Of Our Suffering Family in The Holy Lands of the Middle
By Jeanne Conte
Sent with permission from the author on October 6, 2007
"Once again, in the name of God, I ask that an end be brought to this tragic
violence[Š]"May the Lord bring forth and sustain makers of peace!" Pope Benedict
XVI May 2007
³When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go
and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. War settles nothing.²
Dwight D. Eisenhower
³God is Love² - what a perfect title for Pope Benedict XVI's First
Encyclical. It is a definition of the Holy Trinity. It is a Bible verse.
³God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides
in him.² (1 John 4:16) He calls it the heart of the Christian
faith. And in that same verse, Pope Benedict points out that ³We
have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.² Knowing
this, believing this, as Christians, it is our refuge when the world goes
awry, and our hope for times to come. It is something to keep in mind as
we walk on unfamiliar ground, at times finding frightening facts about what
is happening to our family-in-Christ. We've an injunction to be our brother's
keeper, and to love and have mercy. Our fellow-Christians
in the Holy Lands are suffering. Let's have a look at our brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ
in Palestine (the land of Jesus' birth) and in Iraq.
A ninth generation Christian Palestinian, Dr. Abe Ata laments that ³Few
outside the Middle East even know we (Christian Palestinians) exist, and
those who do, conveniently forget about us.²
He left Bethlehem for higher education in Lebanon but was, as all Palestinians
who leave, denied the right to return to the land of his birth. He tells
us that after World War II, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was 80% Christian;
now, he says, those percentages are 20% at the very most, and are rapidly
In Iraq the situation is similarly bleak. Iraq's minority Christian
community, estimated at 800,000 on the eve of the U.S. invasion, has already
been decimated by threats, fear and intimidation over the past four years,
and as many as half (probably much more) of Iraq's Christians are now living
outside the country, according to the latest report of the U.S. International
Commission on Religious Freedom.
Professor Ata shares his statistics.
³When the modern state of Israel was established, there were about 400,000
Christian Palestinians. Two years ago the number was down to 80,000. Now
it's down to 60,000. At that rate, in a few years, there will be none of
In Iraq, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its
recent annual report that since the US invasion ³Iraq's religious freedom
ranks among the lowest in the world.² But ³according to many Middle
East experts, ChristiansŠ in Iraq enjoyed much more religious tolerance in
Saddam Hussein's Iraq than in many other Middle East locales.²'
In other words, when our ³Christian nation's² military invaded
Iraq, the Christians there lost their protected status. Iraqis, seeing the
US as invaders and therefore as enemies, link Iraqi Christians with the US
military. Now, the report tells, ³there are innumerable reports of 'abductions,
beatings, extrajudicial executions, torture and rape' perpetrated on Christians
by para-governmental factions. .... Such organizations frequently 'operate
with impunity and often Š complicity' of the U.S.-backed government, Š.²
So, sadly and with horror, we Christians learn of such terror to our brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ
in the Holy Lands of the Middle East.
Recently, a number of northern Iraqi bishops sent an urgent plea to an international
conference held in Sharm al-Sheikh, whose aim was to make a plan for security
for Iraq. AsiaNews quotes them: ³We are urgently asking the entire international
community, the participants at the Sharm al-Sheikh conference, the coalition
forces and the Iraqi political representatives to intervene without delay
to protect innocent Iraqis, their property, their rights and their personal
freedom.² They further affirmed that ³Christians are authentic
Iraqi people² and pleaded for their protection. (Again, Iraq's Christians
are seen by many Iraqis as a part of the ³Christian² enemy invaders.)
The Chicago Tribune notes (May 8, 2007) ³Christians are fleeing in droves
from the southern Baghdad district of Dora after Sunni insurgents told them
they would be killed unless they converted to Islam or leftŠ .² This
exodus began mid-April 2007 after a religious edict issued by Sunni Muslims
offering all Christians a blunt choice: ³Convert to Islam and pay an
ancient Islamic tax (about 200US$) or leave within 24 hours with no possessions.
Kidnappings and shootings add to the dilemma prompting hundreds of Christian
families to flee.²
³They have talked about a security plan and bringing peace (President
Bush's strategy - the ³surge² ), but nothing has arrived here,²
says Bishop Shlimon Warduni, a bishop of the ancient Chaldean Patriarchy.
