The voice of the TRUTH from Jerusalem
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”
Monday, 6 November 2000
His Beatitude the Patriarch Michel Sabbah visited today Gaza and met with President Yasser Arafat in order to express to him the Christian solidarity with the Palestinian leadership in it’s efforts to end the violence and reach a just and lasting peace. He extended to him the best wishes of the Pope and his concern about the actual situation. It seems that the visit was very friendly to the point that Mr. Arafat invited the Patriarch to launch with him.
A small delegation of our priests accompanied the Patriarch: Fr. Maroun Lahham, Director of our Seminary, Fr. William Shomaly our general administrator and Fr. Manuel Musallam our parish priest in Gaza who is a very closed friend of Mr. Arafat.
It is appropriate to tell you that among the more than one million of
Palestinians in Gaza, around only 5.000 Christians are living there, most
of them are Orthodox, our Latin Parish is very small, not more than 500
only, but we have a very big school of more than 1000 students, and a another
new school is under construction. But nevertheless, our presence in Gaza
is not a matter of number but more than that, it is a testimony of charity
because many Christian relief agencies are working among the refugees there
since more 50 years, such as CRS and Pontifical Mission for Palestine,
and many religious congregations such as the little sisters of Jesus who
are working in Al-Shate refugee camp, and the Missionary Sister of Charity
(Sisters of mother Teresa) who are working with handicapped people since
more than 20 years, we can’t forget the Rosary sisters who are working
in our parish and began a new school this year.
I allow myself to say in this field that the Christian presence among the Palestinian leadership is very considerable; most of the closed collaborators of president Arafat are Christians, like Dr. Ramzi Khoury, Nabil Abu-Rudeina, Dr. Sami Musallam and many others, including minister of Tourism Mr. Abu Eitah, plus nine representatives in the National Council. It is very well known that founders many Palestinian organizations are Christians, such as Mr. Naif Hawatmeh founder of Democratic Front and George Habash founder of Popular Front.
The conclusion that I want
to reach is that Christians in the Holy Land are Arabs and Palestinians
and they are an integral part of this history, geography and demography
of this people. We share our people the same sufferings and problems, as
well as the hopes and aspirations. We are one people and one family, we
can’t be different or alone, our destiny is to be together and in this
land, here and now (Hic et Nunc).
You will find in today’s issue two documents:
1) The Bethlehem Diary (third issue) written as usual by Toine vane Teefllelen, who updates us with what is happening in the triangle: Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.
2) A Letter from the heart, written by Lily Habash, who is working to realize the idea of the Palestinian Christian Forum, which aims to encourage the presence of Christians in the Political, Economic, Social and Cultural arena in the Palestinian Society. I think that his letter is worthy to be read, because it comes really from the heart and might reach your heart also.
Fr. Raed Abusahlia
BETHLEHEM DIARY (3)
October 30 – November 6, 2000
Written by Toine van Teeffelen
Wednesday 1/11 to Ramallah. A trip of less than 30 km which can nowadays
take two hours. The collective taxi or “service” first stops at the Jerusalem
checkpoint where soldiers investigate the passengers’ papers. Two of them
have to get out and return. Their special permit seems to be expired. I
remember that at the beginning of the closures people used to come sitting
next to me and start a conversation in the hope that a show of friendship
with a foreigner would help them to pass.
Immediately after the checkpoint, other soldiers take a quick look at
the inside and outside of the vehicle, apparently in search of explosives.
Two hundred meters further down the car is stopped once again, now by Israeli
police. This elicits sighs among the passengers. People dread police checks
since they usually take so long. All the drivers’ papers are checked, and
the seats and number of passengers are elaboratedly counted. It is a practice
of the Israeli police to thoroughly check taxi-vans. (In fact the taxi-vans
are often not suitable as public transport. The problem is that there are
not enough regular taxis and buses having the required papers). The driver
argues that the two young children in the van should not be counted as
full passengers. A break of some 20 minutes follows during which a ticket
is registered. The passengers impatiently click with their tongue, and
make phone calls to those waiting for them in Jerusalem. A baby starts
crying. Afterwards the driver is stopped a fourth time, again by police.
