Born in Beirut, Lebanon on August 31, 1950 (Son of Fawzi Francis Kobti and Verginie Elias El-Sharif). Studied at the Latin Patriarchate Seminary of Jerusalem from 1963-1975. Worked as a teacher at Terra Santa College 1973-1974 (Franciscan Fathers of the Custody of the Holy...Read More
Seeking truth and justice
Christians can act as catalysts for peace and the preservation of Christianity in the Islamic Middle East by amplifying Pope Francis’ recognition of the “genocidal” character of the sectarian conflict, and by echoing his demand that it “must end”.
by John Eibner
(The Tablet, UK) 30 July 2015 – Even though Turkey has been drawn into the campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria the future for the region’s non-Muslims remains far from secure. However there are two important steps the US needs to take to help restore peace there
Most of Washington’s allies have been reluctant to join its anti-Islamic State (IS) bombing campaign. One of the most conspicuous holdouts, NATO member Turkey, has now reluctantly yielded to American pressure. But its rulers have exacted a stiff price: the right to bomb the region’s most effective anti-IS fighting force – the Syrian and Iraqi-based Kurdish militias.
With restive Kurds making up roughly 20 per cent of Turkey’s population, the country’s Islamist authorities feel more threatened by secular Kurdish nationalism than by jihadism. Thus the grisly war in the Levant and Mesopotamia threatens to spread into Anatolia.Read More
“There is strong evidence that Israeli forces committed war crimes in their relentless and massive bombardment of residential areas of Rafah in order to foil the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, displaying a shocking disregard for civilian lives.” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director
(Amnesty International) July 29, 2015
New evidence showing that Israeli forces carried out war crimes in retaliation for the capture of an Israeli soldier has been released today in a joint report by Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture. The evidence, which includes detailed analysis of vast quantities of multimedia materials, suggests that the systematic and apparently deliberate nature of the air and ground attack on Rafah which killed at least 135 civilians, may also amount to crimes against humanity.
The online report, ‘Black Friday’: Carnage in Rafah during 2014 Israel/Gaza conflict, features cutting edge investigative techniques and analysis pioneered by Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London.Read More
The Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples Talks about His Experience in Iraq, First as Nuncio and then as Papal Envoy
(Zenit) Rome, July 29, 2015 “It is Pope Francis’ intention to go to Iraq and I believe, without a doubt, he will do so, although I cannot foresee the opportune moment now because everyone understands that this is still a very problematic time for the country,” said Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who on the occasion of the publication of his book “The Church in Iraq” (published by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana) reviewed his recent missions in the country, on behalf of the Holy Father.
Cardinal Filoni confirmed that the ethnic and religious fragmentation is causing profound divisions in the country. He reminded that the southern area is Shi’ite and, therefore, “it cannot be thought that Iran will give up its influence in these lands.” According to the Cardinal, “it’s as if the Jews gave up Jerusalem or Catholics Rome. What is more, there are mixed Sunni and Shi’ite areas. In the Western part instead, we find ancient Sunni tribes and in the East and the North the presence of Kurds but also of Christians. It is a very composite reality and in this mosaic if they don’t come to an agreement with each other there will never be peace, which is the fundamental condition for the country’s development.”Read More
“We will fight and do everything we can to keep Christians as much as possible in the birthplace of Christianity. Christians in the Middle East have an important role–mission, presence and dialogue.”
by John Pontifex
(Aid to the Church in Need) New York, July 28, 2015 – The worldwide head of the Melkite Church has charged that support from the West earmarked for moderate opposition groups in Syria is ending up in the hands of ISIS and other Islamic extremists.
In an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III, head of the largest Catholic community in Syria, said money and weapons given to moderate groups are being repeatedly seized by ISIS and used in the effort to oust President Bashar al-Assad, who recently admitted to his regime’s vulnerability.
Criticizing the West’s policies in the Middle East, Patriarch Gregorios said: “If [the West] helps moderates in Syria in a direct way, [it is] helping ISIS in an indirect way. If you give money to the weak, moderate groups one day, it will get into the hands of the powerful, militant groups the next. We see this happening every day.”
The Patriarch’s comments came on the heels of reports of the US-led coalition executing airstrikes and providing military aid to help Syrian Kurdish forces fighting against ISSI in Kobani, on the Turkish border; and lending support to the Free Syrian Army—despite concerns that the aid was being passed—and even sold—to extremist groups.Read More
(Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) July 21, 2015 – The El Zaitun Latin Convent is composed of a Latin Patriarchate school with 300 students, a kindergarten for 50 children, the parish priest house and the Church of the Holy Family. There are also two communities of Sisters who help in the parish activities within the premises.