³This is a full scale persecution. In all Iraq's history, we (never)
faced a like situation.² (Chicago Tribune 5/8/07)
On April 24, 2007, Asia News reported an urgent appeal from Msgr. Louis Sako
of Kirkuk, the Iraqi president of the Council of Catholic Churches' Committee
for inter religious dialogue. His plea: ³In Iraq Christians are dying
-- disappearing under continued persecution, threats and violence carried
out by extremists who are leaving us no choice: conversion or exile².
Reports arrive of car bombs and the death of Christians in the Kurdish area,
until now untouched by this violence. Msgr. Sako signed a declaration regarding
³the tragic situation.²
He goes on to say ³We can no longer be silent. We have to remind the
world of the importance of the Christian presence in Iraq. Christians are
one of the oldest constituents of the Iraqi people. Since the beginning,
they have incorporated with the other constituents like Kurds, Turkmen, and
Yazedis; playing a pioneering role in the building of the civilization of
Iraq.² He tells of their living peacefully within the Islamic culture
for the past 14 centuries. ³Today they want to continue this existence,²
he says, ³in the spirit of love and under the charter of human rights.²
In retrospect, it is interesting to look again at the statement of the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops made on November 13, 2002 before we
entered the Iraqi war. Heartbreaking in its accuracy, it reads, in part:
³The use of military force in Iraq could bring incalculable costs for
a civilian population that has suffered so much from war, repression, and
a debilitating embargo. In assessing whether 'collateral damage' is proportionate,
the lives of Iraqi men, women and children should be valued as we would the
lives of members of our own family and citizens of our own country.²
In this article, although the aim is to tell of the plight of
Catholics in the Middle East and to explain what is happening in the
Holy Lands from a Catholic perspective, Catholics will be referred to
generally as Christian, because what is happening to Catholic-Christians
is also happening to the other Christians in the area where Jesus walked
and where biblical stories unfolded. Among the Christians of the Holy Lands,
some are descendents of the very ones who followed Jesus. Many are
fleeing. The Pope recently asked them to resist leaving.
Because in Israel, the indigenous Catholics are Palestinian, this article
will dwell too on the Palestinian situation, how it came to be distorted
in American eyes, and why it is central to any understanding of the Middle
East today. Figures in this article are approximate and vary between sources,
but in general they support each other and the ultimate facts. Because of
war and its resulting chaos, current exact figures are impossible.
Catholics and other ancient Christian faiths in the Holy Lands are among
the Arabic peoples there. Of course the original Christians were mostly Jews,
but also Greek among others. Through the centuries, under Ottoman rule, they
learned to live among the Muslims and work beside them and it was mostly
a peaceful arrangement. The Christians were usually among the more educated
and it was they who kept the Holy Scriptures for posterity, translating them
into other languages, especially Arabic in order to relate to their neighbors.
Gradually there were some intermarriages and the Christian people became
known as Arabic and of course Palestinian as Palestine was their homeland,
just as it was Jesus' homeland.
Further notes on Christianity in the Holy Land
From the Catholic administrative offices in Jerusalem this history
³The Church of Jerusalem is today a small and divided Church: Catholics
(six Churches, Latins, Melkites, Maronites, Syrians, Armenians, and Chaldeans),
Orthodox (five Churches, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian and Ethiopian)
and Protestants (two Churches: Anglicans and Lutherans). For all of these
Churches this jurisdiction covers Israel, Palestine and Jordan. For the Latin
Patriarcate, we add Cyprus.² All Christians - Catholics, Orthodox
and Protestants -- number about 350,000 souls. All consider themselves
the heirs of the first Christian communities. They thank God that relations
among them are good.
In a message from the Chanceler of the Catholic
diocese of Jerusalem, these approximate figures are shared, although not
up to date by any means: "Christians in Jordan are about 200, 000, in the
Palestinian Territories 50,000 and in Israel about 200,000. Catholics are
all together about 180,000. The Latin Patriarcate counts about 90,000 in
the three countries of Israel/Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. The Greek Catholic
Melkites have the same number for the three countries."
