Palestine has become a Non-member Observer State of the United Nations. It is a propitious occasion to recall also the common position that the Holy See and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation expressed in the Basic Agreement of 15 February 2000, intended to support the recognition of a internationally guaranteed special statute for the City of Jerusalem, and aimed, in particular, to safeguarding the freedom of religion and of conscience, the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem as a Holy City, respect for and freedom of access to its Holy Places.

Gaza Strip Praying for Peace on Both Sides of the Border

When we pray for peace, we pray for peace for everyone,” said the Rev. Yoel Salvaterra, who serves the Catholic community in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, after a morning in which more than 20 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the city. “Our prayers have no borders. We know we are suffering here and they are suffering there. It is just suffering.”

The parish celebrated Mass on Nov. 18 in the church bomb shelter, Father Salvaterra said, and only 15 people came to pray, about half the normal number. The community has about 150 members. “People live in fear,” he said. “Everybody is staying home.”

In Gaza, George Antone, 31, project manager for the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and father of a 6-month-old daughter, said that residents remained inside their homes because it was too risky to leave. No one knew where Israeli bombs might land next, he said.

“It can be anywhere, between houses, in government institutions, schools, universities, a football field,” he said. “The situation here is terrible. Last night it was as if we were living in hell. Every 15 minutes you could hear an explosion.”

On Nov. 19 Sami El-Yousef, regional director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s office in Jerusalem, reported widespread destruction in Gaza and said almost all Christian institutions had sustained some damage. He said children and the elderly were paying the heaviest price.

Pope Benedict XVI condemned the escalating hostilities on Nov. 21 and called for greater efforts to promote a truce and peace negotiations. “Hatred and violence are not the solution to problems,” he said. That morning a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas was finally reached. The pope called on leaders on both sides to make “courageous decisions in favor of peace and put an end to a conflict that has negative repercussions throughout the entire Middle East region, which is already troubled by too many conflicts and is in need of peace and reconciliation.” During Israel’s aerial offensive over the Gaza Strip to neutralize rocket attacks, 169 Palestinians and at least six Israelis were killed.

One member of Antone’s Holy Family Parish in Gaza died of a heart attack during a bombing. “I don’t like the killing on either side,” he said. “I respect life.

“This is not the way in which we can find a solution. Peace never comes with blood. That is what we say to the people in church. This will lead to nothing—only a very bad scenario on both sides—and the people will pay the price.”

“Unless both sides are willing to take difficult decisions,” the stand-off will continue like this, El-Yousef said. “The cycle [of violence] gets worse and worse. This is going nowhere and just creating more hatred.” He said he hopes that new leaders in the Middle East will play a positive role in calming things down so that a lasting solution can be found. “What we have now is conflict management rather than resolution,” he said.
Antone sees the conflict between Hamas and the Israelis as not only political but also stemming from religious fanaticism on the part of both Muslims and Jews. “We Christians are not political; we call for peace and to save lives,” Antone said. After the truce, “they have to start negotiating for peace. That is the only way to solve the problem. They have to sit and speak and find a way where there will be no war for our children and the coming generations.”

Another Catholic Gazan, who asked not to be identified, said he and his family had not left their home for almost a week. “The explosions are terrible for us,” he said.

Though some people may disagree with Hamas’s tactics, “nobody can say anything against Hamas,” he said. “They are in control.”

From CNS, staff and other sources   See http://www.americamagazine.org/content/signs.cfm?signid=1165

"First Christmas Adoration" for Middle Eastern Christians

New Creation Group Sponsors Eucharistic Adoration in Parishes in Lebanon

LEBANON, NOV. 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- In a world tormented by pain, in the East that is bringing together the autumn’s falling leaves so to flourish in spring, in a country which land became holy thanks to the faithful community that believes in the Resurrection, and lives out the Christian hope with a thirst for peace in the “cradle of Christianity”, it is necessary to come to a halt in silence, piety and adoration far from the noisy world, when no voice other than Jesus is heard in the heart of each one of us. The act of bowing reveals blessed glory in the Lord Jesus, the source of consolation and light, especially for those who are suffering.

"One Adoration…United Parishes" is the motto chosen by “New Creation” Group to be the theme of a project that calls, during the Christmas novena, to prayer unity in time and not in space, through the 'Quarantore',that is 40- hour permanent adoration of the Holy Eucharist, in the different parishes of Lebanon, unifying all intentions into one: the well-being of the Middle Eastern Christians and their renewal in Jesus Christ.

The 1stChristmas Adoration, which will continue as an annual tradition, begins during the 2012 Christmas novena, on Friday December 21stand ends on Sunday December 22nd, at midnight. The Adoration gathers the faithful community around Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, and then the human person is engaged in the most sincere dialogue where he removes all the fake masks to meet, transparently, kneeling and repenting, His Creator Who got humble and was incarnated to save him, asking peace in the name of the Middle Eastern Christians and for them. Let’s unify prayer and intentions in our parishes, so that, through the Nativity of the King of Glory, a miracle of faith will see the light in our churches. The miracle becomes clear through renewal in our East, so that we advance with the Holy Spirit, through our encounter with the source of all graces, on the sole way of prayer: Jesus Christ, and thus through our silence we begin listening to Him, we are united with Him and He makes miracles in our lives.

