Orange County Register article 
Holy Land losing Christianity
Religion
Catholic cleric urges aid for Palestinian Christians at Santa Ana speech.
By ANN PEPPER
August 6, 2002


ANAHEIM
Almost forgotten among the lives being shattered in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict are Palestinian Christians, whose numbers are dwindling so rapidly
that some experts say the Holy Land could soon be bereft of Christians.
On Friday, the Rev. Labib Kobti, the U.S. representative of the Roman
Catholic Bishop of Jerusalem, delivered a heartfelt speech before the
Friday Friars on behalf of the world's oldest Christian community.
Christians, who in 1947 made up nearly 20 percent of the Palestinian
population in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, have dwindled to less
than 2 percent today, according to some scholars.
``If this continues, Christianity will be only a museum in the Holy Land,''
Kobti said. ``It will not be a living faith.''
He also pleaded for greater fairness on the part of Americans toward
Palestinians on spiritual and political fronts.
``I am not pro-Palestinian. I am not pro-Israeli. I am pro-truth,'' Kobti,
52, told a crowd of nearly 170 at the 50-year-old countywide Catholic
businessmen's group.
He said all sides must stop teaching their children to hate and urged
Americans to pressure Congress to help put an end to Israel's occupation of
Gaza and the West Bank as a first step toward peace.
Both Israel and a Palestinian state have a right to exist, he said. But
peace will only finally be gained if both sides learn to live together and
form a single country based on democratic principles similar to those in
the United States.
``Two states will make enemies of Jews and Arabs forever,'' he said. ``All
sides must forgive and forget in order to build peace.''
Rabbi Shelton Donnell of Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Ana said he agreed
with most of what Kobti said, but that his words should be directed to
Palestinians.
``It requires both sides to stop and requires Palestinians not only to
denounce terrorism, but to truly do something about it,'' Donnell said.
As for fomenting hate, no Israelis dance in the streets when Palestinians
are killed, Donnell said. Palestinian children were photographed dancing in
the streets after the recent bombing deaths in the cafeteria at Hebrew
University, he said.
Donnell said the role of Americans is to do everything they can to bring
the two sides together to talk.
``It will take a president with the courage to put his presidency at stake
to do that,'' Donnell said. ``That's what's needed.''
Several who attended said they hadn't realized Israel had taken over so
much land from the Palestinians since 1948 or that conditions of daily
life, such as transportation and travel, had been so curbed.
``We in the United States don't give enough credit, or noncredit that is,
to what Israel is doing,'' Arnie Sundali of Anaheim said after the speech.
``We support Israel with millions, but there is fault on both sides. The
Israelis have to answer for a lot.''
David Douek, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Los Angeles, said he
agreed with Kobti that the violence must stop but said the cleric's idea of
a single state is ``a beautiful dream.''
``The Palestinian people want their own state, and we want to give them
their own state. That is the goal,'' Douek said.
Kobti and a number of Orange County Catholics are working to establish a
parish-to-parish support effort to assist Christians who want to stay in
the region.
Contact the group by calling (949) 887-8019.
``Americans, good Americans, cannot sit by,'' Kobti said.
``Truth will bring justice, and justice will bring peace.''

Contact Pepper at (714) 704-3777 or apepper@ocregister.com The Orange
County Register