The Latin Patriarchy Diocese of Jerusalem was established
in 1099 by the Crusaders. Pope Clemens VI in 1342 made the Franciscan Friars
the official custodians of the Holy Places of the Holy Land. For the next
500 years they did so and continue today. However, in 1847 Pope Pius IX reestablished
a residential Latin Patriarch See in Jerusalem. The present Patriarch is
H. B. Michel Sabbah, from Nazareth as was Jesus. On July 1999, he was elected
as International President for the peace movement ³Pax Christi International.²
His is a weighty responsibility that he shoulders and administers with a
kind of uncommon Christian love, such as has been tried by fire and shines
as a diamond that is created through intense pressure. Such is the brightness
and serene loveliness one finds in the suffering Christians of the Middle
Root of Problem
From Jerusalem, Patriarch Sabbah, asked in his 2007 Easter homily:
³In our Holy Land, Š will our leaders and the international community
ever be able to put an end to this dysfunction? In itself the issue is simple:
two peoples are at war with each other, and one of them occupies the house
of the other. To put it simply: the solution would be for each one to occupy
his own house, the Israelis their house and the Palestinians theirs. To be
sure, fear has complicated matters Š which has further complicated things
that were simple enough in themselves. Given that reality, we believe that
the dysfunction will continue as long as someone occupies the house of someone
else. And as long as this dysfunction continues in the Holy Land, the region
and the world will suffer from it. We must take the risk of making peace
and put an end to the occupation (each one in his own house), in order to
begin the healing process in our land, in the region, and in the world.²
Father Sabbah is certainly not alone in his assessment. Jews for Justice
in the Middle East publishes a booklet, now in its third edition, called
The Origin of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict http://www.cactus48.com/truth.html.
It is a corroboration of the statement by the Latin Patriarch, told by Jews,
explaining what the root is of the terrible situation in the Middle East.
In its conclusion, it states:
³Like all other colonial enterprises Š Zionism was based on the total
disregard of the rights of indigenous inhabitants. As such, it is morally
indefensible. And, as previously stated, all subsequent crimes - and there
have been many on both sides - inevitably follow from this original injustice
to the PalestiniansŠIn the long run, only by admitting their culpability
and making amends can Israelis live with their neighbors in peace. Only then
can the centuries-old Jewish tradition of being a people of high moral character
be restored. And only in this way can real security, peace and justice come
to this ancient land.
³As the periodic bloodshed continues in the Middle East, the search
for an equitable solution must come to grips with the root cause of the conflict.
The conventional wisdom is that, even if both sides are at fault, the Palestinians
are ³terrorists² who have no point of view worth listening to.
Our position, however, is that the Palestinians have a real grievance: Their
homeland for over a thousand years was taken, without their consent and mostly
by force, during the creation of the state of Israel. And all subsequent
crimes, on both sides - inevitably follow from this original injustice.²
Here, coming from two distinctly different but knowledgeable sources: The
root of the problem in the Middle East (with repercussions around the world)
is that some strong Zionist Jews of an extremist nature, unfortunately financed
in large part by the United States, took what belonged to the Palestinians
- their land, lives, dignity, health, reputations and their country. They
took lives of men, women and children, their homes, they took possessions,
uprooted vineyards, took water rights, drove the people by machine guns from
their homes to other countries. And they continue in inhumane ways
to make it impossible for Palestinians to survive, these Palestinians whose
people had lived there for hundreds of years - some to the time of Christ.
Homes are demolished and no construction permits are given; they are isolated
from passage to places of employment; vineyards are repeatedly uprooted;
water rights are severely curtailed if offered at all; their men and boys
are taken to prisons with no right of appeal. The list goes on, and
Jewish philosopher Avram Noam, author of Peace in the Middle East? laments
that within the American Jewish community, ³there is little willingness
to face the fact that the Palestinian Arabs have suffered a monstrous historic
injusticeŠ . Until this is recognized, discussion of the Middle East crisis
cannot even begin.²
However, more and more Jewish people, especially in Israel, decry
the situation and try to help turn the tide away from the horrendous treatment
of Palestinians. A few of these are:
*The Israeli Committee against house demolitions
*Jews for Justice in the Middle East
represented by http://www.ifamericansknew.org
*Zochrot's Learning Center
www.lbbs.org and www.commondreams.org/viewsarchive.htm.
*Jews for Justice for Palestinians
*Jewish Voice for Peace
Among helpful books in this understanding are:
*The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe
(Written by a Jewish academic, who, as John Pilger said, is ³Israel's
bravest, most principled, most incisive historian.²)
*Bitter Harvest by Sami Hadawi. Caravan Books 1979.