The present situation of the Latin compound is very critical, especially in terms of infrastructure, safety, and security. The recent conflicts, the local instability, and security concerns, in addition to the lack of structural investment for many years, resulted in the serious deterioration of the place.
The Latin Patriarchate project and engineering departments have carefully developed a master plan for the compound; in total 11 projects have been designed.
The main objective is to find a more permanent solution for the entire compound, which has suffered in the last years, with severe corrosion of the components of the buildings and also due to the wars and the lack of funding and investment in its infrastructure.
The needs are huge: Among them, a new solar energy system needs to be installed to allow the school and the compound to sustain its activities while the main electric power source is cut off. Indeed, the school and the sisters’ communities highly depend on stable energy for their daily activities, whereas the interruption of power supply is unfortunately something common in Gaza.
Work is principally aimed at Gaza’s children.Read More
“Americans and the West were telling us they came to bring democracy, freedom, and prosperity,” said Louis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon who spoke before the Security Council, in an email. “What we are living is anarchy, war, death, and the plight of three million refugees.”
by Monica Cantilero
(Christian Today) July 26, 2015 – More Christians are facing religious persecution in the Middle East than at any time since early history, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.
This has resulted in a sharp decline of the Christian population in the region, according to the New York Times. In Iraq, only less than half a million Christians are left since many have already left after being targeted by extremists for more than a decade, a Times report said.
The problem turned from bad to worse with the rise of the Islamic State as it intensified the Muslim persecution of Christians and other minorities as part of its campaign of terror in the region, the report said.Read More
(abouna.org) Naour, July 27, 2015 – Hymn singer Husam Haddad launched his new album of religious hymns titled, “Marians’’ at the conclusion of the Sunday Mass, on July 26, at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Naour. The Mass was presided over by parish priest Fr. Rif’at Bader, accompanied by his uncle Fr. Manuel Bader, and deacon Yousef Fattal.
During the Mass, Fr. Bader welcomed the worshippers including members of Caritas Jordan, and noted that the proceeds of the album of hymns would go to charity work by supporting needy families. He also welcomed hymn singer Husam Haddad and musician Harran Hijazin.
Present at the Mass was Knight of the Holy Sepulcher Joseph Hijazin from San Francisco who made a donation to the Lady of Lourdes grotto in Naour. Fr. Bader also welcomed journalists Garcia Petra and Lara Salmon who are currently preparing a documentary film on Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan in cooperation with Hollywood in the USA and the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Jordan.Read More
Interview with 43-year-old Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh who has been parish priest in the war-ravaged Syrian city since October. “My fears are overcome by the grace of the Lord”
by Andrea Avveduto
(Vatican Insider) July 18, 2015 – “The parish is not yet directly under threat, but some of our neighbours risk their lives every day. Most of the jihadists who attack us do not even speak Arabic. They all come from faraway countries and have little to do with the Syrian revolution.” 43-year-old Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh, has been serving as a parish priest in Aleppo since October. He was born in Damascus, completed his studies in Rome and then returned to Syria “to be with his people”. Internet and telephone lines are working one minute and are down then next in the city that has suffered the most devastation in the ongoing conflict. Water and electricity are a luxury. And yet this determined Franciscan friar continues to live there, helping anyone and everyone, Christians and Muslims alike, caught in a mire that spares no one.Read More
“ISIS and its ilk sees Christians as tied to the West and they become the easiest scapegoat.”
(Public Radio International) June 24, 20 15 – Crucifixion. Enslavement. Beheadings. These are some of the tools of terror used by ISIS and other extremist groups that are driving Iraqi and Syrian Christians out of some of the oldest Christian communities on earth.
“We’re certainly looking at the potential end of Christianity in the Middle East if no one does anything to protect these ancient communities that are dwindling now,” says Eliza Griswold.
Griswold has a story in the latest issue of the New York Times Magazine about the imperiled Christians of Iraq and Syria. She is also the author of The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches Between Christianity and Islam.
The radicals of ISIS are not too discriminating with their medieval brutality. The majority of those displaced in Iraq and Syria have been fellow Sunni Muslims. But members of religious and ethnic minority groups, including the Kurds, the Shia, the Yazidis and Christians, are shown little mercy when they find themselves caught under the rulers of the so-called Islamic State.
“They go after anyone who challenges them,” Griswold says. But adds that, “ISIS and its ilk sees Christians as tied to the West and they become the easiest scapegoat.”
As with other minority groups, the fighters of ISIS see Christian families as a source of wealth. “Under ISIS propaganda, if a Christian does not convert to Islam, it is legitimate to make them pay a tax, to enslave them, to kill the men and to seize the women and children as war booty, and to seize their money. So, a lot of this [propaganda] is to legitimize robbery as well,” she says.