As St. Peter of Alcantra says “In the Holy Eucharist, the hands of our Lord are full of graces, and He is ready to give them for whoever asks them.” We call you to gather in large numbers and participate in the 1stChristmas Adoration "One Adoration…United Parishes", and to be one as individuals and parishes during 40 hours of adoration and prayer in front of the Holy Eucharist at the same time and for one intention.
It is important to note that the 'Quarantore' is an Italian word that means 40- hour permanent adoration. It is an ancient practice in the Catholic Church. It began in the early 16th century and was launched in Lebanon since October 2011, with the group “New Creation” which seeks to revive this practice in Lebanon and make activities in the parishes in order to build a personal relationship with the Risen Christ. The "New Creation" Group members believe that there is no solution to our personal problems and those of the modern world without Jesus Christ. The group has organized 10 'Quarantore' so far in different areas and is making efforts so that this devotion becomes widespread and constant all over Lebanon.
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On the NET:
For more information or if you would like your parish to participate in the "First Christmas Adoration, please contact:
New Creation Group
Tel: 03257817
Email: newcreationlb@gmail.com
Tele Lumiere
Tel: 01255500

Holy See Responds to Palestinian Authority Vote: Calls for 'Effective Commitment' to Peace

'Welcomes With Favour' UN Decision; Renews Appeal for Special Status for Jerusalem

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 29, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A communiqué from the Holy See says that today's United Nations vote recognizing the Palestinian Authority as a non-member state is not a "sufficient solution" to the problems of the region, since there must be an "effective commitment to building peace and stability, in justice and in the respect for legitimate aspirations, both of the Israelis and of the Palestinians."

Still, the Holy See "welcomes with favour the decision of the General Assembly by which Palestine has become a Non-member Observer State of the United Nations," the statement affirmed.

The vote was 138 in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions, with the United States and Canada among the nations to oppose the move; the UK abstained.

The Holy See statement affirmed its neutrality between the parties. It also called for placing the vote "within the context of the efforts of giving a definitive solution, with the support of the international community," to the 1947 UN Resolution 181, the "juridical basis for the existence of two States, one of which has not been constituted in the successive 65 years, while the other has already seen the light."

A dream
The Holy See recalled the Pope's appeal for peace and for the two-state solution from a 2009 speech at the end of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

"Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream," the Holy Father said on that occasion.

Increased commitment
The Holy See statement recalled its various appeals inviting "the leaders of the two Peoples to restart the negotiations in good faith and to avoid actions, or the placing of conditions, which would contradict the declarations of goodwill and the sincere search for solutions which could become secure foundations for a lasting peace."

It further noted appeals to the international community, to increase its commitment to peace and to encourage creativity. "Peace needs courageous decisions," the statement declared.

The Holy See concluded by saying today's vote is a good occasion to recall its 2000 Basic Agreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, "intended to support the recognition of a internationally guaranteed special statute for the City of Jerusalem, and aimed, in particular, to safeguarding the freedom of religion and of conscience, the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem as a Holy City, respect for and freedom of access to its Holy Places."

Patriarch Twal: United Nations Decision Will Restore Credibility to Palestinian Government

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Expresses Joy Regarding Vote in UN

JERUSALEM, NOV. 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem expressed his joy upon hearing the news of the United Nations General Assembly approving the recognition of Palestine as a non-member State observer.

"For once the international community and the leaders of the nations had the courage not to be influenced by the pressures and to decide in conscience, without calculation. I am grateful and happy for this freedom," Patriarch Twal said in an interview with Fides Agency.

"It is a joy that I share with all Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, and that soon I will express on behalf of our Christian communities to President [Mahmoud Abbas], as soon as he gets back."

Patriarch Twal emphasized the overwhelming support of nations who voted in favor of the Palestinian request (138 Countries in favor, 9 against, 41 abstentions), while positively evaluating the abstention of the German government. "The fact that Germany did not say no means a lot," observed the Patriarch.

The Latin Patriarch also expressed his hope that with time, the international community will see that the step taken at the UN has advantages for Israel. "It opens the possibility of returning to deal with a moderate and legitimized government. I know these people: there is no person more reasonable than [Mahmoud Abbas] to return to the path of a final settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict," he said.

In recent years, he continued, "with a reckless choice, a lot was done to undermine his authority. Now he will come back from New York with the moral relieved: can talk like a real President, the President of a State."
Highlighting the Holy See's position on the matter, Patriarch Twal recalled Pope Benedict's support for a two-state solution. "I remember the many speeches of the Pope that repeated the formula of the two peoples and two States. The Church desires peace for all, justice for all, a quiet and peaceable life for everyone," he said.

"This is why one must also have the courage to say things when they are not right. Now I am thinking of the tragic situation in Syria, that the international community seems to want to remove."
Patriarch Twal told Fides that while the path to peace is still long, it is necessary to deal with problems with a certain detachment without getting involved with animosity and vindictiveness. The decision of the UN Assembly could also encourage reconciliation within the Palestinian government, "since even Hamas in the end supported President Abbas' request."

With regard to the negative vote of the United States, Patriarch Twal recalled President Obama's speech delivered in Cairo, which touched upon the relations with the Islamic world. "I hope that President Barack Obama has a good memory to remember his first speech in Cairo. That speech gave us a lot of hope," Patriarch Twal said.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gaza – A Reflection by Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa


We have received various requests to express our views on what is happening in Gaza. Honestly, we have not said anything until now, because one does not know what to state any more.

The ecclesiastical Institutions already update and express their views regarding the matter and therefore it does not seem necessary to repeat what others have already published, in the context of the usual rite of balanced and correct declarations.

In certain occasions, then, the usual exhortations inviting to the cessation of hostilities and calling for dialogue, even though they are very true and necessary, seem so cut off from reality as to seem hypocritical messages.
On this useless bloodbath that is taking place for the umpteenth time, we must however make some considerations.

1. Once again, violence, death and destruction are the common language in which we are finding ourselves. There is no sense in beginning to discuss on who has initiated the conflict, or to count the dead or to attribute the responsibility. We only know that no solution has been found and that it will only be a matter of time until everything will start all over again, in a kind of useless and vicious circle. Unfortunately a comprehensive solution seems still to be very far away.

2. We hope that such violence will not degenerate in new attacks and other forms of retaliation, which will take us back in time. It is necessary that all those who are responsible will work hard to return to moderation and to control every form of dangerous deterioration of the situation.

3. In front of so much violence and of the helplessness of all, for us believers, prayer remains the only resource. Prayer is as necessary as the air we breathe, because it permits us to look at what is happening around us with the eyes of faith. The believer should look at the world with the eyes of God who is a just and merciful Father. It is the only way not to fall into the logic of violence and refusal of the other, of which this umpteenth conflict is witness. In spite of all that which is occurring, we need to believe once again in the Other. Without God, everything becomes impossible.

4. Our religious Communities should strive, once more, to play their part in the many small initiatives of dialogue and peace. They will not change the world in the Holy Land, but they will provide the oxygen which will make people realise that, in spite of everything, there are still many persons who refuse this logic and are ready to play their part in a serious and concrete way. It is, above all, the duty of the Institutions that work with young people, to whom our future is entrusted, to take initiatives in favour of dialogue.

5. While in the Middle East historic transformations are taking place, it seems that, in the Holy Land, everything has remained unchanged. In the Holy Land, as well as in the rest of the Middle East, however, the Christian Communities are called to give witness, to transmit trust, and not to give space to helplessness.

Jews, Muslims and Christians have been called, here, in this Land, by Providence, to live together. We want to show, with our life, that this vocation is possible and can be realised. And we are ready to start all over again with this certainty.

Solemn Entrance of the Custos in Bethlehem by Custodia

Each year, the week before the beginning of Advent is lived in a particular way, with the solemn entrance of the Custos of the Holy Land in Bethelehem for the feast of St. Catherine, Patron saint of the Franciscan Parish.

The traditional feast started on Saturday morning at the Divan in Saint Savior Convent in Jerusalem. Each year this is an awaited event for a convivial moment with the Mukhtar, Mr. Yacob Amer, accompanied by other parishioners and the Custos of the Holy Land, f. Piebattista Pizzaballa, the Custodial Vicar, f. Artemio Vitores,and the St. Savior parish priest, f. Feras Hejazin.

At the end of the meeting the car procession, escorted by Israeli police, followed the long way that leads to Bethlehem starting from New Gate.

The first stop was at the Convent of Saint Elijah, “Mar Elias”. In the antique byzantine monastery one remembers the place where the prophet Elijah rested during his journey to Mount Oreb, which started from Mount Carmel to escape queen Jezebel's wrath (1Re 19,4-8).

Here is where the Jerusalem parish jurisdiction finishes and the Beit Jala parish (Palestine) starts.

The entrance of the Custos was welcomed with joy by the parish priest, father Ibrahim Shomali, by the Israeli Civil Authority and the whole Christian community in Beit Jala.

After the exchange of greetings a new convoy of cars joined the procession. Only three times a year the vehicles coming from the territories under the Palestinian Authority control, can pass the border with the State of Israel, crossing the separation wall.

As soon as the tomb of Rachel was passed, the Israeli military escorts left their work to the Palestinian police, which escorted the Custos to Manger Square in Bethlehem.

In the square there were many students from Terra Santa schools, Saint Joseph Institute, and Scouts, dressed in their colorful uniforms, together with local authorities, and Bethlehem's new mayor, Mrs. Vera Baboun; they were all waiting for the Custos' arrival. At the opposite entrance of the Basilica , Fr Artemio Vitores, Custodial vicar, Fr Stéphane Milovitch, Saint Catherine convent guardian and the custody's seminarists and parishioners, all welcomed the Custos.

When the Franciscan greetings concluded, the representatives of the Orthodox church and the civil authorities solemnly entered St. Catherine church, through the Basilica of the Nativity, crowded with local pilgrims.

The rite started with the kiss of cross,which is at the entrance of the church, accompanied by the Te Deum notes, the Custos reached the high altar. After the Parish priest ,Fr Marwan De'ides greetings, the Custos thanked the present and handed to the new mayor a bible, a rosary, and a cross.

Mrs. Baboun thanked the Custos underlining that her mission, even though it is a hard one, will be lightened by the Words light.

At the celebration conclusion , the Custos solemnly blessed all those present.

A cordial greeting exchange , in the church's cluster, concluded the ceremony that was slightly simpler in solidarity with the families of the victims in Gaza.

In the afternoon the father Custos presided the celebration of the first vespers and the procession to the Nativity Grotto.

Sunday the 25th of November, Feast of Christ the King. The celebration of the holy mass at St. Catherine's church was solemnly presided by the Custos.

The Franciscans have been in Bethlehem since 1347 in the convent right next to the Basilica of the Nativity. The church, dedicated to St. Catherine, martyr, was built in the XII century and was then expanded and modified.

Archbishop Laham of Palestine Supports Request to UN for Palestine Observer Status

Formal Request to Be Submitted By President Mahmoud Abbas

PALESTINE, NOV. 29, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Maroun Laham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem,  expressed the support of Palestinian Christians of the request to recognize Palestine as a UN non-member State Observer. The request will be formally submitted to the United Nations by President Mahmoud Abbas tomorrow.

"The Churches of the Holy Land in a unanimous manner support the step taken by the Palestinian National Authority. The soul and the prayers of the Christians of Holy Land ask that this step is accomplished," Archbishop Laham said in an interview with Fides Agency.