(Written by a Palestinian Christian who lived through the beginnings of Israel)
Professor Joseph Levine, Professor of Philosophy at The Ohio State University,
said in 2002 in an article published in the Columbus Dispatch:
³With more than $3 billion per year (now $5 billion) of U.S. taxpayer
money going to support the occupation, it is especially incumbent on American
Jews to speak up and demand a cessation of U.S. economic and diplomatic support
for Israel until it finally agrees to abide by international law: that is,
quit the settlements, withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders and deal justly
with the Palestinian refugeesŠ. But what must be kept in focus is that the
root of the violence is the occupation, not blind hatred or ethnic-religious
Brief Background -of the Making of Israel and the Christian Right
³God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no
one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy
an innocent human being.² (2258 Catechism of the Catholic Church)
To many, the background of the Middle East is muddled. Dr. John Quigley,
Law professor at The Ohio State University, tells it succinctly in his article
published in the Hastings International and Comparative Law Review of 2005.
He tells about how, after World War I, British colonial powers promoted Jewish
migration to the area ³even though this migration threatened the exercise
of self-determination by the predominantly-Arab population of Palestine.
Then, after World War II, the United Nations placed the imperative of relocating
Jewish people displaced by the Holocaust above the international legal rights
of the Palestinian people. ŠThe 1967 hostilities represented aggression on
Much of the world felt sorrow for what happened to the Jews in WW II; this
gave impetus to helping them take a land that did not belong to them - Palestine.
And in the doing, the Palestinians became treated by the Zionist Jews (with
American and other Western help) in much the same manner as the Jews were
treated by the Gestapo. Many Christian fundamentalists today, including high
government officials, believe that God promised Palestine to the Jews and
hence support what Israel is doing. We see in the Old Testament how God apparently
allowed the killing of entire nations, but when Jesus came, He did not teach
that and He would never condone what is happening to the Palestinians today.
Never, in the New Testament, is such condoned.
Ata quotes fundamentalist Senator James
Inhofe (R-OK) and Representative Dick Armey (Rep., Tx):
³God Appeared to Abraham and said: 'I am giving you this land,' the
West Bank.² Inhofe claimed. ³This is not a political battle at
all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.²
³Inhofe must have got it wrong. Š Paul wrote that the Holy Land
was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. These are those
who have been living in the Holy Land for thousands of years.²
(Ata refutaion draws from Hebrews 11. It might be noted that in any interpretation,
unless a conclusion is in harmony with Jesus, it cannot be correct.)
Ata quotes Representative Dick Armey:
³I'm content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank² Armey says.
³I happen to believe that the Palestinians should leave.²
³There is a phrase for this, 'Ethic Cleansing.'²
Ata further laments:
³Strangely, they (the religious right) find the liberation of Iraqis
from a vile dictator just, but do not find it unjust for us to be under military
occupation (for decades and decades).²
Indigenous Christians of the Holy Land and the word ³Terrorist²
According to Yonat Shimron, an Israeli who writes for The News and Observer
of North Carolina, some of his readers visited what he calls some ³living
stones² -- Christian Arabs - ³who never left the Holy Land or the
faith they inherited from 2,000 years ago. This ancient community whose
ancestors converted to Christianity during Jesus' time are now experiencing
extreme hardship.² He goes on to say ³Christians make up only about
2 percent of the total population of the Holy Land today, compared with about
20 percent at the beginning of the 1900s. In other Middle Eastern countries,
where a population census is hard to come by, the situation is similarly
Innocent Christians of the Middle East are targets of our war on terrorism
because they share the name Palestinian. They are among those cast off in
the US as Palestinian ³terrorists² although nothing could be further
from the truth. In order, however, to deal with terrorism in the Holy Lands,
reply to and help in these crises, we need to understand what creates them,
who they are and why they are acting in the way that they do.
To wage a war against terrorism, as the Bush administration says it is doing,
with the lives of our loved ones, men and women of our military dying in
the process, and with the lives of a tremendous number of other human beings
(innocent civilians on the battlegrounds of war for the most part) also dying
on a daily basis - one should at least analyze, as a physician would do -
find the cause of the problem before planning a cure. A nation cannot successfully
fight a war on terrorism without knowing its cause.