The driver shows his ticket as evidence that he and his car have been fully
investigated, and is allowed to continue. On the road to Ramallah the taxi
circumvents an Israeli checkpoint between “area C” and “area B.” Doing
so, it must bump over rocky terrain. Cars follow each other in a long and
slow-moving queue. At my work near Ramallah the staff tell their own travel
On return to Bethlehem, at five in the afternoon, the taxi stops at
the checkpoint, and passengers have to get out and walk. An Israeli soldier
calls me and asks what I have to do in Bethlehem. It is dangerous there.
After my explanation, he waves me through, saying without irony: “Have
a good time.” Across the checkpoint some 20 workers sit on a row of rocks
with soldiers in front of them. This is an old familiar scene. These are
workers who sneaked without permit into Jerusalem but were caught on their
way back. A taxi driver tells me that they have to sit a few hours in the
dark, as if they are naughty schoolboys.
At home, Mary explains to me that there was continuous shooting from 15:00 on, on Beit Jala again. She just came from a doctor there who has his practice in what is now a desolate area. We close the shutters and watch a live program on Israeli TV. Images of bombs fired from Gilo are accompanied by the excited voice of a journalist. A second later we hear the bombs falling down outside, in Beit Jala. TV-image and reality conjoin. Looking at bombings is an alienating experience. I remember the first days of the Gulf war when a CNN journalist compared the bombs on Baghdad with a Christmas firework. Living on the highest floor of the Freres’, Karishma, too, watches the “horrible beauty” of the bombing. During the mornings, she gives English class to sixth graders, a large part who come from Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, the areas most hurt. The students role play that they are interviewed on CNN, and also write down their stories of the previous days. They cannot easily concentrate on other matters, and talking about “the situation” has a therapeutic effect. One student writes: “We were sitting in my parents’ bedroom when a bullet broke the window and passed over my mother’s head to settle in the wall. We were all afraid but lucky that nobody was hurt.” According to local TV, the owner of a beautiful house on the edge of Beit Jala who now lives in South America got a fatal stroke while watching the bombing of his house on TV. That same live broadcast was attended by the stonecutter who hew the stones of the house. While watching, the man had to cry uncontrollably. Houses mean a lot to people here, they are part of their body and soul.
Next day, I meet a father who teaches at Bethlehem University. He tells how that week a bullet entered the room of one of the American De La Salle brothers who run the university. “The hypothesis is,” the says, “that the brother watched Rachel’s Tomb through his binoculars, Israeli soldiers detected this, and fired a warning shot. Israeli sharp shooters have the equipment to target very precisely from a long distance. Fortunately the brother was out to take a cup of coffee.” Despite the evacuation order given to Americans some weeks ago, all brothers decided to stay and teach at the university. My interlocutor also mentions the changing mood among Palestinian staff at the University, away from the peace negotiations, even among those who used to have moderate political opinions. What especially seems to inflame people’s attitudes is the high percentage of youth killed by shots between the eyes or in the breast. This suggests a policy of “shooting to kill.” Medical organizations confirm this. It will be one of the major issues with which the coming international enquiry has to deal.
Fuad Giacaman, too, has moderate opinions and is in fact involved in several exchanges with Israeli schools. All are suspended. After he evacuated his daughter from Beit Sahour two weeks ago – she lives in a shooting zone – his family mocked him, “So, where are your Israeli friends?” He is disconcerted that some of his Israeli partners never called him these days. His policy for the moment is to only have phone calls with Israelis, not meetings or activities. There is need for a period of calm and mourning for the death, he says. Also, recent events lend peace concepts like reconciliation and justice a different meaning, and this needs time for reflection. Yet he maintains “strategically” committed to peace dialogues. Ishmail, our colleague in Hebron, a peaceful and patient man by nature, is also involved in dialogues and exchanges with Israelis. His daughter studies in Manhattan/New York together with Israeli students on a “Seeds For Peace” project. Presently his school in Hebron is out of bounds. He signs up at a local United Nations office to receive his salary. His school for refugee children is located in H2, the area in which the few hundred Israeli settlers of Hebron live. Since the beginning of hostilities tens of thousands Palestinians living there remain under curfew to comfort the settlers who freely walk in the streets. More than twenty Palestinian schools in H2 are closed, including Ishmail’s. Some of them are used as army observation points and depots.
