Sad anniversary for women religious stranded in Kurdistan: ‘We are living–but it’s like living in a cage”
“To the government and even the United Nations, we’re just numbers. We’re not considered as human beings.”
By Daniel Konstantinovic
(Aid to Church in Need) New York, July 30, 2015 – August 6, 2015 will mark the one-year anniversary of the expulsion from their convent of a group of Dominican sisters who had been serving Christians on Iraq’s Nineveh Plane for many years. That day, ISIS forced the women religious into exile in Erbil, capital of Kurdistan.
Discovering that Kurdish militia had fled the ISIS assault, the sisters decided to leave their convent in Qaraqosh and march to safety along with thousands of refugees; they had just 30 minutes to pack their things. “We were panicked when they told us ISIS had gotten into the roads, so many people left with even just their nightgowns on,” recalled Sister Lyca.
“From 11:30 at night to the next morning we marched without any food or water,” Sister Diana said, adding: “we’re talking about August when the heat is unbearable: 100 degree temperatures, with no water.” The effects of exhaustion and dehydration were compounded by horrible sights that left powerful impressions on the sisters. “When we got into the streets we saw thousands and thousands of people marching, cars and people walking,” Sister Diana said: “Cars meant for five people held eight to ten. We heard children shouting and crying, very afraid.”
“When we got [to Erbil], it was even more horrible to see people scattered everywhere like sheep without a shepherd,” Sister Diana said. “Some of these people had left behind mansions. They had so much. So much, and in just a few hours they became homeless. We began to realize that our displacement might not last days, but that it could take years and years.”Read More
“This is our Israel, this is for the Jews. No Palestinian should come to Israel.”
by George Khoury
July 29, 2015 – I was born in West Jerusalem (so-called the Jewish half of Jerusalem) in 1945. Under a shower of bullets that were flying over our heads, my father grabbed me and the rest of the family and fled to his native city of Nablus at the eve of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. We remained in Rafidia-Nablus until 1952 and then moved to Ramallah where my father got a job in the post office. I went to the parochial school and then entered the Latin Seminary of Beit Jala in 1961 to study for the priesthood. In 1968 I left the seminary where I studied French, Latin, in addition to philosophy and theology. I came to the US in September of 1969 and entered Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey where I graduated with a B.A. in French & Spanish, and in 1975 I earned a master’s Degree from the University of Montclair in New Jersey.
I moved to California in 1975 where I taught foreign language at the high school level. I entered the Ph.D. program in theology in 1983 at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California and I obtained my doctorate degree in 1990. I have been teaching language at San Mateo College, Skyline College, and Westmoor High School. I joined the deaconate program in 2012 because I intend to serve the different Church communities as a deacon in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
After 21 years of not visiting or seeing Jerusalem and my homeland Palestine, I decided to go back, this time as an American citizen with an American passport, which I was granted in 1975. The trip was intended to be a religious pilgrimage with Father Bernard Poggi as well as a long overdue visit my homeland to see friends and family I hadn’t seen in decades. Once we arrived to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, they allowed Father Bernard to enter. When it came to me, I was ushered by a young female soldier to the “green room” for questioning.
The conversation that ensued is this:
An airport security agent (who I believe to be a Shin Bet agent) began:
Agent: “Oh so you came through Ben Gurion airport?”
Me: “Yes. What’s wrong with that?”
Agent: “You can’t do that.”
Me: “Why? I have an American passport. I came with Father Bernard to spend a few weeks in Jerusalem and that’s it. We are coming here on a religious pilgrimage and to visit some friends and family.”Read More
by Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
(abouna.org) July 30, 2014 – For some time now, especially due to the fear generated by the wars in the Middle East and the attacks committed by fundamentalist groups that have caused bloodshed in Western countries as well, pilgrimages to the Holy Land have undergone a dramatic decline. From Italy alone, the reduction in the past year is estimated at over 40 per cent. Despite some timid signs of recovery, there continues to be a great fear of travelling to this blessed Land.
Knowing that I am interpreting the voice of the various Christian communities that live in Israel and Palestine, I would like to say: “Do not abandon the Holy Land.” There is no reasonable motive not to organize a pilgrimage to the Holy Places. Security in the shrines and in the areas where pilgrims go is guaranteed. And more than ever, we, the Christians of the Holy Land, need the presence and support of pilgrims who come here in prayer from all over the world.
Living as Christians in the Holy Land means having a particular and a universal vocation. Here the Latin Church essentially consists of three groups: the community of local Arab Christians, the long-established group of Palestinians representing the traditional Christian presence in these places; the Hebrew-speaking qehilà, a new Church, in ferment, which has elements in common with the evangelicals, the Messianic Jews and the Catholics and which celebrates the liturgy in Hebrew, and the international community, which includes many foreign workers, especially from the Philippines, South America and India who live stably in the Holy Land and some other groups of different origins who, for multiple reasons and with different roles, spend periods of varying length here. Alongside the Latin Church, other important Christian Churches live and work here, the main ones being the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Church and the Coptic Church. Inside the Catholic world, there are also groups with rites other than the Latin one.Read More
(abouna.org) July 29, 2015 – Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal will preside over a solemn Mass to be celebrated on Friday, July 31, marking the annual pilgrimage to the historical and archaeological site of Umm al-Jimal, which is organized for the second successive year by the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
Director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media Fr. Rif’at Bader said that this annual pilgrimage to one of the most important archaeological and touristic sites has a special significance since it is the first Mass ever to be celebrated by a patriarch of Jerusalem, the highest Catholic authority in the Holy land, and since it takes place one month after the announcement of placing the Baptism Site on the World Heritage List which indicates that Jordan is attractive to world tourism. He added that the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ organization of this pilgrimage for the second year in a row is indicative of the sound attention and care the ministry pays to the archaeological sites.