Dr. Quigley wrote in his ³Identifying the Origins of Anti-American Terrorism²
published in The Florida Law Review, 2006: ³If terrorism is to be addressed
rationally, its origins must be determined.²
He further explains:
³The current 'War on Terrorism' will fail unless the United States changes
its policies in the Middle East. The cause of international terrorism, is
the history of heavy handed self interest in Western and, in particular,
U.S. intervention in Middle Eastern affairs. The remedy,² he says, ³
is for the United States to change its policies in the Middle East and toward
the Muslim world. If terrorism is to be addressed rationally, its origins
must be determined.²
Let's examine the word ³terrorist.² Who is a terrorist?
One who causes terror - extreme fear.
A Pakistani friend recently, gently, asked me that question. With a soft
smile, he spoke to me, an American, asking,
³Who are the terrorists²? Then he gave the reply.
³The ones who cause terror,² he said. ³The ones who
drop bombs on innocent people, killing them, and dropping brightly colored
cluster bombs that don't explode on the first impact, but lie around attracting
little children and then explode. These are the terrorists.² ³http://action.atfl.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=6644&track=wrmeatxt
During the 2002 Israeli ³incursions² into the gentle town of Bethlehem
where our Lord was born, I received an urgent e-mail from my friend, a young
Palestinian Christian. She wrote:
³We are so afraid. They are bombing us. The bombs are exploding everywhere
and we don't know what to do! My sister's leg is injured and bleeding and
we have no water and the ambulances aren't allowed to come. I'm so scared!²
That was the last time that I heard from her. She felt terror. It is well
known to Palestinians that the planes and bombs that attack them were made
In considering some statistics of late 2006 in Iraq, almost the same number
of Iraqis died in Baghdad alone just in September of 2006 - 2,667 souls of
Iraqi-mostly-civilians, versus 2,785 US combatants in the 3 _ years (at that
time) since the war began. (Dispatch 10/19/ 06 and US News & World Report
10/23/06). Can we wonder why they hate us so?
Actually, Hitler said the same thing as Bush when he went into other countries
making war - ³We come to liberate you.² He killed and tortured.
We went into Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction which we never
found. We took with us our own weapons of mass destruction and we've been
using them there ever since.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently told the Syrians that Washington
wants Damascus to do more to seal its borders and stop foreign fighters from
entering Iraq. Is it possible that she does not understand that our presence
there in Iraq, our war there, is creating terrorists within Iraq who will
haunt us and our children's children far beyond our lifetimes?
In the killing fields of Bush's ³war on terrorism² those whose
loved ones suffer and die at the hands of invaders are so deeply grieved
and enraged, and so helpless in their lack of ability as a people to resist,
that in ultimate frustration some create terrorist acts as their own battles
in a war in which there can be no winners.
This we as Catholics cannot condone, but it is so very important that we
understand. It is only in the understanding that something can be done to
help. Our brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ are trapped there, between warring
factions; they are horrified and vilified, yet also deeply saddened and frustrated
because their fellow-Christians outside of the Holy Lands do not seem to
care. Perhaps most don't realize.
This is not about 9/11 as so many are led to believe. Our war in Iraq will
not stop ³terrorism.² It is creating terrorism, as it is ignoring
Israeli terrorism. If this happened to us, wouldn't our rage know no end?
World Trade Center and 9/11
Today many wonder why we are in Iraq. Not to blame our military who because
of orders give their lives daily over there. But what did Iraqis have
to do with 9/11? Nothing, really.
The perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing, in a hearing before
the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 24, 1998, gave the following reasons
for their attack.
³This action was done in response for the American political, economical,
and military support to Israel the state of terrorismŠ The American people
must know, that their civilians who got killed are not better than those
who are getting killed by the American weapons and support (Palestinians
Regarding the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, Osama Bin Laden told the reason
- he said he did so because of injustices against the Lebanese and Palestinians
by Israel and the United States.
Intense scrutiny has not found a relationship between Iraq and these terrorist
attacks. This is not a statement in support of the heinous crime. It is a
look at the cause of the attack. How can one defend America from further
such attacks without knowing the cause, in humility considering what the
US might have done in the causing of such hatred to have precipitated these
On our Money Supporting Israeli Violence
A bit about our money and Israel. According to The Washington Report, our
aid to Israel is close to $84,854,827,200 since 1948 (and counting). This
amounts to a total US taxpayer cost per Israeli of about $23,240. Every day
we give $7,023,288.00 to the Israeli government and military and nothing
to the Palestinians for the past year. However, moneys were finally released
in an announcement Monday June 18, 2007 to moderate Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas by the Bush administration after a broad takeover of Gaza and
parts of the West Bank by Hamas. Quite possibly, these moneys are too little
too late, as it has been almost impossible for Abbas to retain control with
a destitute government. Typically, Israel offered to ³consider²
releasing a ³portion² of half-billion dollars in Palestinian taxes
collected by Israel and impounded.² (USA TODAY 6/19/2007)
In the mission statement of If Americans Knew, they state that, ³Israel
is the largest recipient of US aid in the entire world. It receives more
aid than that given to all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America
and the Caribbean, put together. Israel receives over $10 million dollars
per day from the United States.²
In his book The Struggle against Terrorism, Dr. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh tells that,
³In Palestine, the enduring illegal Israeli occupation and violence
against the natives would have collapsed long ago were it not for US backing.
We give Israel, which represents about 0.1% of the world population, 33%
of our foreign aid (100 billion dollars in direct aid transferred over the
past 30 years and much more indirectly).²
So the figures vary a bit from different sources, but the bottom line is
that it is a super tremendous amount, and that it supports Israeli terrorist
acts against Catholics and other fellow-Christians, as well as so many other
innocents. The fact remains that our aid to Israel is enormous and our aid
to the suffering Palestinians is nil. This - because the US government
claims that Palestinians are ³terrorists.²
Professor Steven Zunes, teacher of politics at the University of San Francisco,
said in a recent article:
³Total U.S. aid to Israel is approximately one-third of the American
foreign-aid budget, even though Israel comprises just .001 percent of the
world's population and already has one of the world's higher per capita incomes.
Indeed, Israel's GNP is higher than the combined GNP of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria,
Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. With a per capita income of about $14,000,
Israel ranks as the sixteenth wealthiest country in the world; Israelis enjoy
a higher per capita income than oil-rich Saudi Arabia.²
So why the aid and what are the Israelis doing with all of that money? The
³why² is the hard part. The ³What?² is that they use
it in their ³ethnic cleansing² of Palestinians from the land they
took from them.
Statistics and the ³Why²s of it All
Always, in all reliable statistics, overwhelmingly more Palestinians have
been killed than Israelis. In the beginning, when the Zionists began their
taking of the land, if the Arabs resisted (as freedom fighters resist those
who wish to take their land and homes and threaten their families), they
were termed ³anti-Semitic² and if the resistance used weapons they
were termed ³terrorists.² The term continues to this day in the
press in the United States, but not in other western countries.
Let's look at statistics on the dead and injured since the second Intefada,
which began after Sharon with his military went among Palestinians with threats,
firing live ammunition into a crowd of children who were throwing rocks.
Wikipedia states that between September 29, 2000, when the 2nd Intefada began
and 2006, over 4,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis have been killed.
The web-site of If Americans Knew, giving reliable sources, offers the following
statistics of Palestinians and Israelis since September 29, 2000:
*926 Palestinian children have been killed versus 118 Israeli children.
*31,302 Palestinians have been injured versus 7,633 Israelis.
*4080 Palestinians have been killed versus 1021 Israelis.
*4,170 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israelis versus 0
Israeli homes demolished by Palestinians.
*Over 60 UN Resolutions have targeted Israel for human rights
violations while none have targeted Palestine.
*Israel has over 233 Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian territory
while Palestine has none on Israeli territory.
*9,599 Palestinians are currently imprisoned by Israel versus 1 Israeli held
A note on this. Washington Report tells us that ³Since the beginning
of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, over 650,000
Palestinians have been detained by Israel. This forms approximately 20% of
the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
(OPT).² These are people picked up by the Israeli military and
taken into custody without due process of law. They are not told why. Their
families seldom are able to determine their fate. As one Israeli Palestinian
told me ³They take our men and boys, under threat of death, to their
prisons and throw away the key.² It is a known fact and admitted
that ³force² and ³pressure² (torture) is used against
them. With these facts known, who are the terrorists? And why has our
press not told us these facts so well known elsewhere?
Before I understood what was happening, as I walked the Via Dolorosa with
friends, our hands folded in prayer, a few Palestinian youngsters ran alongside
us beating tin cans with sticks, trying to drown out our prayers. I've never
seen such hatred as that in their eyes as they shouted at us in Arabic. I
only knew a little Arabic but it seemed just what I wanted to say.
³Salaam, salaam-min fadlak-salaam alaikum.² (Peace, peace, -- please-peace
be upon you .) I kept repeating it over and over as I looked into their eyes.