On Saturday, a Dutch acquaintance of mine passes by. He too is involved
in Israeli-Palestinian exchanges. But the discourse on both sides is now
so accusatory that he even does not forward the emails to the other side.
The Jordanian emails directed towards the Israelis have a sharper tone
than the Palestinian ones. I am not surprised. Palestinian life is so closely
intertwined with Israeli life that generalizations are sometimes difficult
to maintain. In fact, this weekend Mary had a contact with an Israeli living
in Gilo, the Jerusalem quarter built upon Beit Jala lands which is now
under regular fire from Palestinian rifles. She offered Mary to drive a
Palestinian from the Bethlehem checkpoint to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem,
and to help translating when the doctor would not speak English well.
Jara seems to be little affected by all the bombing. During the Wednesday and Thursday nights, we together sing Dutch children songs, as if to silence the blows outside. On Sunday, she plays and laughs in front of my family’s garden, despite the sirenes and shooting at Rachel’s Tomb. At one point she picks up little pebbles, goes to the edge of the street and throws the pebbles at a passing demonstration of Palestinian school children. Mary laughs: “She takes it from TV but does not understand what happens.” I visit the Church of Nativity which is strangely empty and silent. Silence in places which used to be full of murmuring, and loud bangs at moments when it should be silent. Last week our neighbor told a story about a colleague of her who lives in Beit Jala. Her colleague asked permission to sleep at work, in Jerusalem. “So, did he sleep well?” “No, he could not sleep, it was much too silent.”
A letter from the Heart
Written by Lily Habash
To all the young people of the world,
A letter from the heart,
As a human being, I have been thinking all along the past couple of weeks, of how I would be able to help my country at this very crucial time that it is going through. As some of you may wonder who I am; I am a young Palestinian woman who is fervently committed to her national cause.
I am urging you all today to help me think how we can help restore peace in the region.
My aspirations as well as the aspirations of my compatriots are very simple. We want to live in peace; we want to be considered as human beings that are entitled to have human, political and economic and civil rights. The people who enjoy these gifts might not realize how important they could be for someone who is suffering from their absence.
While writing this letter I have to be honest with you.I am most surprised by the fact that whenever a Palestinian starts expressing his/ her aspiration for independence, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees and their families, there are people who start blaming them and reminding them of the holocaust. The problem is that the Palestinian people are not responsible for the holocaust. In fact, what happened in the holocaust was so inhuman, so brutal that I am appealing to all those people whose consciousness is still alive to try and prevent another one from happening.
Life here in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has become so sad, uncertain and miserable.
Occupation is still present in the minds and daily lives of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
I do not see why people should remain in the cycle of negation, bloodshed, and pain.
The problem that the Palestinians are complaining from is how the world is not paying real attention to their needs and to their legitimate recognition. I personally believe that the Palestinians have been trying their best, both at the level of the political leadership and the people. All they want is to have a sustainable future. A state that is independent, with independent and secure borders, geographical contiguity, control over their natural resources, a secure and prosperous national home for the Palestinians around the world, freedom of expression, good economy, and a good education and health systems. I am sure that these are the needs of an ordinary citizen who is willing to live with dignity in his own country.
One of the main reasons behind the latest events that resulted with the killing of more that 140 Palestinians, most of them young and below the age of 20, was the visit of the Israeli Likud leader Ariel Sharon to the Haram El-Sharif, the third holiest place to Moslems, a visit that did not aim at either religious practice or touristic intentions. While making the visit, Sharon was surrounded with more than three thousand soldiers. This was enough to provoke bitter dissatisfaction among the Palestinians who already have been suffering from occupation, constraints on freedom of movement and on free access to religious sites. Unfortunately, he increased the level of despair and uncertainty of the possibility of co-existence. In my opinion, he abused the most sublime religious feelings in order to induce more hatred and more violence at a very crucial time of the peace process. Religious feelings should never be harassed.
I have always said that God is love, God is peace, and we all pray to the same God, so why abuse God to cause pain and drive the whole area to an unknown future veiled with darkness and despair.