The Palestinian prelate also stated that "every step towards the recognition of a Palestinian state is a good thing. And despite all the obstacles, it is undeniable that certain steps have been carried out since the time when the Palestinians were only refugees without a country. "

The recognition of Palestine as an Observer at the United Nations, according to Archbishop Laham, would also allow reconciliation at an internal level between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

"For example, Palestine may appeal to the International Tribunal in The Hague, to denounce the attacks against human rights suffered by the Palestinians. And at an internal level, as President [Mahmoud Abbas] said, the granting of the request may favor Palestinian reconciliation and the strengthening of the National Authority. As is known, the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, telephoned President Abbas to express his support for the initiative," Archbishop Lahoun said.

Palestinian Christians have expressed their optimism on the success of the UN vote. France, Russia and China also support the request.

"If things go as they should, on Sunday I will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving, inviting representatives of the Palestinian Authority," said Fr. Raed Abusahliah, a pastor in Ramallah to Fides Agency.

KAIROS PALESTINE A moment of truth - 1st Sunday in Advent

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:1-20, NIV)

“Israeli settlements ravage our land in the name of God and in the name of force, controlling our natural resources, including water and agricultural land, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and constituting an obstacle to any political solution".
Kairos Palestine Document, Chapter 1.1.2

Israeli Settlements and Israeli outposts in and around Bethlehem

Bethlehem, 2nd of December 2012 – Currently there are 179 settlements with more than 628,000 settlers (civilians) in the total area occupied by Israel, including 257,000 in occupied East Jerusalem. In addition, Israeli settlers have established 232 illegal Israeli settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank.

Today, there are 20 Israeli settlements accommodating more than 107,000 Israeli settlers infringing on Palestinians’ lands in Bethlehem Governorate. These settlements are built on a total area of 19.1 km2, which constitutes around 3.1% of the Governorate’s area. Furthermore, in the years between 1996 and 2007, the Israeli settlers established in the Bethlehem area 14 locations, which came to be known as settlements’ outposts.

Moreover, the Israeli occupation enforced 114 km of bypass roads in Bethlehem Governorate, both constructed and planned, to comply with the Israeli settlements program and to facilitate movement of the settlers with Israel. The inhabitants of Bethlehem today are denied access to certain sections of the bypass roads network and are blocked from them with cement blocks, trenches, earth-mounds, barbwires and iron gates – all under the pretext of military and/or security purposes.

To give you a concrete example: Ush Ghurab is the name of a high hill which lies in the eastern part of Beit Sahour city in the Bethlehem Governorate. For many years, it has been coveted and targeted by army and settlers. Now, an Israeli extreme right-wing settler’s organization called “Women in Green” is planning to build a settlement called “Shdema” in this area.

This will have a deep impact on the Palestinian population from Beit Sahour, one of the last Christian majority towns in Palestine.

1) Richard, Matthew; Issac Jad: The Water Regime in the West Bank, in: This week in Palestine, Issue No. 174, October 2012, p. 4-10.

2) For further information please go to http://www.poica.org/editor/case_studies/view.php?recordID=2397 (New Israeli Attempt to resettle in Ush Ghurab area in Beit Sahour)

The Son Is Coming (Matt 21: 37)!

Written by Rev. Yohanna Katanacho

The parable of the vineyard and the tenants (Matt 21:33–45) is fascinating to Palestinian readers. Its components are very familiar to us. It mentions the owner of the land, a wall, watch towers, violence, bloodshed, land disputes, injustices, and getting rid of the true owner of the vineyard. It is like a Palestinian contemporary movie videotaped in the West Bank. The owner of the land provided all the needed tools. He built a fence and a tower to protect his land, and a winepress to enjoy its fruits (v. 33). He trusted others and wanted to share the goodness of the land by providing jobs and allowing others to work together for the common good. He wanted the fruit of his own land.

However, a group of farmers stole the land and transformed the fence of protection into a wall of an illegal empire. The watchtowers became the place in which the farmers saw the servants of the owner of the land and decided to get rid of them (vv. 34-36). These illegal settlers of the vineyard used every possible means to keep the land in their hands. They were willing to use escalating violent measures starting from beating, to stoning, to killing the messengers of justice who wanted to return the land to its true owner. Eventually, the owner of the land sent his son but when they saw the heir of the land, they conspired to kill the son of the owner and seize the inheritance (vv. 37-38). In other words, the text brings together Christmas and Easter. The coming of the son and the killing of the son are succinctly juxtaposed to each other. Both are intimately related to bringing about the Kingdom of God.

The time of the fruit or better the Kairos, using the Greek text, has come. The appointed time in which we are expected to give an account to a just God has come. This appointed time reaches its climax in the coming of the son who is the legal owner of the vineyard. He is coming to restore the vineyard to his father, its legal owner. He is a messenger of justice and judgment. He will bring justice for the owner and judgment upon the wicked farmers. However, Christmas is transformed into Easter. The good news about the coming of the son is transformed into an ugly scene. The wicked farmers killed the son (v. 39) yet they are not able to escape the appointed divine moment. For in their persistent unjust actions they have rejected the will of God.

No one can twist the arm of God. Killing the son transformed him into a crushing stone. This stone is the true owner of the land who has been rejected. He is going to be the foundation of a new reality (v. 42). God will restore the stolen vineyard. The death of the son outside the vineyard (or Jerusalem if you wish) and his resurrection created a new people. The unjust settlers will lose the land. The land will be given to a new group of people who are willing to serve God and give the fruits back to Him (v. 43).
This biblical parable has a lot to say to Palestinians. First, we are like the servants of the owner of the land. We obediently march towards the illegal settlers with a prophetic divine message. Palestinian Christians in particular can be divine messengers who proclaim that God owns the land. God, not the Jews or the Palestinians own the land. We can also proclaim that the land of God cannot be seized by oppression or violence or illegal actions.

