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, January 31, 2014

2014 Crucial Year for Ecumenism, Says Cardinal Koch

Says Pope Francis Jerusalem Meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew of "Great Importance"


Rome, (Zenit.org

This will be a crucial year for ecumenism, particularly concerning Catholic-Orthodox relations, the head of the Vatican’s Christian Unity council has said.

In an interview with charity Aid to the Church in Need published Jan. 30, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the meeting planned for May between Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew in Jerusalem was of "great importance".

He recalled the first meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in January 1964, which he described as a "great step forward".

A fruit of that meeting was the solemn lifting of the mutual anathema between the eastern and western Churches. Declared in 1054, the ban was lifted on the penultimate day of the Second Vatican Council, 7 December 1965, both in the Vatican and the Phanar, the official seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The anathema, the declaration said, was consigned “to oblivion". Koch stressed that this was "the start of the dialogue of love and truth".

Cardinal Koch explained: "When I read the texts from that time today I am astonished by the passion for unity which they express. This passion must be maintained and re-enter our awareness this year."

The President of the Pontifical Council for Unity also praised the dedication of Aid to the Church in Need to the dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church which the pastoral charity has been conducting since 1992 at the wish of Pope John Paul II. The Swiss cardinal encouraged ACN to continue to cultivate the dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/2014-crucial-year-for-ecumenism-says-cardinal-koch

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

US Should Urge Israel to Stop Confiscating Palestinian Lands, Says Bishop

'I Was Simply Astounded by the Injustice of It All'


Washington, D.C., (Zenit.org

The United States should urge the government of Israel to cease and desist in efforts to unnecessarily confiscate Palestinian lands in the Occupied West Bank, said the chairman of the Committee of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to Secretary of State John Kerry.

In a letter dated today, Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, specifically addressed the situation in the Cremisan Valley, which he visited earlier this month.

"As I stood amidst the beauty of this agricultural valley and heard the testimony of the Christian families whose lands, livelihoods and centuries-old family traditions are threatened, I was simply astounded by the injustice of it all," wrote Bishop Pates.

The Israeli Supreme Court is to begin hearings Wednesday on the proposed plan of a security wall that would run through the Cremisan Valley.

Bishop Pates enclosed a communique from the bishops of the Holy Land Co-Ordination, which made a similar call:

"Our deep concern, as we have repeatedly stated is that this planned security wall is more about consolidating the settlement areas and permanently choking off Bethlehem from Jerusalem," wrote bishops from Europe, North America and South Africa. "This particular plan is a microcosm of the tragic situation in the Holy Land which incites resentment and mistrust, making the possibility of a much-needed solution less likely."

The full text of Bishop Pates' letter and the message from bishops on the Holy Land are available online: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/global-issues/middle-east/israel-palestine/upload/letter-to-secretary-kerry-from-bishop-pates-on-cremisan-valley-2014-01-28.pdf


International Group of Bishops Protest Israeli Plan for Security Wall

As Court Readies to Hear Case, Planned Route Includes 58 Christian Homesteads Near Bethlehem

Washington, D.C., (Zenit.org)

The bishops of the Holy Land Coordination are asking for international pressure as the Supreme Court of Israel is set to begin its hearings on the security wall that would run through the Cremisan Valley.

In a statement released today, the 12 prelates of the Holy Land Coordination, which includes bishops from around the globe, made a "call for justice to be upheld in the Cremisan Valley, near Bethlehem."

The Israeli Supreme Court starts its hearing Wednesday.

"Israel’s plans to build a security wall on the land of 58 Christian families should be abandoned," the bishops stated. "We met with many families from Beit Jala during our recent visit to the Holy Land. We heard of their pain and anguish. They are faced with the threatened loss of their land and livelihood as the planned security wall will destroy vineyards, groves and orchards and separate them from their land."

The bishops acknowledged the "right of the State of Israel to security and secure borders."

"However," they noted, "the planned route of the security wall deviates sharply from the Green Line, the internationally-recognised demarcation line separating Israel and the territories captured in the six-day war of 1967. More than three quarters of the wall’s planned route falls outside the Green Line and is illegal according to a landmark advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, while also a flagrant breach of the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

The bishops, who come from the United States, England, Canada, South Africa, Poland and other nations, said they are urging their governments to encourage Israel to follow international law and, "in particular, for Israel to respect the livelihoods of these families and for the people of Beit Jala to be protected from further expropriation of their land and homes by Israel."