Once the media picked up on the events, a lot of people tried to make it look as if it is going to be a religious war. It is so sad to watch how some political leaders are alienating God and religion for short-term, short-sighted political gains, while encouraging the outburst of war and destruction.
I am sure that true people, no matter what religion they belong to, whether Christian, Moslem or Jewish would agree with me. Because all the monotheistic religions believe in the same God, who is supposed to be good and a symbol of peace, justice and fairness.
In fact, I do not think that any of us had any choice over his color, ethnicity, or religion. We have no decision of what and where to be born. It is a mere coincidence that one is born Christian, Moslem or Jewish. The only thing in common is that we are all human beings. If one were to refute my rational, I would simply say for the ordinary person that in the current rhythm of life, it is a very luxurious business for people to start asking questions that are of a metaphysical nature. So why don’t we accept the fact that each of us belongs to this or that group and he or she is entitled to have the same rights as any one else who is a human being in this living world.
The Palestinian people have been portrayed as terrorists and violent people. This is not true. Allow me to explain to you why they are revolting. They have been subjected to occupation for more than thirty years, they have been evacuated from their homes and they have been dispossessed of their human dignity. In fact, the word occupation is self-explanatory. I do not want to recite to you what are the daily actions committed against a whole nation subject to daily estrangment simply because they are Palestinians fighting for their own freedom.
The fighting has been claimed as violence. It is a pity, to still feel, at the beginning of the 21st century when the human mind has evolved so much to a level that is not describable any more, the need to explain why occupying another nation is very wrong and out of fashion. Yet, the Palestinian people with their declared approach of peace through negotiation, ventured the peace process through the past six years. They knew that the road was not easy, but they continued with the hope of having their own recognized and viable state. They tried hard to maintain a level of confidence and optimism in their partner’s intentions. The latest provocation by Mr. Sharon blew these aspirations apart.
And in this respect, I know how much the media has been unfair to the Palestinians. Ever since I grew up, I have been hearing about how the media has been biased, and how the Palestinians, inspite of their very just cause have not been able to win their case. Lately, I can tell you that I have actually lived this harsh experience of trying to counter the massive anti-Palestinian campaigns. It is as if there is a big conspiracy against the Palestinian people.
For, while the Palestinians are suffering from the loss of their martyrs, who are mostly children and below the age of 20 years old, falling down due to what the United Nations Human Rights Commission has described; “the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force”, they were depicted as terrorists and violent people and their leadership not worthy for peace partnership. The fact is that the Palestinians have lost faith in the way their partner envisions peace. They felt disillusioned by a plan that does not give them the basic requirements of an independent and viable state.
If the Palestinian people were enjoying their equal rights and recognizable status, as any other nation in the world community, there wouldn’t have been any of this suffering. By saying this as a Palestinian, I am not being apologetic; on the contrary, I am appealing to your reason and honesty in the hope that I find a light of hope for my country and my compatriots.
It is ultimately sad to watch what is happening. The whole concept of rights and one’s entitlement to live in his own country and live the experience of being human at the beginning of the 21st century, is being alienated. I seldom thought that it might be a wrong approach that one would react to what is being said or fiercely propagated. This means that one is falling into the trap already. For the time being, the Palestinian people’s sole perseverance is their just cause and their legitimate rights according to international legitimacy. It is extremely difficult for the time being to refute the massive media machine with the same techniques and with the same institutional skills that have been used over the past three decades to divert the truth.
To be fair, the Palestinians have started and there are very capable people, but I to my mind and I hope to the minds of all of you, young people who are supposed to be enlightened and committed to the building of a better world, it should be something beyond what the media is all about. With all due respect to media and its influence, but as long as it remains blind and selective, it is not going to bring any substantial solution. It is the people and their governments who are supposed to have a free will, based on ethics and rightness that should make the change and ensure that the right of a people to dispose of its own destiny, to survive and to live in dignity should not be violated.
Usually, when I say these words, I get accused of being emotional. To tell you frankly, I personally, and in the course of my work, have tried to appear more rational, especially when I spoke to “western people” –with all due respect-. I discovered that I could not play this game. The truth that I am living is so bitter that I cannot make a theatrical performance in my different languages or scenarios. In this respect, I have to say that I may have failed. I may have failed in explaining the actuality of the Palestinian tragedy and demands according to the rules of the game. But the fate of a whole nation is not a game. It is a divine obligation. I have been asking myself about the reasons why the whole world cannot truly see what the Palestinian people have been going through.
