News, articles and documents from the Holy Land


“Peace will be the fruit of Justice and my people will dwell in the beauty of Peace”


Issue No. 38 - Tuesday, 16 January 2001

Dear Friends, Brothers and Sisters,

We are passing through a very strange period of confusion and ambiguity because noting is clear and we don’t see any light in the long tunnel we are living in since long time. I am so sorry to tell you this, but we have to be sincere with ourselves and we can’t pretend and say that everything is going good and not bad. It is not only bad but very bad. I like, by nature, to saw hope but in this case I am not able to do that.

I will tell you why?

Because the actual Intifada came in a very special and transitory time where nothing is clear: a very weak Israel government, the American elections, the end of Clinton administration and the beginning of the new Bush administration which needs time to deal with our crisis, the actual Israeli elections with the two actual candidates: one is worst than the other. Therefore, we are wasting a lot of time while the daily life of both peoples is becoming more and more complicated and difficult, while all kinds of sufferings are continuing day and night: bloodshed, tears, siege, inoccupation…

Because we don’t have any sign of hope of a solution in the near future in spite of the ongoing negotiations. Which means that we have to wait months and months, if not years until a courageous leaders come and say that’s enough we have to finish this bloody story and make justice giving the Palestinian people their legitimate rights according the International legitimacy.

Is everything only black?

Nevertheless, I would don’t want to leave you with this bad impression that we will not go out from this vicious circle of violence and suffering, I am sure that one day, sooner or later, we will reach a solution, and this is a historical determinism for us, because the last word is for justice and only justice, injustice will never be the last word and should not at all prevail. The question now is the following: If we are sure of this truth, why don’t we spare our energy, efforts, blood, tears and suffering of both sides and make it as soon as possible. We don’t have any other choice but to live together like the Holy Father said last days in front of all the diplomats of the world in the Vatican: “Israelis and Palestinians can only think of their future together, and each party must respect the rights and traditions of the other”. I invite you to read and meditate these strong words of the Pope.

You will find in today’s issue of the “Olive Branch from Jerusalem” the following news and articles:

1) The results of the Inquiry by Central Command on Shots fired at the Vehicle of the Latin Vice Patriarch in Jenin. Please note the lies, contradictions and false justifications reported in the whole report which is only a way to close the subject and end the discussion. Even if we appreciate the effort they did in order to publish this report with all these pretext and justification hoping that real Steps will be taken in the Command against the soldiers and officers in these cases of mistaken behavior, as they wrote.
2) But it seems the behavior of the soldiers didn’t change, because I am sending you another letter of protest against the soldiers of checkpoint near Bethlehem sent to Mr. Ehud Barak by Msgr. Gregoire Pierre Abdel-Ahad, the General Patriarchal Vicar of the Syrian Catholic Church in Jerusalem.

3) I send you also the words of the Pope about the Holy Land and the Middle East during his general audience to the diplomatic corps to the Holy See.

4) I sent you my answer to pastor Jerry Farwell the Christian-Zionist preacher in the States, I send you today another response to him from my colleague Fr. Elias Odeh, parish priest of Shafa Amer and director of our school in Reneh.

5) Sister Helen wrote us a very interesting resume of the meeting between His Beatitude, Michel Sabbah and the mature students of the Ecce Homo school or Biblical Studies, Thursday 11th January 2001.

6) Finally, our dear friends Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders wrote us a story about "The Death of a Child". These couple are American volunteers working in my village Zababdeh, they publish a very interesting web page about their experience, that you can visit -- (main page) (their journal). You can also contact them:

You see that you will find a lot of things to read in today’s newsletter, I hope that you are enjoying it, otherwise, let me know, and I will do my best to change or ameliorate it.

Best wishes from Jerusalem

Fr. Raed Abusahlia


Results of Inquiry by Central Command on Shots fired at a Palestinian Man at Bet Dagan
and at the Vehicle of the Latin Vice Patriarch in Jenin

On the 7th of January 2001, an IDF force opened fire at a vehicle that bypassed a checkpoint in the area of Kfar Salem, east of Nablus. The shots hit and killed a Palestinian. The inquiry into the incident, led by the CO Samaria Brigade, found that the commander of the force acted against instructions for opening fire.