But the rise of ISIS is just the latest disaster to befall the Christians of the Middle East. The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was very bad news for the Christian community, which numbered about 1.5 million at the time.
“Like the rest of Iraq’s population, Christians encountered violence and terrorism after 2003, but they suffered disproportionately,” writes Zaid al-Ali in The Struggle for Iraq’s Future.
“First, religion was often used by ordinary criminals as a pretext to target Christians, even when they were only interested in their cash and possessions. Secondly, as a small minority (around 3 percent of the population) Christians were unable to defend themselves as the state broke down completely and the US occupation forces were unable (or unwilling) to protect anyone.”Read More
by NASSER NAWAJA (a resident of Susiya)
(Susiya Forever) Susiya, West Bank, July 23, 2015 – In 1948, as Israeli forces closed in on his village of Qaryatayn, my grandfather carried my father in his arms to Susiya, about five miles north, in the South Hebron Hills area.
“We will go back home soon,” my grandfather told my father.
They did not. Qaryatayn was destroyed, along with about 400 other Palestinian villages that were razed between 1948 and the mid-1950s. My family rebuilt their lives in Susiya, across the 1949 armistice line in the West Bank.
In 1986, my family was expelled from our home once again — not because of war, but because the occupying Israeli authorities decided to create an archaeological and tourist site around the remains of an ancient synagogue in Susiya. (A structure next to the abandoned temple was used as a mosque from about the 10th century.) This time, it was my father who took me in his arms as the soldiers drew near.
“We will return soon,” he said.
We did not. Without compensation, we were forced to rebuild Susiya nearby on what was left of our agricultural lands.
If, in the coming weeks, the Israeli government carries out demolition orders served on some 340 residents of Susiya, I will be forced to take my children in my arms as our home is destroyed and the village razed once again. I do not know if I will have the heart to tell them that we will soon go home; history has taught me that it may be a very long time until we are able to return.
In 2012, the Civil Administration branch of Israel’s Defense Ministry issued demolition orders against more than 50 structures in Susiya, including living quarters, a clinic, shop and solar panels. The reason given in these orders was that our village was built without permits from the Israeli military authorities.
The new Susiya was built on Palestinian villagers’ private agricultural land, but that is no safeguard. In practice, it is virtually impossible for a Palestinian living in what is known as Area C — the 60 percent of the West Bank under both civil and security control of the Israeli military — to receive a building permit. According to Bimkom, an Israeli nonprofit focused on planning rights, more than 98 percent of Palestinian requests for building permits in Area C from 2010 to 2014 were rejected.
The threat has now become immediate. Following the initial distribution of demolition orders, there was a political and legal campaign spearheaded by the residents of Susiya that had support from Palestinian, Israeli and international activists and rights groups. The village was not demolished, our case returned to the courts and the pressure let up.
But this past May, a few months after the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Supreme Court justice Noam Sohlberg, who himself lives in an Israeli settlement that is considered illegal under international law, caved in to pressure from right-wing and settler organizations and ruled in the High Court that the Israeli military could go ahead with demolitions in the village — despite the fact that the higher-ranking Supreme Court had scheduled a hearing for our case on Aug. 3.
Earlier this month, I learned from lawyers working against the demolition of Susiya that representatives of the Israeli military had stated their intent to demolish parts of our village before the Aug. 3 hearing. Since the May ruling, we in Susiya have been grateful for an outpouring of support and solidarity. Last week, the State Department’s spokesman, John Kirby, made a strong statement on the issue.
“We’re closely following developments in the village of Susiya, in the West Bank,” he said, “and we strongly urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from carrying out any demolitions in the village. Demolition of this Palestinian village or parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes, would be harmful and provocative.”
That was a step in the right direction, but we need more than mere declarations now. If the Israeli government demolishes all or part of Susiya once again, it will be for no other reason than that we are Palestinians who refused to leave, despite immense pressure and great hardships of daily life under occupation.
The situation in Susiya is only one of many such situations in Area C of the West Bank. Several villages near ours have pending demolition orders as well. If Susiya is destroyed and its residents expelled, it will serve as a precedent for further demolitions and expulsions through the South Hebron Hills and Area C of the West Bank. This must not be allowed to happen.
This story is not a story of Jews against Muslims, or even a story of Israelis against Palestinians. We’re grateful for the many messages of support our village has received from Jewish communities around the world, and the groups and activists working by our side include many Israelis. This is simply a story of justice and equality against dispossession and oppression.Read More