Second, Palestinian Christians should be willing to suffer in order to proclaim the prophetic divine message. It is a salvific message full of justice and love, a message that is rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the world. When we suffer as a result of proclaiming the prophetic divine message then our suffering is similar to the servants or prophets who insisted on justice and righteousness. It is also similar to the suffering of the son or Jesus Christ who was drawn outside his land (v. 39) and killed. We will be a blessed people. The Bible says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11-12).

Third, Palestinian Christians should remember that the owner of the land is the winning party. His plan will be accomplished and His Kingdom will continue to grow. God will accomplish his just will through our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to put our faith in the power of Jesus Christ and his message. He was fully committed to loving the wicked farmers and was equally committed to bring about justice. He was born the first time in Bethlehem to bring about the Kingdom of God and was born the second time in Jerusalem (cf. Ps 2:7) to establish this eternal impeccable Kingdom. His Kingdom is not only the antidote of every evil but is also the incarnation of God’s love, Justice, and Grace. It can be fully seen in the face of Jesus Christ. The vineyard will always belong to the Son. Its farmers, however, will stay in it as long as they honor the principles advocated by the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and righteousness. It is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

In this Christmas, we celebrate that Christ is coming. He comes to bring about the Kingdom. May we all follow him, be faithful citizens of His Kingdom, and proclaim his message with a heart full of faith, love, hope, righteousness, and justice.

Rev. Dr. Yohanna Katanacho is a Palestinian Evangelical. He has earned his M.A. from Wheaton College and his Master of Divinity as well as his Ph.D. in the Old Testament from Trinity International University. He is now serving as the Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College and Galilee Bible College. He is a co-author of the Kairos Palestine Document.

Kairos Palestine –
A moment of truth
Bethlehem, Palestine
c/o Dar Annadwa
P.O.Box 162
Tel.: +972 2 277 0047
Fax: +972 2 277 0048
Website: www.kairospalestine.ps www.facebook.com/kairospalestine

Kairos Palestine is a group of Palestinian Christians who authored “A moment of Truth” – Christian Palestinian’s word to the world about the occupation of Palestine, an expression “of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”, and a call for solidarity in ending over six decades of oppression. The document was published in December 2009.

Applied Research Institute –
Jerusalem Society (ARIJ)
Bethlehem, Palestine
P.O. Box 860, Karkafeh St,
Tel: 970-274-1889
Fax: 970-277-6966
E-mail: pmaster@arij.org
Website: www.ARIJ.org

ARIJ represents 20 years of combined organizational experience in the Palestinian Territory in the fields of economic, social, management of natural resources, water management, sustainable agriculture and political dynamics of development in the area. ARIJ plays an active role in the local community as an advocate for greater cooperation among local institutions as well as international and non-governmental organizations.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

'We Are Dying Here': An eyewitness account of the Syrian refugee crisis

the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

In the last chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses ascends to the top of Mount Nebo; from the east side of the Jordan, God shows him the land promised to Abraham and all his descendants. The view of this territory is one of the last things Moses sees in this life, but he never sets foot there. It is left to his descendants to cross over the river and enter the land of promise.

I had a chance recently to look at the world from atop Mount Nebo. I went there as part of a delegation, led by Bishop Anthony Taylor, with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services. We were sent to the Middle East to examine the situation of refugees in the countries around Mount Nebo, particularly Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Our mission was to better understand the Syrian refugee crisis, strengthen networks of support between the bishops and other relief organizations, stand in solidarity with the people who suffer and recommend possible durable solutions to policy makers.

The surrounding land shows that little has changed since biblical times. Brothers here are still selling brothers (Gn 37:27-28); families are still enslaved (Ex 1:1-22); people are still in captivity (2 Kgs 25); Rachel is still weeping (Mt 2:18); nations are still living in exile (Ps 137); refugees are still wandering in the deserts (Dt 2:1-37); and refugee cities are still being created (Dt 4:41-43). Only now these narratives are echoed by contemporary stories: of trafficked victims in Egypt, tortured Eritreans in the Sinai, persecuted Christians in Iraq and Iran, unaccompanied minors throughout the region and displaced Syrians in the crossfire of a civil war. Throughout my time there, I kept wondering: Is it still possible to see the land of promise amid this desert of human suffering?

The situation is critical. The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that the number of Syrians fleeing their country’s violent conflict could reach 700,000 by year’s end and 1.5 million by June 2013. Some refugees are twice displaced: first from Iraq to Syria, then from Syria to anywhere they can find protection.

At a makeshift camp on the Lebanon-Syrian border, inside a precarious, plastic-covered shelter, we visited a number of families displaced by the fighting. Three sisters-in-law, each in her early 20s, had just lost their husbands in the Syrian war. One widow showed us a cellphone video taken just after their husbands had been brutally killed. Then the mother of those men came in, weeping and sobbing uncontrollably, holding in her hands the heart-breaking report that her grandson had been killed the day before. Until that moment I had only seen pietàs carved out of stone. There I saw one carved out of the suffering of Syrian refugees.

A Mission of Refuge

As Syria plunges deeper into chaos, many churches, mosques, nongovernmental organizations and governments of some Middle East countries are doing their best to respond. But the scope, severity and urgency of this crisis require much broader international collaboration because the pressing human needs far outstrip the available resources. The official camps set up by the governments of Turkey and Jordan offer a thin line of protection for these refugees, providing some basic shelter, security, food and medical assistance. But the camps are inadequate to rebuild shattered lives. They are, at best, a stopgap solution for what is likely a long-term issue. In these camps we met people recovering from blasts, bombardment and battles. In a tent a baby had just been born and wrapped in a blanket, a sign that the persistent power of life still bursts forth even amid this deadly reality.