On the 9th of January, an IDF force opened fire on the vehicle of the Latin vice Patriarch at the checkpoint after his vehicle did not stop at the checkpoint, near the Bezek base, adjacent to the city of Jenin. The force should have acted differently in this case as well.

In the inquiry held by the Menashe Brigade found that the force was mistaken in the way it responded, in the handling of the incident, and in the way it related to a car with diplomatic license plates. Steps will be taken in the Command against the soldiers and officers in these cases of mistaken behavior.

There have been a number of incidents lately when Palestinian residents of the West Bank were wounded or killed at points of conflict with IDF soldiers.

For the past four months, the residents of the West Bank and the IDF soldiers have been subject to numerous shooting attacks on the roads, from passing vehicles, and from ambushes. These attacks create a harsh reality for Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers.

IDF soldiers have been working arduously at stopping the shooting attacks. They have risked their lives and acted in dangerous and complex situations in order to allow the residents of the West Bank to live as normal and healthy of a life as possible.


Another letter of complain to Mr. Ehud Barak
From the bishop of the General Patriarchal Vicar for the Syrian Church


H. E. Mr. Ehud Barak

Prime Minister

Defense Minister

Subject: Complaint for an irresponsible treatment against the behavior of the Police and soldiers at the Bethlehem Checkpoint.

Your Excellency,

Today, Tuesday 16th January 2001 for a whole hour (from 9.00 to 10.00 a.m.), I was stopped and retained by a Police Officer and Soldier at the Bethlehem Checkpoint by the traffic lights, who refused to let me pass to go to Bethlehem though I presented to them all the documents in my possession, i.e.

-         The VIP Card

-         The Vatican Passport

-         The diplomatic Plate of my car N 36 036 22 (White)

-         The Vatican Flag with the Patriarchate Cross.

The only reason they gave is that entry to Bethlehem is totally forbidden till 12.00 noontime.

As much as I insisted and argued with them that I am a Bishop and Christian leader and I have religious charges and obligations in our Church in Bethlehem, but to NO AVAIL.

In the meantime and while I waited several other cars and even busses passed and entered Bethlehem.

At 10.00 a.m. the police car left the checkpoint when I was able to proceed to Bethlehem.

This incident grieved and vexed me and this due to a DISCRIMINATION which I have experienced several times, despite the signed the Fundamental Agreement between the State of Israel and the Vatican which gives freedom of movement and activity for religious duties.

I am presenting to your Excellency, this complaint asking an explanation to what happened and for a formal excuse.


                                    + Grégoire Pierre Abdel-Ahad, Bishop

                                    Général Patriarchal Vicar of the Syrian Catholic Church


A meeting between His Beatitude, Michel Sabbah

and the mature students of the Ecce Homo School for Biblical Studies.

Thursday 11th January 2001.

His Beatitude, Michel Sabbah, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, met with a group of mature students of the Ecce homo School of Biblical Studies run by the Sisters of Sion in the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem. Some sixty students from twenty-two countries, missionaries taking time out for a sabbatical, have been studying in Jerusalem for the past three months. Having arrived just after the beginning of the Aksa- intefada in October 2000, they were keen to understand the position of the Churches in the midst of this recent crisis, one more struggle in a long history of battles marking different points of progression in the unfolding history of the 52 years of Israeli statehood.

HB gave a brief summary of the position of Palestinians after the war of 1948 when Israel was declared a state and recognized as such by the International Community. Since then Palestinians have experienced discrimination as citizens carrying different identity cards from Jews and having to suffer the ignominy of frequent checks by young soldiers, male and female.

Many thousands of Palestinians have been driven from their homes and land into other countries and into refugee camps. With the return of some limited Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank the possibility of real Palestinian statehood is at an impasse because of the number of Jewish settlements peppering the land of Gaza and the West Bank and of necessity having IDF soldiers guarding roads and check points to these settlements. This of necessity prevents the freedom of movement for the Palestinians from one zone to another.

His Beatitude wanted to impress upon all that until justice is achieved, i.e. when the rights of all, Palestinians as well as Israelis, is upheld, equal rights for voting, equal rights in jobs, education and social amenities, respect for human dignity and basic human rights where no one is oppressed and all have the right of freedom of movement, there will be no chance for true and lasting peace.