"Our deep concern, as we have repeatedly stated is that this planned security wall is more about consolidating the settlement areas and permanently choking off Bethlehem from Jerusalem. This particular plan is a microcosm of the tragic situation in the Holy Land which incites resentment and mistrust, making the possibility of a much-needed solution less likely," the bishops continued. "Our prayers are with the people of Beit Jala as they seek justice. We offer them also for all who seek a just peace in the Holy Land."

These are the bishops of the Holy Land Co-ordination, 2014:

Archbishop Stephen Brislin, South Africa
Bishop Peter Burcher, Scandinavia, Finland and Iceland
Bishop William Crean, Ireland
Bishop Michel Dubost, France
Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher, Canada
Archbishop Patrick Kelly, England and Wales
Bishop William Kenney, England and Wales
Bishop Declan Lang, England and Wales
Bishop Denis Nulty, Ireland
Bishop Richard Pates, United States of America
Bishop Thomas Renz, Germany
Bishop Janusz Stepnowski, Poland

Monday, January 27, 2014

Debunking Israel’s Imagined ‘Christian Awakening’

By: Dr. Reem Khamis-Dakwar on January 2, 2014 

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published a piece entitled “Israel’s Christians Awakening,” by Adi Schwartz, arguing that Palestinian Christians in Israel are undergoing a change, separating their identity from the Palestinian minority and enlisting in the Israeli army as a sign of close cooperation with the Israeli Jewish society.
This piece was published just a few days after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a special video message to Palestinian Christians citizens of Israel. His message served a twofold purpose: it was both another attempt to present Israel as the protector of Christian minorities (ostensibly in contrast to neighboring countries), and an opportunity to encourage Palestinian Christians citizens of Israel to serve in the Israeli military. The latter is a longstanding tactic that has been used to de-Arabize Palestinian communities, a continuation of Israel’s divide and rule strategy and a hallmark of Israel’s founding fathers.

Netanyahu’s message comes at a time of gathering momentum in the efforts to boycott Israeli institutions for their complicity in aiding and abetting Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. But the treatment of Palestinian Christians is particularly crucial to Israel’s image as a “Jewish and democratic state” and its relationship with the Western countries that continue to support it notwithstanding its abusive policies. It is this context that provides a clearer reading of Adi Schwartz’s comments in the WSJ.

I was raised in a Palestinian Catholic family in Nazareth in northern Israel. My parents’ lives revolved around family, work, and church. Although I have lived in the US for many years now, I visit my family every summer and am deeply connected with my roots. As part of this community, I can tell you that Palestinian Christians in Israel are aware of their belonging to the Palestinian people in every aspect of their lives. They live and function within a state that is defined for others, since it is by definition a Jewish state, and policymakers are wholly focused on serving those others. The voices reported in the WSJ’s article, then, are discordant with this reality, sounding like a cacophony prompted by the Israeli government.

Israel is defined as a Jewish State, which means Jews have exclusive and special rights that are not given to non-Jews. These rights include promotion of Zionist values and history, the disproportionate and beneficial allocation of resources to Jews, and other institutional privileges that have direct impact on social structures including immigration, land rights, and education. Palestinians are treated assecond-class citizens and lack a sense of belonging. They acutely feel a need for protection at all times within the state of Israel, whether they are Christians or not. Cabinet ministers and political groups explicitly advocate the transfer of Palestinians citizens and even population swap in order to maintain Israel’s Jewish majority.

Discriminatory laws and initiatives are passed to prevent Palestinians from connecting to our history, culture, and religion. The infamous anti-Nakba lawprohibits state funding to organizations that commemorate the dispossession and expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from 1947-1949. Segregation is endorsed in approximately 700 agricultural and community towns in Israel on the basis of “social unsuitability,” preventing Christian and Muslim Palestinians from living among the Jewish populations. Arab communities in the Naqab and the Galilee are subject to Judaization plans, non-violent Arab demonstrations against these policies are routinely dispersed with egregious and unnecessary force.

These discriminatory practices extend to everyday routines. At this time of year, it is not permitted to display a Christmas tree in the Israeli Knesset, reportedly because such an act would be considered “offensive”. Legal action has even been taken to allow the display of Christmas trees in some public places, such as Haifa University. Access to higher education is made easier for Jewish students than Palestinians. Housing subsidies are extended to Jewish settlers who want to live in illegal West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements. These conditions often make Palestinians desperate to leave the country in search of equality, education, housing, and the freedom to celebrate the holidays associated with their religion.

