Catholic Patriarch says Israeli occupation is prime mover of violence in Palestine

By Khalid Amayreh

Occupied Jerusalem: 3 April, 2002 (IAP News)

The highest-ranking Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, Patriarch
Michelle Sabbah, has strongly criticized Israel for fomenting violence and
hatred throughout the region by adopting a policy based on coercion and
violence towards the Palestinians.

Speaking during an interview with the Arabic  Service of the BBC Wednesday,
Sabbah pointed out that the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank
and Gaza Strip was the prime mover of violence and terror in the region.

"This occupation is the real generator of violence and terror," said Sabbah.

A few hours earlier, the Israeli army barred Sabbah and over a hundred
Christian interdenominational clergymen from entering Bethlehem which the
army declared "a closed military zone."

"We drove to Bethlehem but were told that we couldn't enter because the
city is a closed a military zone."

Sabbah stressed that the problem surrounding the present violence in
Palestine has to do with "distorting the reality."

"The image Israel is trying to portray about what is happening clouds the
truth and distorts reality. The real problem here is not terror, it is an
entire people being subjected to military occupation and repression."

He added that the Israeli government "doesn't want to listen to the message
of peace," saying "the Israeli people and the Palestinian people were in an
urgent need for peace."

Sabbah denounced Palestinian suicidal bombings against Israeli civilians,
which the Israeli government said justified the current Israeli rampage in
Palestinian population centers.

However, Sabbah reminded the Israelis that on the eve of Eidul Adha holiday
four weeks ago, the Israeli army killed 41 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Sabbah warned the Israeli army against storming or attacking the Church of
the Nativity, saying such a measure would be utterly irresponsible.

He strongly criticized the Israeli army for insisting on tormenting and
humiliating the Palestinians by preventing medical rescuers from
transferring the wounded to hospitals.

"There are the wounded who need to be hospitalized, there the dead who need
to be buried, there the hungry who need food."

He called on the Israeli army to leave Bethlehem.

"There was a battle, and you did what wanted to do, now you can go back to
your families, and let us try to heal the wounds."