HB said that unfortunately more often than not history had demonstrated that most peace agreements were only obtained after war, violence and much bloodshed. But he made an interesting remark about Ytzak Rabin. Rabin having been a hawk as an army commander, had discovered that when it came to the question of establishing a true and lasting peace the approach could not be through co-ercion and violence, rather the heart and soul of all the people involved had to be turned towards reconciliation and a willingness to forgive and work towards building bridges of a cooperation that would assuage the fear and hate of the opposing sides. Of course when Rabin became a dove and courted the Arabs of Israel for their support he was quickly assassinated by a Jew who could not tolerate his approach.

The church, which has always been small in this land, must witness to this willingness

To be open to reconciliation and bridge building, to sink its differences and to work to cooperation at all levels. But at the same time the church must not be blind to injustice, whether it be against the Palestinian or the Israeli, it must stand for justice, truth and above all compassion and mercy.  To do this the Middle Eastern churches must stay faithful, Christians must not run away but must stay and witness to the suffering Christ in this His Holy Land.  It is a witness of martyrdom which demands great courage and endurance which, if sustained, will bear great fruit for the generations of the future. The global church needs local Christians in this Holy Land and must pray to do whatever it can to alleviate the problems of this present crisis. I does not help to be partisan. We must pray for all sides to come to their senses and start the process of reconciliation and forgiveness that will eventually lead to a true and lasting peace with justice for all irrespective of race creed or color.

Some questions posed by the students.

1) What impact did the visit of the Holy Father have on the people in the Holy Land?

In brief the Holy Father’s visit was particularly effective in sowing very valuable seeds, particularly the seed of repentance and asking forgiveness for what the Church in the past had done and not done to help the Jewish people in their hour of greatest need.

2) Another question was raise about the plight of the refugees in the camps. It had been suggested that the refugees had been offered alternatives by the Israeli Government, which had been refused by the Palestinians because they wanted to gain international sympathy and to use the camps as a political lever in all negotiations.

HB respo0nded that it was most important from the point of view of justice that the Israelis should accept the responsibility of having caused the refugee problem in the first place, that they also had a responsibility to compensate the refugees who had lost home, land and living, and finally they should also, in principle, recognize the refugees right of return.

3) Is it true that visas are being offered to Christians to leave the holy Land?

HB. Yes, I’m sorry to say this is true. Visas are being offered especially by the USA government.

In the new Palestinian Constitution is there provision for the protection of the rights of the minorities, especially for the Christians?

HB. The new Palestinian State will be Muslim, just like Egypt and Jordan and the like. The constitution is not yet signed. Negotiations have been entered into to protect the Christians in the Constitution. But rights have to be stated in legal terms otherwise it will be meaningless. HB stressed the need to create good relations with the Muslims.

4) Another question was directed toward the question of the status of Jerusalem.

HB explained that at one time it was thought Jerusalem should be overseen by and International Body in order to safeguard the Holy places and everyone’s right to access. But this idea was shelved and it is now thought it would be best to have a body from within to work together to effect this end. He mentioned how since the time of the Ottoman Empire the Status Quo Regulations for all the churches of the Holy Places had been drawn up legally, and, despite the negative sound of its title, it had been adhered to and had governed the custodianship of the Holy Places effectively until today.

It came as a surprise to some that one of the main causes of the Crimean War had been the question of the custodian ship of the Holy Places, particularly the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

5) A fifth question was asked about the true meaning of Jihad.

HB gave an enlightening explanation revealing that the original meaning was that of the interior struggle.  He drew a comparison with St. Paul’s explanation that the true battle was within. It was only in the later years of Islamic expansion that jihad came to have the idea of the holy war to be waged against the infidel the non-believer in Islam.

6) Finally a question was posed from someone coming from Northern Ireland. In the light of the history of the Church, especially in recent years when the Church had accused of remaining silent where it would have helped the cause by speaking out, what can we as a group do coming from some 22 countries?

HB simply made it clear the importance of understanding the situation by right information, by not being partisan, by praying earnestly and making sure they support this little Church in anyway possible. Encourage pilgrims to continue their pilgrimages. This would be a great help and would show great solidarity with them who live out their witness in such hard circumstances.

The students were most impressed by His Beatitudes approach and went away with much to assimilate.

HVSexton   Jerusalem


And speaks about the peace in the Holy Land and the Middle East
VATICAN, Jan. 15, 01 ( -- In his annual address to the diplomats accredited to the Holy See, Pope John Paul II pointed to several trouble spots, including the Middle East, Indonesia, and Spain.