Today, it may be true that there is some ‘Christian awakening’ in Nazareth, but this is not and could not be the awakening described in Schwartz’s article. It is an awakening regarding the Israeli government’s attempts to recruit Palestinian Christians to serve in the Israeli military as part of their divide and rule policy. The reported alignment of Palestinian Christians with the Israeli identity and their attempt to disconnect from the Palestinian minority is questionable, at best. Palestinian Christians are aware that serving in the Israeli army contradicts theirnational interests and even their Christian values and beliefs and would bring them no greater rights, privileges or protections. Members of the Arab Druze community have been serving in the military since the 1950s and yet have not achieved equality; even those serving as officers in the Israeli Air Force are subject to unusual screening, as seen during a security exercise at the nuclear reactor in Dimona.

Thousands of Palestinians, Christian and Muslim alike, are struggling daily against oppression and are determined to seek unconditional full rights for all Israeli citizens. Against this backdrop, it is foolhardy to claim an “awakening” based on reports of only around 150 Christian Palestinian recruits. Make no mistake: Palestinian Christians know that joining the Israeli military or enrolling in the newly offered alternative national service will not end discrimination, but will only lead to further alienation and fragmentation. Those few Palestinian Christians choosing to join the army only highlight the tough choices faced by Palestinians in Israel in order to survive in the face of institutionalized discrimination. Do they join an occupying military to fight against fellow Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in order to later be eligible for state benefits, or do they reject such bribes, demand unconditional full equality for themselves, and stand in solidarity with Palestinians living under Israeli occupation who are seeking freedom? Overwhelmingly, Palestinian citizens of Israel – both Christian and Muslim – are choosing Palestinian freedom and equality.

Today, my father, like many other Palestinian citizens, struggles within Israel to secure equal rights from the state that, following the Nakba of 1948, forced him into an orphanage as a child (and his mother and brother into Lebanon as refugees). I live with my father’s personal suffering and loss, with the hope that the common future for us all, Palestinians and Israelis, regardless of religious belonging, will be based on values of equality, justice, and mutual respect and not on a spurious call to arms.

 Editor’s Note: This Op-Ed was originally sent to the Wall Street Journal who declined to publish it.

Source: Mundoweiss and HCEF

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Geneva II: First Meeting Ends with 'Cautious Optimism'

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi Speaks to ZENIT on Hopes and Challenges for Syria


Rome, (Zenit.org) H. Sergio Mora 

The first preparatory meeting at the Geneva II Peace Conference has ended today. The meeting is aimed at bringing an end to the bloody conflict that has ravaged Syria for the past three years. Diplomats hope to establish a transitional government with a new Constitution and elections that will hopefully lead Syrians in determining their future.

Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, is leading the Holy See’s delegation to the conference, accompanied by Msgr. Alberto Ortega Martin, an official of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

ZENIT interviewed Archbishop Tomasi by phone, who pointed out the challenges posed as well as the hopes that are emerging at the Geneva II Peace Conference. Archbishop Tomasi also revealed that UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, was grateful for the Holy Father's intervention.

* * *

ZENIT: How are the negotiations proceeding? Are there signs of hope or is it a ‘Babel’ where each one wants his own thing?

Archbishop Tomasi: The situation is extremely complex, but there are a few, small positive signs. The first is the presence of the Government of Syria as well as the Opposition yesterday, and a very strong message was given on the part of the International Community, with the presence of some forty Governments and delegations, almost all of whom, with the exception of Australia and the Holy See, were led by their Foreign Ministers.

Therefore, the will of the International Community was manifested, headed by [Secretary of State] Kerry of the United States, [Foreign Minister] Lavrov of Russia and UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, who chaired yesterday’s meeting.

Hence the clear sign that the International Community is saying is enough of the violence and exerting pressure on the Syrians who are the ones who must resolve the problem, beginning with the ceasefire.

Tomorrow, here at Geneva, the concrete negotiations begin between the Government’s delegation and that of the Opposition, to find a future agreement. It’s a very difficult and very complicated situation, but something must be done.

ZENIT: The Opposition was greatly divided among themselves. Have they succeeded in choosing a spokesman?

Archbishop Tomasi: The Opposition was not wholly represented at Geneva. Above all there is a common voice that wants the foreign forces, these violent groups to go home. There is talk, in fact, of more than sixty nations represented by these groups of mercenaries and persons inspired by extremism who come from Western and Muslim countries, and they are a factor of destabilization which complicated the negotiations a lot. However, those who are serious in the Opposition and of the Government seem to want to speak with one another.

ZENIT: How can this galaxy of extremist groups that come from other countries be controlled?

Archbishop Tomasi: One of the recommendations made by the Holy See is to stop the flow of arms and money to all the parties involved in the conflict in order to concentrate on humanitarian rights. In other words, to cut the money to these extremist groups.