I have been asking myself whether there still is some consciousness in the world.
To tell you frankly, I am confused.
What I can say at the moment is that I do not want to get trapped and get into the viscous circle of who is to be blamed. Even though, I am sure that if one is to seek a moment of truth at least with oneself, he will ultimately know the reasons behind the conspiracy against peace. All I can say is that this whole thing can end. It can end only when people would accept each other’s. This can happen only when people mutually recognize the humanity of the other side. I do not see why, people need to negate the others in order to exist. In this case, it is a duty of every human Israeli or friend of Israel to remind them of their humanity as well as that of the Palestinians, to remind them that Palestinians are also equal in human nature and rights. I can not see why we can’t all exist in one world, in human solidarity and in peace? Of course, I am not going to ignore the fact that we human beings and because we have the good and the bad in us, tend to acquire the dialectical mode for our own survival. But a better world cannot be based on negating the other in order to survive. A better world of the 21st century should be the result of the virtuous and intellectual evolution of man. It should not be based on lies, wars, revenge and destruction.
I am saying these things especially to all of you, because I believe in the power of the young people. I remember a discussion amongst a group of young people who have shown potential for leadership. I remember their enthusiasm about being more pro-active. This means that they wanted to have a say in the club of the “old”. As young people, we have to always remember that it is our duty to hold our future in our hands. Sometimes the old make mistakes and we become their victims. We should be worried about the State of the World because we are the ones who are going to live the consequences of every single decision that is going to shape our dreams, present and future.
Think of the duty that we have toward our families and the future generation, our young kids. Think of tomorrow and how it would look like with war, destruction and pain. Think of the young generation of today; remember that they will be the decision-makers of tomorrow. Do we want them to be morally disillusioned, to suffer from regret, and schizophrenia, or should we bring them up without any reference to basic human values so that they do not suffer from any pain or confusion.
I am not going to blame anyone, but I am appealing to the rationality of human kind.
I know that deep down each one of us wants to see peace reigning over the world. I know that it is more difficult to learn how to be more tolerant, giving and caring than be antagonistic and prevail as powerful. Apparently, it is peace that needs more conscientious feelings and courageous steps rather than going along with the dictation of instincts and the primitive techniques of the survival of the fittest. It is peace that needs brave intelligent people rather than people with dogmatic and selfish behavior.
All this I believe only requires a moment of truth with oneself. We cannot ignore the reality; hence we should all be involved in taking a proactive role in changing the state of the world. This can only happen when we try to enhance fairness, and that justice is reigning and humanity is restored.
I think that each one of us should think of this with an open mind and an open heart.
Therefore, allow me to propose the following;
- Each one of us can do a lot by supporting peace and the restoration of basic human, political, economic and civil rights of the Palestinian people.
- Each one of us can approach their national leaders to ask them to take a proactive role. We have to approach them as young leaders of today and future leaders of tomorrow; we have to remind them of their responsibility towards the future generation and us.
- We can approach the existing United Nations organizations and express our support for their enhancement especially in keeping peace, and implementing the international legality among nations equally.
I invite all of the young people of the world to come and watch what
is happening in Palestine, to go visit all those who have been injured,
to visit the mothers of the martyrs. There is also this dark side
of life where a whole nation is being subjected to inhuman terror.
Each of you can have a tremendous power in his own community to inform
the public or their government about the need to guarantee the Palestinians
the protection they need, the recognition of their human, political and
We have to try and keep trying, we cannot let ourselves fall into indifference,
otherwise we do not deserve the privilege given to us as human beings.
I am sorry I personally cannot think of any other way how to work within
my community but to put forward my concerns as a Palestinian who has been
born under occupation. I do not want my kids to be born under occupation.
I do not want any killings or more sufferings to happen for both sides.
The latest events have shown that there still is huge hostility toward peace, dialogue and reconciliation. I believe that each of us can contribute in his or her own small way to stop the escallation of the whole situation, hence more killings, pain and deprivation of human dignity.
A Human Being
Fr. Raed Awad Abusahlia