The papal audience, held in the Apostolic Palace on January 13, each year provides the Pontiff with an opportunity to meet the Vatican diplomatic corps, and to provide an overview of world affairs as seen from the perspective of the Holy See. Nearly 400 people-- ambassadors and their wives-- were in attendance, and each offered personal greetings to the Pope at the conclusion of his address. There are now 175 countries with ambassadors at the Vatican (as opposed to only 93 at the beginning of the current pontificate), along with a handful of envoys with special diplomatic status.

Regarding the Middle East, the Pope warned that the international community should not accept the "banalization of a sort of guerilla warfare, the persistence of injustice, the contempt for international law" that still prevails there. He added that Israelis and Palestinians "cannot contemplate a future except their future together."

"It is high time to return to the principles of international law," he said. In a clear rebuke to the government of Israel, he spelled out the violations that should be ended: the acquisition of territory by force, the right of all people to self-determination, and the need to respect UN resolutions and Geneva conventions. If these principles of international law are not respected, he continued, "everything is at risk," and the potential for "an escalation of violence that will be difficult to control."

We publish hereby the whole paragraph speaking about the Holy Land and the Middle East:

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

3. Following the shepherds and the wise men and all those who for the past two thousand years have hastened to the crib, today's humanity too has paused for a few moments on Christmas Day to gaze upon the Infant Jesus and to receive some of the light which accompanied his birth and continues to illumine all human darkness. This light tells us that the love of God is always stronger than evil and death.

This light signals the path of all who in our times in Bethlehem and Jerusalem are struggling on the road to peace. In this part of the world which received God's revelation to man there should be no resignation before the fact that a kind of guerilla warfare has become an everyday event, or in the face of the persistence of injustice, the contempt for international law or the marginalisation of the Holy Places and the requirements of the Christian communities. Israelis and Palestinians can only think of their future together, and each party must respect the rights and traditions of the other. It is time to return to the principles of international legality: the banning of the acquisition of territory by force, the right of peoples to self-determination, respect for the resolutions of the United Nations Organization and the Geneva conventions, to quote only the most important. Otherwise, anything can happen: from unilateral rash initiatives to an extension of violence which will be difficult to control.


"The Death of a Child"

On Thursday, January 11, fourth grader Annas al-Ahmad died on the playground of the Latin Patriarchate College of Zababdeh. Annas, who was born with a hole in his heart, was playing soccer with friends before school. When the ball hit him squarely in the chest, he immediately collapsed and began gasping for breath. Two teachers gave emergency medical attention before several students carried the boy to a local doctor. Within ten minutes he was dead from intensive internal bleeding. His family arrived to the school from their village, Rumane (near Jenin), to take him home. Students and teachers said their farewells as Annas was carried around the sport field on a funeral bier. School was cancelled for the rest of the day and for the following Saturday to honor his memory. Annas was a bright and promising English student of Elizabeth's. His sister is one of Marthame's students, and his aunt is one of our fellow English teachers.

That afternoon, one bus and several taxis departed from the school forthe backroads journey to Rumane, as the mainroads have been bulldozed or blocked by the Israeli military. We arrived in time for the funeral service at the mosque. The women stayed with the boy's body in the home while the men attended the service which was broadcast by the muezzin's speaker. Eventually, the men came to get the boy for burial and a world of emotion passed between two grieving parents as his father gently touched his mother on the cheek. Gathered around his grave, the Palestinian Christian and Muslim community buried nine year-old Annas al-Ahmad that afternoon.

It is not a story that will be in the news, especially in a week when Zababdeh grabbed headlines. On Tuesday the 9th, Israeli soldiers near Zababdeh shot at the bishop of Nazareth as he came to our village for a visit. And every night this week, Palestinian youth from nearby villages have gone to the hills to shoot down into the Israeli military camp at the edge of town. The Israelis have returned fire, as they have done before.  But recently they have fired towards residential areas, and not only into the hills. We were out shopping when red tracer bullets went flying through the air overhead, sending people (including us) scattering in fear. We were out looking at the lunar eclipse when red tracer bullets again went flying through the air overhead, sending us up against the wall in fear. Both times the bullets had no military target - instead, they were meant to intimidate and scare a civilian population. It worked.