Strangely, I felt an overwhelming love for them. They were hurting deeply
and terribly. They began nudging each other, pointing toward me, then walking
All but one. This little boy with fierceness ran right in front of
me, brandishing his fists as words in Arabic spewed forth his rage. Suddenly
I knew why and later the guide corroborated it. This boy's father, brothers
and uncles were either in Israeli prisons (with no charges and no hope for
release) or had been killed by Israelis bearing US-made guns. I was the enemy
- his family and his life were in shambles. His hatred knew no end.
And I recalled in the not-too-distant past, in Chechnya, people gathered
in a building hoping to be safe from their enemies. The world watched on
television; I prayed, feeling the horror of it; they waited, huddled in terror.
Then it happened -- they were all killed. This memory washed over me when
our planes bombed a theater in Iraq mistakenly believing that Saddam might
have been there. Bush's informers told him so. Saddam was not there. But
our bomb killed all in a building full of innocent civilians. And the killing
goes onŠ . How can their families not detest us? As well as others throughout
Iraq? Is it wrong to wonder if Afghanistan and its peoples were ravaged by
war in our search, again, for one person -- Osama?
An estimated 654,965 more Iraqis (men, women and children) have died than
would have died under pre-war circumstances, since the US invasion began
in March 2003 through autumn 2006, according to a survey by Johns Hopkins
Bloomberg School of Public Health. The survey compared mortality rates before
and after the invasion at 47 randomly chosen areas in Iraq. These are above
the normal pre-war death rate. Deaths have doubled since the invasion creating
close to 500 dying there each day.
Regarding the monetary cost of the Iraq war, according to the Columbus Dispatch
(May 2, 2007) it has cost close to $500 billion dollars to date - 10 times
more than Bush told us that he expected when he launched the invasion.
The understanding of it all, the whys and wherefores, are imperative if there
is ever to be an end to terrorism which by now is not in sight for, it seems,
us or our grandchildren's grandchildren. There has been too much killing;
too much torture; too much hate generated. Every day that our soldiers are
in Iraq it creates more hatred. Every day we support the current Israeli
government it creates more hatred. Recently on a documentary about terrorism,
an Arabic intellectual in a Middle Eastern University observed that, for
decades, Americans have either been killing Arabic people or paying others
to do so. It didn't take a lot of thinking to figure out what he was talking
In my travels on 6 continents in the recent past, I always try to ask what
people think of America and why. It was in Jordon that I think that I heard
the kindest observation, and a good one, from a 14 year old Jordanian. When
asked what he thought of Americans, he quickly answered:
³I like Americans; I think they do not want war. I don't like your government;
I think it wants war.²
Yet for all That, a Light Shines in the darkness
Yet, for all that, our suffering brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ, the Palestinian
Christians, are like gold tried by fire.
Professor Ata tells,
³We are equally frightened by those who commit suicide bombings. None
of us Christians have condoned it or even contemplated the idea. Our commitment
to Jesus' teachings will never shake our resolve in this matter.²
And in a message from the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem
in 2007, they compared Paul's mission and their own mission as suffering
³The statement (Paul) sets before the Philippians is regarded by many
people as the most powerful: 'All I want is to know Christ and the power
of his resurrection and to share his suffering.' In this short sentence
he links the cross and the Resurrection. The sufferings he had to face for
his faith led him to become conscious of the power of the Resurrection given
to those who truly believe, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet again,
recent months have shown us much of the hardships and sufferings people have
to endure, not least in this land. Much of this burden has arisen from man's
inhumanity to man together with the deprivation of basic human dignity and
rights, all caused by the siege imposed upon us.
³Our Blessed Lord challenges all of us; if we are to be his disciples
we must take up our cross and follow him. In the midst of sufferings, we
reach for the power of the Resurrection and the power of the Spirit that
enables us to take away the oppressions that are imposed upon us.²
We cannot end a discussion of the Holy Lands and what is happening to the
Christians there without looking closely at at least some Israeli massacres
of Palestinians. No one can tell how many Palestinians have been killed in
Israel's routine incursions and massacres. For example, when they went into
Jenin, they allowed no one there but their own military - for days. When
they finally left, buildings were rubble and the people were eerily gone.
The UN pulled bodies from the rubble, yet never reached the bottom where
many more were possibly entombed. One woman was brought out eight days later,
fortunately still breathing.
Author Ilan Pappe, Israeli Jew and academic, tells in his The
Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, with firm sources, of the original plan laid
out on March 10, 1948 when 11 men, Zionist leaders mostly, met in Tel Aviv.
Code named Plan D (Dalat in Hebrew), it planned for the ³systematic
expulsion of Palestinians² including ³large scale intimidation;
laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centers; setting fire
to homes, properties and goods; expulsion; demolition. And, finally, planting
mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning.²
This, in order to make a ³clean² Jewish state.
How was this accomplished?
An example was the massacre of Deir Yassin less than a month later on April
9, 1948. The New York Times reported ³A combined group of Jewish extremist
forces Šcaptured the Arab village of Dier Yassin Š (near) Jerusalem. In house
to house fighting, the Jews killed more than 200 Arabs, half of them women
and children. As they burst into the village, the Jewish soldiers sprayed
the houses with machine gun fire, killing many of the inhabitants².
It went on to say that then ³The insurgents Š escorted a party of United
States correspondents to a house near Dier Yassin .. and offered them tea
and cookies.² With this came propaganda. Pappe explained further
that the remaining villagers were gathered together and murdered in cold
blood, their bodies abused while a number of the women were raped and then
killed. (The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine p. 90)
Other examples spelled out in Pappe's book as well as
in many other sources concerned the massacres of other villages. Zionist
troops were assigned different Palestinian towns to ³cleanse² and
usually attacked in the early morning hours. Villagers were massacred although
sometimes some Palestinians were taken to POW camps, or completely out of
There was a time when Christians were given the option of staying if they
vowed allegiance to the Jewish state.
³To their credit,² Pape tells, ³most of the Christians refused
to participate willingly Š . As a result, the (Zionist) army soon meted out
the same treatment to Christian as to Muslim villagesŠ .² (Ethnic Cleansing
of Palestine p. 182)
Yet all the while, the Zionists
squelched verbal resistance as ³Anti-Semitism,² and armed resistance
Not so the European press. On a recent Press Tour in Denmark I was
assailed by fellow journalists from Scandinavia, Germany and Ireland who
could not understand why the US reelected George W. Bush, decrying our war
against Iraq. They told me in no uncertain terms that their press shows the
whole story of our bombardments and that they notice that CNN tells only
a one-sided view.
Notes on the diaspora of the Palestinians
Pappe delineates in his The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, that in 1897,
Nahman Syrkin, founder of Socialist Zionism, called for a ³home for
Jewish people of Palestine,² which he said ³must be evacuated for
the Jews.² Seven years later, and for ten years, 40,000 Zionists arrived
in Palestine. By 1920, at the beginning of the British Mandate, the Palestinians
still numbered 90% of the people of that land. By 1947, Palestinians were
the 2/3 majority of Palestine. According to the CIA World Factbook, as of
2004, Israel's Jewish population was 76.4% and non-Jewish (mostly Arabic)
was 23.6%. The New York Times 2005 Almanac lists Israel's ethnic groups as
80% Jewish and 19.9% non-Jewish (mostly Arabic).
What Can We Do?
Most of us are familiar with St. Francis and his walk through the Holy Lands
in the years 1219 and 1220. He traveled to Egypt, it is said, hoping
to convert the Sultan of Egypt, Malik-al-Kamil to Christianity or become
a martyr. He went away much touched by his experiences on this trip and his
passage through Palestine. Later, Pope Clemens VI, in 1342, made the Franciscan
Friars the official custodians of the Holy Places in the Holy Land. This
they still do with faithfulness no matter what the situation. They probably
can advise better than anyone how one might help our suffering family there.
They can be reached at the following sites.
Words of Christ come to mind that we should feed the hungry, visit those
in prison, clothe the naked and to give a cup of water to those who thirst
and in so doing, it is done unto Him. And there is the story of the Good
A Voice of Peace and Hope
In his Easter Sunday message from Jerusalem on April 3, 2007, H. B. Michael
Sabbah, the first Palestinian Patriarch of the Holy Land, raised his voice
and his hand in blessing --
³Our land is at the same time a land of resurrection and of death, but
its vocation and its fundamental mission is to be a land of love and life,
of abundant life for all its inhabitants of all religions and of all nationalities.
We ask God to grant that this becomes a reality and to give us all, by the
grace of the Resurrection, abundant life, tranquility, and his blessing.
³Christ is risen. Indeed, he is truly risen. Happy Easter²