ZENIT: And al-Assad? The transition?

Archbishop Tomasi: The launching point should be the conclusions of the Geneva I Conference [in June 2012), which requested essentially, a transitional Government, the preparation of a new Constitution and the holding of free elections. Starting from this part of the first conclusive document of Geneva, to then  take one step after another to implement that agreement which was strengthened by the Security Council.

ZENIT: Is there a glimmer of hope?

Archbishop Tomasi: We’ll see, we pray. It’s a very complicated situation.

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/geneva-ii-first-meeting-ends-with-cautious-optimism

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Holy See Address to UN Debate on Situation in Middle East

"The Holy See pledges to continue to work alongside those alleviating the suffering of all marginalized, uprooted and oppressed by conflict."

New York, (Zenit.org

Here below we publish the intervention of Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN in the Security Council Open Debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” (New York, 20 January 2014)
Mr. President,

My Delegation congratulates you on this month’s Jordanian Presidency of the Security Council and commends your convening of this timely open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Jordan’s leadership draws on insights into the region of great benefit to this Council, and it will be from Amman in your own country that His Holiness Pope Francis, as a witness to peace, will begin his own pilgrimage of prayer to the Holy Land on May 24th of this year.

For the Holy See, the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians constitutes a positive development, in regard to which Pope Francis has expressed the hope that “both parties will resolve, with the support of the international community, to take courageous decisions”.[1] Courageous decisions are seldom easy ones and can make demands on us that may be politically difficult and unpopular. Yet when faced with the reality of conflict in the Middle East all right-minded people see the need for change. Peace is not simply the absence of war but requires that the demands of justice are met for all peoples and communities. My Delegation, accordingly, joins its voice once more with all people of good will who welcome, with great hope, the re-engagement of direct, serious and concrete negotiations so that a rejuvenated peace process may help unfold better prospects for the future.

Of great significance, furthermore, is the recent agreement of the Permanent Members of this Council and Germany with Iran in respect to its nuclear programme, which offers great hopes that an era of distrust may be displaced by a new climate of trust and cooperation and it is hoped that it will be fully implemented and open the path to a definitive agreement.

Mr. President,

The Holy See has urgently and repeatedly voiced its clear concerns for the peace and welfare of all the peoples of the Middle East. Most recently it has been the ongoing situation in Syria which has prompted Pope Francis to renew the Holy See’s profound solicitude for the situation in the whole of this region. Calling the Catholic faithful to prayer and fasting for Syria in September last year, Pope Francis made a heartfelt plea “that the violence and devastation in Syria may cease immediately and that a renewed effort be undertaken to achieve a just solution to this fratricidal conflict.”[2] “Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake,” said the pope: “War begets war, violence begets violence.”[3]

Mr. President,

May the Geneva II talks on January 22nd be an occasion for a renewed reflection on the criteria needed to offer a new start for this beautiful nation left prey to indescribable destruction and loss of lives! These must include an immediate ceasefire without procrastinations owing to political preconditions, including a renewed commitment to promoting initiatives of peace instead of the sending and funding of arms, which has escalated the violence and conflict. At the same time, this must involve an immediate roll-out of humanitarian assistance and reconstruction for the countless refugees and displaced persons being housed temporarily in neighbouring countries, where so many suffer life-threatening deprivations, inter alia, of nutrition, safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The urgency of rebuilding peace trumps the resolution of other political and social questions, though such rebuilding certainly will need to include new forms of political participation and representation that ensure the voice and security of all groups calling Syria their home.

The Pope has expressed his deep concern for those experiencing relocation and displacement in efforts to escape incessant violence, as well as for those nations challenged by the influx of a great number of refugees. The international community cannot stand aloof to their praiseworthy efforts to assist. The Holy See – through its wide array of educational, health care and social service outreach efforts – pledges to continue to work alongside those alleviating the suffering of all marginalized, uprooted and oppressed by conflict.

Many of these refugees constitute a worrying exodus of Christians from their bi-millennial homelands owing, among other causes, to the targeting and instability visited upon them by fundamentalist and extremist forces. Interreligious dialogue and reconciliation will be required, thus, to restore the balance in the rich and complex pluralism of Syrian society. The Holy See stands ready to support all religious communities in their efforts to reach new understandings and the restoration of trust after these years of violence, revenge and recrimination.

Mr. President,

The Syrian people have demonstrated by their history an ability to live together in peace. Regional and international rivalries, therefore, that have little to do with the Syrian communities themselves, must be set aside, so that at the heart of the discussions are not these interests but rather those of the individual human person and the good of Syria. To this end all the interested parties are called to work together if conditions for lasting peace are to be put in place. The Geneva II talks must, accordingly, ensure inclusive participation for all parties to this conflict, in the region and beyond. The Holy See, by its presence, wholeheartedly wishes to support this objective.