The mission of the church in this part of the world extends not only to other Christians but to any human being in need. As one organization put it, “Being Syrian does not make you our client; being extremely vulnerable does.” As the church drills down beneath the complex historical factions, religious differences, social crises and economic problems of this situation, its missiological foundation rests on the bedrock of the gratuitous love of God and the human face of the refugee. When viewed from the perspective of those who are most vulnerable, the issues are indeed very basic. The refugees wanted us to bring back the message that they are hungry, needy, homeless and moving into the winter months, with little protection from the elements.
“We are human beings,” said one woman, and “the hardest part is not knowing when this conflict will end.”

“We are not living here,” said another refugee. “We are dying here.”

Crossing the Jordan

Even though refugees are not a new phenomenon in this part of the world, each generation defines itself in relation to how it responds to them. According to stipulations of the covenant, inheritance of the Promised Land is inextricably linked to care for those who are most vulnerable (Dt 10:12). Our spiritual ancestors were once refugees in these parts, and God heard their cries (Ex 3:7). Others are living that reality right now. Memory plays an important role in biblical spirituality precisely because it helps us see something of our own lives in those who suffer. When the plight of such suffering fails to move us, then something inside us has become alien, for we have become disconnected from the fundamental bonds that join us not only to God but to one another.

Biblical faith also reminds us that the true greatness of a nation is measured not by its military might or economic assets but by the wealth of its character, expressed particularly in its responsiveness to human need (Mt 25:31-46). Movement toward the Promised Land is not simply movement toward a physical location but also toward a place of human solidarity. We cross the Jordan River, a symbol of our baptismal commitment, every time we create a safe space, foster human dignity, fight for human rights, provide basic needs, advocate for just systems, create opportunities, build networks for resettlement and integration, join people in a shared human vulnerability, denounce injustices like human trafficking, challenge attitudes of xenophobia and create an oasis of hope.

The work of the U.S. Catholic bishops, which resettles about 20,000 refugees each year (more than any other organization in the world), is a step in the right direction. But it is only a small step in relation to the overall need. The humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis requires not only faith-based actors but also governments and nongovernmental organizations, indeed the whole human community. In the face of the world’s many needs, this suffering can overwhelm us and make us numb, at times. Yet even if we cannot do everything, we can do something.

A View of the Promised Land

Before leaving the United States, I anticipated that our delegation would help me understand the refugee situation in the Middle East. After speaking with political leaders I attempted to analyze it. In talking with U.N. officials I tried to evaluate it. In conversations with faith-based organizations I faced the scope of it. But conversations with refugees and seeing their plight made me progressively more silent as time went on. The more I heard, the more speechless I became, recognizing that no thought or words could touch the pain of the people we encountered. By the end I was weeping. For a moment I could feel God’s heart breaking over what is happening there.

God continues to offer his life not only for those who are trying to help but also for those who are struggling to hope. As people’s lives are torn asunder, faith is all many have left when everything else has been taken from them. God remains a refuge for all who place their trust in him (Ps 16:1), even as these refugees do from the exile of their shattered lives.

Christ himself not only migrated to this territory but also became a refugee in these parts. And Christ still migrates into these broken territories of human existence, especially through those who reach out to the refugees in their need. But whether there is room for these refugees in the “inn” of our human community (Lk 2:7) remains an open question. Perhaps, like Moses, some future generation will see a territory of human solidarity on the horizon, where each person’s basic needs are met for protection, food and shelter. But the view of the Promised Land from Mount Nebo today—and the situation of refugees surrounding it—suggest that we still have a vast desert in front of us and a long road ahead.

Syria in Brief

General: Arab republic under authoritarian regime; Independence, 1946; Approx. pop. 22 million; majority Muslim, 10% Christian; Basher al-Assad president since 2000.
The Conflict: Commenced with pro-democracy protests in March 2011; expanded to all-out civil war. Government crackdown denounced by many in the international community.
The Costs: Nearly 40,000, mostly civilians, have died; 1.2 million displaced internally; 2,000 refugees flee to Jordan nightly; number of refugees could reach 1.5 million by June 2013. Most refugees are women and children.

Daniel G. Groody, C.S.C., is associate professor of theology and director of the Center for Latino Spirituality and Culture at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

Source: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13715

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Miko Peled Seattle. Oct. 1, 2012

Pope Benedict urges fresh efforts towards Middle East peace

Mon, Nov 26 2012

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict made a new appeal on Monday for peace in the Middle East and freedom of worship for Christians, following repeated bouts of violence and intimidation that have caused deep concern to the Vatican.

"I want particularly to encourage the life and presence of Christians in the Middle East, where they must be able to live out their faith freely, and to launch once again a pressing appeal for peace in the region," Benedict said in comments addressed to Lebanese pilgrims at the Vatican.
The appeal follows a call last week for an end to the conflict in Gaza, where a ceasefire was agreed on Wednesday.

The pope addressed the Lebanese pilgrims after Beatitude Bechara Boutros Rai, 72, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church in Lebanon, was named as a new cardinal at a ceremony called a consistory.
"The church encourages all efforts for peace in the world and in the Middle East, a peace that will only be effective if it is based on authentic respect for other people," said Benedict, who visited Lebanon in September.

(Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by Sophie Hares)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Oxfam Spokesman Calls for End of Embargo on Gaza

Martin Hartberg Says Cease-Fire Is Only First Step

JERUSALEM, NOV. 26, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A spokesman for the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (Oxfam) stated that current cease-fire agreement between Israel and Palestine "is not sufficient" in restoring peace in the region.

Martin Hartberg of Oxfam International released a statement to Fides News Agency calling for an end to the embargo of Gaza which that "for five years has been subject to a crippling blockade, which has limited imports and exports and destroyed its economy."

Oxfam International, which is one of the largest in the world and has its headquarters in the United Kingdome, is present in Israel and Palestine with development projects for disadvantaged groups, measures concerning child protection,  and activities in the field of social and health support for rural development.

While welcoming the news of the cease-fire, Hartberg said that while it is essential, it is still only the first step. "Violence in recent weeks has been devastating for the people in Gaza and Israel. Hundreds of lives have been lost and homes, schools and kindergartens destroyed. People need to be able to go back to living a normal life," the statement read.

For over a week the school in Gaza and southern Israel have been closed and the activities through which people make a living in Gaza, such as fishing and agriculture, have been stopped because [it is] considered too dangerous. "

Hartberg also stated that since the blockade began five years ago, "a third of the companies in Gaza have closed and 80% of the population is now in need of aid."

The spokesman for Oxfam concluded his statement calling on the international community to "be bolder" in ending the embargo affecting Gaza. Only by removing the blockade, he stated, "we will have a chance to end the relentless cycle of violence that has devastated millions of lives."

"If the Gaza blockade continues and the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank remain separate, it will be impossible to reach the solution of two states for two peoples advocated by the international community."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Caritas: Gaza Too Dangerous to Work

Mobile Clinic, Health Center Suspend Operations

ROME, NOV. 19, 2012 (Zenit.org).- As the violence in Gaza continues to escalate, Caritas Jerusalem says the area is too dangerous for its mobile clinic and health center to operate fully.

The regional Caritas group operated health facilities in Gaza, including a mobile clinic that had to stop operations a few days ago when the situation there worsened, and a medical center, now also partially suspending operations, due to the life threatening situation for medical staff.

Caritas is intent on continuing to serve the people of Gaza while the health facility operations are suspended. Besides food and water, the Caritas agency is planning to provide medical kits to 180 community agents who have been trained in first aid in emergencies.

But an emergency response in Gaza will only be possible once major hostilities have ceased and the border is reopened. In the event of a ground invasion, that could be a matter of several weeks.

“What we can do now is pray, and also condemn the violence because it will not bring a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem.

Pray as Jesus did

Neville Kyrke-Smith, UK director of the charity Aid to the Church in Need, echoed the bishop's evaluation.
Kyrke-Smith was leading a Holy Land pilgrimage on the day Gaza's top military commander was killed (Nov. 14), an event which escalated the conflict.

Calling on people to pray for peace this Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, Kyrke-Smith said: "The current conflict could be the taper that lights the fuse-wire of an even more widespread conflict in the Middle East.

"The Christian community must not stand back hoping that conflicts like this will burn themselves out. We have to act now for the people of the Middle East and encourage our politicians to do the same.

"Our Lord prayed for the peace of Jerusalem. We must pray too, for the peace of Jerusalem and the wider Middle East."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

New Coptic Patriarch: “We demand no privileges, but equality”

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

ACN, Montreal, November 6, 2012 – The nomination of the new Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II in Cairo on Sunday has been welcomed with pleasure by Egypt’s Coptic Catholic Church. “The new Pope of the Copts has finally been chosen. We celebrate together with our brothers and sisters,” Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Gizeh told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Monday. In an interview in his offices October 6, near Cairo, he added: “Together with the Coptic Church we have prayed and fasted that a worthy successor to His Holiness Pope Shenouda III would be chosen. This has now come to pass with the nomination of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II. We hope that the new Pope will be able to guide his Church with strength and wisdom through all the difficulties that exist in Egypt at the present time.”

“We demand no privileges, but equality for all citizens”

In Bishop Mina’s view, these are considerable. He is particularly concerned about the current discussions around the country’s future constitution, which the Islamists – who dominate the constituent assembly responsible for drafting the constitution – are seeking to influence in their own favour. “We want nothing other than a constitution for all Egyptians. We demand no privileges, but equality for all citizens, whether Christians or Muslims. Such a just constitution would be of benefit to all citizens of Egypt, not only Christians. Thus, on this level there is no difference between us and our Muslim fellow citizens.”


But on another level, Bishop Mina sees serious problems with regard to religious freedom in Egypt, affecting the Christians in particular. “If we continue along the present course, we will end up in a situation not far removed from religious persecution.” The fact that Christian families in the city of Rafah on the Sinai Peninsula were forced to leave their homes in late summer after threats from Islamists is a matter of extreme concern, according to the Bishop. And he said that there were further examples. “I hope that the government and President Morsi are conscious of their responsibility to guarantee the security of all of Egypt’s citizens.”


Bishop Mina belongs to the Coptic Catholic Church, which in contrast to the Coptic Orthodox Church is in communion with the Pope in Rome. But they both share the same liturgical and spiritual heritage. The first attempts at union from the side of the Holy See took place as long ago as the 15th century during the Council of Florence. But it was only in 1895 that Pope Leo XIII installed the permanent Coptic Catholic Patriarchate of Alexandria. The present Patriarch is Cardinal Antonios Naguib. The Coptic Catholic Church is organised in seven dioceses and includes 200 priests and some 200,000 believers. It is thus very small in comparison with the Coptic Orthodox Church with its approximately eight million believers.  

Source: Robert Lalonde, Head of Information, ACN Canada (514) 932-0552 1-800-585-6333 info@acn-aed-ca.org
Web site: www.acn-aed-ca.org

Monday, November 5, 2012

Catholic, Jewish Leaders Decry Vandalism in Middle East

Religious Forum Responds to Attacks Against Churches, Mosques

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 5, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Jewish and Catholic leaders voiced concern over crimes of vandalism against religious communities, especially recent attacks against Christian churches and Muslim mosques in Israel.