But what is striking is that even with nighttime shootings and an international incident in our small country town, it was the accidental death of a child that stunned and paralyzed the community. How many other communities in this land are stunned and paralyzed as they gather to bury their young? How many parents here have lost their children because of the current situation?  Behind each one of the deaths is a story like that of Annas - the death of a child is an unexpected event that cuts us all to the heart. And in the wake of Christmas, as Epiphany celebrations continue with our Greek Orthodox and Armenian sisters and brothers, we remember how King Herod responded to the birth of Christ - by taking many innocent children's lives. Perhaps this is the response of evil to the overwhelming grace of God, to seek to destroy what is grace-filled.

Unlike other children who have died in the past months (some protesting the occupation, some walking home from school, some traveling in family cars, some standing on their doorsteps), Annas was not a martyr for the national movement in Palestine. He was simply a child who died too young. But as the school gathered on the Monday after his death, we planted a tree. The seeds that have been sown in tragedy will one day give shade and comfort to many - perhaps this is the sign of hope for all grieving parents. And perhaps that seed, for this nation, can be a seed of peace that will bring justice to the generations.


Salaam Al-Messiah (Peace of Christ),
Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders


Another letter to Jerry farwell


Dear Friends, Brothers and Sisters

With a very shocking matter I read Mr. Farwell preaching, I couldn't finish the article my heart was aching of the miss information that Mr. Farwell pass to his congregation, I did not expect who calls himself Christian to come up with those lies with no shame.
I am a catholic priest in the Holy land for 30 years; we don't feel or live those moments where we have such difficulties. Yes, we recognize there are some extremists in every religion, Jews Christians and Moslems.
We ask God's forgiveness to Mr. Farwell. With my community we pray to the entire congregation where Mr. Farwell preaches to open there mind and heart to know were the truth stands.
Mr. Farwell try to portrait that Moslems are treating Christians badly, we wonder how much Mr. Farwell have received to tell such a big lie to poison his people mind hiding the true that our suffering Christian as Moslem alike is from the Israeli occupation. How dare Mr. Farwell use our name and belief to come up with such a tragic teaching, who authorize him to defend us? I am ashamed of him and his teaching, and he calls himself Christian? He is way far away from Christ and Christianity.
So please Mr. Farwell spare yourself embarrassment of what you call preaching.

You are addressing Yaser Arafat as terrorist. I wonder how your conscience allows you to say so? We know that the U.S.A. government received him and recognized him as a man of peace, and he received the Nobel price!!! You say: "Yaser Arafat wasn't able to get the United Nations to dispatch a force
to fight Israel."
Israel oppose to that with the blessing of the U.S.A. veto. Why was the Israeli afraid or try to hide the terror act against the Palestinians?
I would like to know if Mr. Sharon visited the Holy Site to pay homage, why would he accompany thousands of soldiers with him???
The protest will go on and on ...
We urge the congregation to try to search and find the truth...
Here is a personal experience that happened with us last week. exactly on Tuesday the ninth: Bishop Marcuzzo, Bishop of Nazareth and Israel, his assistant Fr. Elie Kurzum, myself Fr. Elias Odeh my sister Angela, we were going to visit one of our parishes in the West Bank with a car that carries the Vatican flag and diplomatic license plate as we approached a military camp three soldiers jumped pointing their guns at our car shouting: Stop. We stopped: GO BACK and they shot the first bullet and a second and a third without asking any question. They terrorized us we were almost killed. What do you call this Mr. Farwell???????????
May God open your mind and heart to the truth and enough courage to tell about it....

Fr. Elias M. ODEH

Some references:

1) Jerry Farwell is a well-known racist and a financially corrupt Rev. He supported South Africa's Apartheid, opposed Nelson Mandela, insulted the great black South African leader/Rev. Desmond Tutu, and has never been able to hide his hatred for Arabs and Muslims. So what does one expect from a man like him?

2) I am well acquainted with this man. In his book, the Fundamentalist Phenomenon, he says that God deals with nations in accordance with the way nations deal with Israel!!! He also refused to condemn the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, and also the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre.
Khalid Amayreh

Fr. Raed Awad Abusahlia

P.O.Box 14152  Jerusalem  91141
Tel.  00 972 2 6282323/6272280
Fax  00 972 2 6271652