Finally, I wish to call to mind the concern expressed by Pope Francis for the ongoing political problems in Lebanon, and also for Iraq, which struggles to attain the peace and stability for which it hopes.

Mr. President,

For the United Nations the challenges of the Middle East are a clarion call for its peacemaking role, the very raison d’ĂȘtre for this institution. May this open debate help muster the much needed political will to spur the international community to make a real difference in the lives of the peoples of the Middle East and help them to fulfil their dream of long-awaited peace! The global economic situation no longer permits that the international community continue indefinitely to fund growing refugee populations. Political solutions are the best solutions even for the economies of these countries because peace is the necessary precondition for the socio-economic stability capable of attracting development funds. In his address to the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See on January 13th, therefore, Pope Francis urged the whole world with great insistence to address the problems of the Middle East and to act, before any further deterioration of the situation occurs.[4]

I thank you, Mr. President.

[1] Address of Pope Francis to Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 13 January 2014.

[2] Words after the Angelus Prayer of Pope Francis, Saint Peter's Square, Sunday, 8 September 2013.

[3] Words during the Angelus Prayer of Pope Francis, St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 1 September 2013.

[4] Address of Pope Francis to Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 13 January 2014.


The Church in Jaffa, a refuge for migrants


JAFFA – On the occasion of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, a Mass was celebrated on Saturday, January 18, 2014 in the parish of St. Anthony in Jaffa with the many migrant communities. The Coordination of the Pastoral among Migrants established by the Latin Patriarchate is directed by Patriarchal Vicar, Fr. David Neuhaus, SJ. 

Gathering the faithful from at least thirteen or fourteen countries to celebrate a Mass is not common in Israel. “Look around you,” stated Father David Neuhaus during his homily.  “Look at the brothers and sisters the Lord has given us, in their diversity of origin and culture, language and color  – Filipinos, Indians, Eritreans and Ethiopians, Sri Lankans, Romanians, Nigerians, Latin Americans, Poles, Russians, Ghanaians, Lebanese, Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians and many others!”

This diversity of nationalities participating in a Mass shows the importance of immigration that the Israeli government is facing. There are nearly 53,000 asylum seekers in the country, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, among them 40,000 are Christians.  And there are over 200,000 migrant workers as well.

In highlighting this gathering, the selected songs come from around the world. The universal prayer was read in eight different languages.  Readings have been chosen for the occasion, the Gospel was about the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, recognizing the persecution of infants by Herod.  A significant reality for migrants who have left everything, often risking their lives, live in difficult conditions  and often precarious situations after having arrived in Israel.At the end of the Mass, four communities presented their cultural traditions through songs and dances.

The migrant’s daily concern is to be able to work legally and earn money to support the family. But this Mass was an opportunity to rejoice.   “We come to celebrate, we  pray and we proclaim our faith,” recalled Father Neuhaus.  “We want to be witnesses that this celebration is a great joy.  In our world, outside the Church , the reaction to the arrival of migrants is not always a celebration. Often their arrival rather provokes reactions of suspicion and hostility.”

The joy of believing

If this Mass was exceptional in bringing together a large number of migrants from many countries, it is nonetheless a further testimony to the importance of the migrant communities committed to the Christian faith.  Surrounded by Sisters from different congregations and priests from the various countries of origin of the migrants, the communities come together regularly.  In Tel Aviv, the Filipino community has a chapel in a rented building that can accommodate 220-for Mass.  On  Saturdays, the weekly day off for a great number of migrants, at least four Masses are celebrated. The chapel is filled to capacity for every Mass attended by Filipinos.  Other communities – Indian, Sri Lankan, African, etc.  also use the place for their worship gatherings in their varied rites and rituals.

“What is most important is to help them spiritually, so that they keep the faith,” expressed a Sister of St. Paul of Chartres from the Philippines. “These people need to find courage and hope in their lives, it is by faith that they persevere and succeed. They also need a family.  Many of these people are hurt, discouraged, and frustrated.  They have left their families.  The Church must be a family that supports them to heal.”

A wonderful example of this need to believe is their willingness and commitment to contribute and provide for the 32,000 NIS (6,400 Euros) monthly rent for the chapel, where they can continue to celebrate, pray and proclaim their faith in the joy of being one big family.

Pierre Loup de Raucourt  http://en.lpj.org/2014/01/20/the-church-in-jaffa-a-refuge-for-migrants/