On the site of Umm Al-Jimal, Fr. Bader said that the first century BC witnessed the golden era of the small kingdom which was established in southern Jordan by the Arab Nabataean tribes that used to roam the desert with goods. They, consequently, had to establish stations on the road among which was Umm Al-Jimal so as to serve as a resting place between Petra, the capital of the kingdom, and the Levant.
He added that in 557, an outstanding historic event took place in the City of Umm Al-Jimal, namely the inauguration of a cathedral in the city. Delegations from various neighboring dioceses in Jordan, Syria and Palestine arrived to mark the inauguration ceremony. Pointing out that Umm Al-Jimal was at the time well-known for its prestigious status, Fr. Bader recalled that the mosaic map in Madaba includes a drawing of the city of Umm Al-Jimal, its cathedral, the cities and the other centers, which indicates its importance in the Jordanian desert.
Fr. Bader continued that 15 churches were located in Umm Al-Jimal which indicates that Christianity flourished at the time and it had deep roots. He asserted that the oldest church in the region is the Church of Yulianos which can be traced back to the year 345, as this could have been the name of the engineer who built it or the person who financed its construction.Read More
Dr. Maria Khoury writes from Taybeh:
While people across the globe are enjoying these summer months with the freedom to travel, American citizens with a Palestinian background are not allowed to use the airport in Tel Aviv to visit their homeland.
It was frustrating to read this account I am sharing with you because I thought about my own son who wants to travel for our Taybeh Oktoberfest, and Ben Gurion airport is less than 45 minutes away. Although born in Boston, he is not allowed the convenience of using his American passport.
It would be a pure miracle if Palestinians too could have the same basic human rights and freedom of movement as everyone else. It would also be a miracle if the new checkpoint Israel put at the entrance of Taybeh could just go away. Every time I want to exit the village, I repeat to the Israeli soldiers that we are in a peaceful location, but they make us go crazy with their treatment.
Occupation is becoming harder than ever to explain to my friends, but we pray and hope for better times!Read More
(This Week in Palestine) July 30, 2015 – The August 2015 issue of This Week in Palestine with the theme “A Day in the Life,” is out. The editorial section is a rich and a diverse compilation of insights into a day in the lives of Palestinian common heroes who, despite challenges, have managed only to keep going, but also to excel in what they do. Content includes articles on a hardworking Palestinian mother, the only fisherwoman in Gaza (cover), and a visually-impaired woman also from Gaza who has conquered her insecurities and has become a productive working woman. We bring to you a snapshot on a normal day as a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli prison, a day is the life of a fourth general Palestinian living in Chile, a student from Arroub Camp who is excelling in Earlham College, Indiana, and another one at Harvard University. Do read about a typical hard day in the life of Bedouin, a contemplate on the human story on a day of return to the displaced village of Iqrit. We even have a piece on a day in the life of a Palestinian acoustician! Lastly, we have an interesting piece on a day in the life of the West Bank on, July 9th, to be specific, when Snapchat was pressured to feature “Palestine” as a result of Palestinian outrage for featuring Tel Aviv on the anniversary of Israel’s war on Gaza last year.
In our “In the Limelight” section, we are very happy to feature Vera Baboun, mayor of Bethlehem, who works ceaselessly for the benefit of her hometown. The beautiful voice Dalal Abu from Nazareth is our artist of the month, and as for our book this month, well we have two! The first is A War Without Chocolate by an amazing woman, Betty Majaj. The book is both Mrs. Majaj’s personal story and an eyewitness to important historic times and events. Our second book of the month is I am Free (Ana Hurra) by Valantina Abu Oqsa. It’s a play focusing on the dispossessed human side of political prisoners. We also take you to the beautiful Deir Hijleh, which is a modern-day Greek Orthodox monastery in Jericho, and a preferred venue for picnics and barbeques! We invite you to visit The Abu Jihad Museum of Al Quds University in Abu Dis that essentially documents the experience of 800,000 Palestinians who hone through the experience of imprisonment throughout the years of the Palestinian struggle.Read More
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
- Reconstruction of Israeli attacks in Rafah between 1 and 4 August 2014
- Strong evidence of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity revealed requiring urgent investigation
- Israeli forces killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians, including 75 children, following the capture of an Israeli soldier
- Hundreds of videos, photos and satellite images analysed by experts, cross-referenced with eyewitness testimony
- Advanced techniques used to analyse evidence, including studying shadows and smoke plumes in multiple videos to determine time and location of an attack
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