During the semi-annual consultation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the National Council of Synagogues (NCS), held last month at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, discussions focused on the need to prosecute religiously-motivated violence and eliminate the teaching of contempt for other religions from textbooks and curricula.

The dialogue was chaired by Rabbi David Straus of the Main Line Reform Temple in Philadelphia, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, and Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Activities.

Speaking on "A Jewish Perspective of Religion in the Public Square," Washington attorney Nathan Lewin addressed such concerns as the right of an Orthodox Jew to wear a yarmulke while in military service or that of a person to display a Menorah or other religious symbol on public property, as well as the role of religion in education. Lewin voiced personal opposition to any government attempt to coerce hospitals and religious institutions to violate their consciences in the pursuit of federal grants.

Stephen Colecchi of USCCB’s Office of International Justice, Peace and Human Development responded that religion's role in society is to form and mobilize public conscience, citing examples of the key role religion played in battling apartheid in South Africa and racism in America via non-violent means.

Robert Destro of Columbus School of Law of The Catholic University of America (CUA) proposed religious freedom is the cornerstone of human rights and expressed fear that government intrusion in the form of taxpayer dollars funding birth control may carry over to issues like assisted-suicide in the future.

Richard Foltin, director of the National and Legislative Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, responded by drawing a distinction between an "avowedly secular state" and a "secular state," praising the separation of church and state. He voiced opposition to the use of public dollars for private and parochial schools, warning that people ought not to use the power of the state to coerce others to their beliefs.

The two-day event concluded on a theological note with a group Scripture study exploring the topic of "covenant" as understood in Jewish and Catholic traditions. The study was led by Rabbi David Sandmel of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and Robert Miller of CUA.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Threatened expropriation in the Cremisan Valley

Oliver Maskan AED international
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Montreal, Monday, 29 October 2012 – In view of the imminent threat of confiscation of Christian property by Israel in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem, Bishop William Shomali, the Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem, sees all aid on the part of foreign governments and churches towards finding a resolution of the affair, which is currently before the courts, as a step in the direction of peace and public order. This was stated by Bishop Shomali, the Roman Catholic Bishop responsible for the Palestinian territories in the Latin Patriarchate, in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Monday.
Last week, the Assembly of Bishops of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (AOCTS) voiced its opinion on this matter for the first time and called on Israel to stop the construction of what is, in its view, an illegal barrier in the Cremisan Valley. It also expressed the fear that the planned separation wall will further accelerate Christian emigration from the Holy Land.
Illegal under international law
The bishops emphatically reject the assertion that the Holy See and the local churches had implicitly or explicitly reached an agreement with Israel with regard to the barrier. This was alleged by the non-governmental organisation “The Israel Project” in a statement on 16 October, according to which the Holy See was said to have agreed to the barrier being partly built on Church land.
The more than 750-kilometre long barrier, which has been erected since 2003 and which the Israelis regard as serving the purpose of defence against terrorism, runs for about 80 percent of its length on the other side of the Green Line – the ceasefire line of 1948 which in international law represents the border between the State of Israel and the territory of West Jordan which was occupied in 1967. In a pronouncement in 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague therefore declared the building of the wall to be illegal under international law. Bishop Shomali told ACN: “If Israel were to build the wall along the course of the border that applied before the occupation of the West Bank, it would not be a problem. It would be Israel’s right, to which nobody could raise any objection. But the problem is that the section of the barrier at Cremisan runs on the other side of this border, on Palestinian land.”
Quite apart from the fact that it is breach of international law, the Bishop also believes that it would be possible to find a route for the barrier which would involve less expropriation of land. The confiscation would affect 58 families in the village of Beit Jala near Bethlehem, which is over eighty percent Christian, who would lose their olive groves and fruit gardens. Many families live off the farming of this land.
Taking action against the Israeli plans
They have been taking action against the Israeli plans before the responsible Israeli law court in Tel Aviv since 2006. In 2010 the action was joined by the Salesian Sisters, who have been running a school in the affected district since 1960. The school is currently attended by some 450 Muslim and Christian children. If the barrier is built as currently planned, their convent would be cut off from part of the land they own. Furthermore, the barrier will run directly beside the convent and the school, denying the sisters any possibility of building an extension to the school for which approval has already been granted. The Salesians, who run a monastery not far from the convent, would also be affected by the wall. At the beginning of this year they also made an application to join the legal action, but no decision has yet been taken on this.
A decision by the Israeli court is expected after February 2013, when the final pleas of the opposing parties will be heard. Bishop Shomali told ACN: “We want a decision that is just, not one that is designed to please the Church.” He still believes it possible that the court will deliver a fair judgement, because he regards the Israeli courts as politically independent. But in the event – which cannot be excluded – that the property of the Christian families is indeed confiscated, which would amount to an expropriation in fact if not in law, the Bishop is concerned about the material consequences for those affected: “We must then consider what we can do together with Caritas and other humanitarian organisations. But I fear that our resources will be inadequate.”
–  30  –
Source: Robert Lalonde, Head of Information, ACN Canada
(514) 932-0552  1-800-585-6333 
Web site: www.acn-aed-ca.org
*ACN’s articles are given freely for partial or full publication, on the condition that the source, Aid to the Church in Need be mentioned.  If you wish to receive the original photo, please contact us at the coordinates above.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is an international Catholic association which has a mandate fraternal charity toward greatly suffering and needy local Churches.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried, she offers spiritual and material help to the Church in need in over 145 countries.