Some of the stories mentioned below happened to me, Fr. Labib Kobti, when I was working in the Holy Land.
What a memory for me...I am afraid for our priests and our people and I pray with you for a just peace.
Please read the report of the Catholic World News
Fr. Labib Kobti
Catholic World News
[NOV. 24, 2000]
* PRIEST DESCRIBES ASSAULT BY ISRAELI SETTLERS
PRIEST DESCRIBES ASSAULT BY ISRAELI SETTLERS
By Michael Hirst & Nicholas Jubber
RAMALLAH, Israel-occupied West Bank, Nov. 22, 00 (CWNews.com) --
"You must leave now: They are going to bomb Ramallah." In the small
offices of the Latin Patriarchate Schools, these were familiar words.
Employees grabbed their belongings and headed out, numbed into
nonchalance by the recurring threats to their security and property.
The city--whose outskirts are lined with the villas of cabinet members
the Palestinian Authority, set close by the large grey concrete buildings in
which Yasser Arafat meets his ministers and delegates-- has become
synonymous with violence. Every day, its inhabitants live in expectation
of air-strikes and missile attacks, waiting for the dull drone of the Apache
gunships from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) that act as a signal to shut
up shop and stay indoors.
On international news broadcasts, the images of Islamic chants and
heavily masked demonstrators give the impression that Ramallah is a
refuge for Islamic fundamentalists. It is not. With 10,000 faithful and a
municipal protocol that stipulates that the mayor must be a Christian, this
is a traditionally Christian city.
The parish priest for the 1,500- 2,000 Roman Catholics in Ramallah,
Father Ibrahim Hijazin, is a respected figure in the city. His confidence in
the possibility of peace spurred him to initiate a "Peace Education
Program" in the Latin Patriarchate School which he runs here. When we
met him, he spoke proudly, but also sadly (in the light of recent events)
about his project. "We are the first school in Palestine to have meetings
with Israeli students and teachers," he said of a program, which began
five years ago. "We have had many meetings with Israeli schools about
the peace process, the environment and water resources, as well as games
like basketball. But when our students see the killing on TV, how can we
teach and convince them of a real peace with Israelis-- who they think
are killing their people and taking their land?"
The frustration which Father Ibrahim feels is reflected in the faces
speeches of his teachers and students, as well as their parents. A few
hundred yards away, young children are collecting stones around the
wreck of a burnt-out bus, while IDF soldiers protected by heavily
armored jeeps load their M16s in preparation for the afternoon's conflict.
In this atmosphere, it is easy to despair-- even more so for Father
Ibrahim, who has himself been the victim of aggression.
The incident, at he recalled it, developed in this way:
Father Ibrahim was driving back to Ramallah from nearby Nablus, where
he had been conducting services. As always, he used the main road
between the two towns. At about 6:20 he was stopped by a group of
between 45 and 50 Israelis from the nearby settlement of Shilo, who
were blocking the road. They were middle-aged, dressed in civilian
clothes, the men brandishing machine-guns while the women placed
boulders strategically on the road to halt oncoming traffic. As the priest
brought his vehicle to a halt, a well-dressed man addressed him: "What is
your business here?"
"I am a Catholic priest," he replied, "returning to my parish from religious
services in Nablus." (He was dressed in cassock and clerical collar.) When
asked for his papers, he produced his Vatican passport, at which one of
the men scoffed before throwing it back into the car. The leader shrugged
and stated, "You can't use this road; it is for Israelis only. Go back."
"But I used it only hours ago. I always use it; it's a main road," Father
Ibrahim replied. At this the leader levelled his gun at the priest's head
and repeated that the road was for Jews only. The people behind him
were beginning to get angry, shouting and gesticulating at the car. Father
Ibrahim put the vehicle in reverse and attempted to turn around. Behind
him, however, had gathered another group of some 30 younger settlers in
their mid-20s. One of these approached the driver's side and said,
"Shalom." Father Ibrahim replied, "Shalom," and was astonished to hear
the breaking of glass from his rear window. He looked back to see that
the younger group had surrounded the car, were gathering stones and
hurling them from as close as two or three yards away. The attack
continued until they had run out of stones, by which time every window
of his vehicle had been smashed, every plate dented; he too had been
struck on the arm. He quickly put his car into gear and set off the way he
had come, in a state of severe shock.
At a nearby service station, the owners took one look at the condition
the car and its driver, and called first the police, who refused to come,
and then the army, who did not come. As he was wondering what to do--
driving back to Nablus would be dangerous after dark, since he would
face the threat of another attack from other settlements; yet he could not
risk returning to the blockade)-- an Arab taxi drove past, in too much of a
hurry to give any assistance. A quarter of an hour later, however, the cab
returned, its elderly driver and his vehicle having received much the
same treatment as Father Ibrahim and the Volkswagen Passatt. The
driver informed Father Ibrahim that he knew a back road to Ramallah, so
the priest followed him slowly back to his parish.
The next day, Father Ibrahim visited the police station in Jerusalem.
officers there redirected him to offices in Beit El, where he filled in
numerous forms and complained to the officer in charge that, by law, he
should be compensated by the government for this attack. "I'm sorry,"
shrugged the policeman. Israeli laws stipulate that the government
should pay compensatation for damages done by Palestininans, but not by
Israeli citizens. "If you want to take this matter any further," said the
police officer, "you will have to go to Shilo and sue these people yourself."
The priest threw the papers on the desk in disgust, and left. The 10,0000
shekel ($2,500) bill for repairs to his vehicle was paid by the Latin
patriarchate, out of funds which had been raised abroad to be spent on
schools, housing projects, and other needs of the local Church.
This is not the only time Father Ibrahim has felt the threat of violence.
has had guns pointed at his head, and his Vatican passport does little to
curry favour with Israeli officialdom. Once, he was travelling in a car with
a group comprising both Christians and Muslims. Soldiers stopped the car
and ordered the Christians to dismount while the Muslims stayed inside
the vehicle. "This was to divide the Muslims and Christians," the priest
observed. He was the first in line to dismount, but refused, saying, "Either
we all get down or we all stay inside." Consequently, he was made to wait
in the street for four hours.
In the light of such experiences, it is understandable that Father Ibrahim
feels: "Israel has no respect for anybody, only for its own benefits. Still he
also stresses that "the Jews are human beings like us."
Father Ibrahim is now working to bring about peace without violence.
The Church Council of Ramallah, in which the Christian denominations sit
together, has organized demonstrations in which the parishes pray and
march alongside each other with candles, singing songs of peace. They
have been joined by many Muslims, who feel solidarity with their
compatriots. But Father Ibrahim is under no false illusions, and does not
expect peace overnight. "Worse is to come for all the Palestinian people,"
he fears. "Maybe soon we will have no food, no water, no electricity."
In a country whose economy is losing $200 million a day, this is a
frightening prospect. But Father Ibrahim retains his conviction of peace:
he hopes there will be "real peace, the baby of justice." He adds a final
note: "Without justice, we'll never find peace."
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