Lent, 2002
March 19, 2002
Dear Brothers and Sisters,


Salaam and grace in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ and blessed greetings to you from Jerusalem.


We in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem are desperately concerned as the situation in the Land of the Holy One continues to deteriorate almost by the hour, bringing with it tragic loss of life, innumerable injustices and the damage and destruction of infrastructure, hospitals, schools and the homes of innocent people, among them our own people.  We call upon all our partners and friends to do all that is in their power, to bringing an end to this pain and suffering in our homeland.  The recent hostilities as well as the reoccupation of liberated Palestinian towns and villages has proved catastrophic and tragic for both parties.  No one with common sense believes that a whole nation can be controlled with the power of the gun.  Justice is the only possible way. The root cause of all of this is the occupation and the Israeli occupation must come to an end.


At present we are faced with a total disregard for the suffering of so many of our people.  The recent incursion of tanks and military personnel into many of the Palestinian towns and cities has caused an enormous amount of suffering.  In Bethlehem, 3000 people recently gathered in Manger Square from neighboring refugee camps.  Local organizations were being asked to help feed them.  A Lutheran school was occupied and missiles hit Bethlehem University, which is a Roman Catholic institution, causing its closure. All electrical power was cut to two Ramallah hospitals during the height of fighting, leading many to great harm from lack of emergency health care.


I have just returned from visiting Ramallah, shortly after the Israeli tanks pulled out of the city center.  One of my priests, The Rev. George Al-Kopti, who is in charge of the parish of St. Andrew’s in Ramallah, reported to me about the situation in the city in the aftermath of the Israeli incursion.  He said: “About 150 tanks entered the city, occupying every corner and preventing movement, even movement of the injured to the hospitals and clinics in town.  They occupied houses and apartment buildings, asking families to congregate in one house with no regard to their age or their health.  Cars that belong to families of the parish were destroyed by tanks.”  He adds: “The children of the Evangelical Home lived for a few days of fear and trauma.  We had three days of severe imprisonment, without the ability to move or even provide ourselves with food.”


It was chilling to see the apartments that the occupying soldiers had marked with a large spray painted X, reminiscent of the markings the Nazi forces used to identify Jewish families.  One of the apartment buildings that was taken over included the flat of Mrs. Patricia Rantisi, the widow of the late Rev. Audeh Rantisi.  She is a 70-year-old British citizen.  Kent Wilkens, a Canadian friend staying with Mrs. Rantisi reports on the situation after the invasion of the building by soldiers.  He says: “We have adequate food supplies.  The Ramallah water has been cut so we will run out of water in this flat in a day or so.  We still have electricity.  We are not allowed to set foot in the hall.  We are 13 adults, including two elderly, and 10 children from 18 months old to 10 years.  Two of the adults are physicians who work at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem.  They are denied the ability to reach their hospitals, and cannot telephone their patients, or have their patients telephone them.”  He concludes, “The soldiers have no need to hold 4 families as hostages to accomplish their so called security.”


The ongoing conflict has had a dramatic effect on the work of the Church in the Land of the Holy One.  Every one of our institutions and parishes has felt the crushing economic repercussions of the situation. When the new century began we looked towards an increase in our joy.  Unfortunately this has not been the case and we watch as the quality of the lives of our friends and colleagues spirals downward into increasingly more difficult circumstances.


Our ministry would not be possible without the support and prayers of our countless friends throughout the world.  Knowing that you stand with us makes an immense difference in our lives and our ministries.  We are greatly encouraged by the number of people who have written us, to express their solidarity and offer their players.  Let us all come together, and join hands and efforts.  I challenge you to speak out on behalf of the people of this Land; to your families, your friends, your coworkers and neighbors, your politicians and your government leaders.  We pray for peace with justice, justice with truth and truth with righteousness, as well as for the safety and protection of all people.  Peace is the only alternative left.  This can only be a peace established in truth and justice, in accordance with the United Nations resolutions 242, 338 and 194.  The best security comes from reconciled neighbors.


Know that this comes with our prayers and our gratitude for all you have been doing to help us stand firm in our commitment to His calling.  May you be richly blessed.


In Christ,


+ The Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal