A Statement From The Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Salaam and Grace in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Blessed Lenten greetings from Jerusalem.
We, in the Diocese of Jerusalem, extend our heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for your prayers, solidarity and support during these difficult times in our Land. Our people continue to suffer and still expect a more effective role from the Church in the world, as well as from the Church in the Land. The Palestinians continue, with all the difficulties, to commit themselves to peace; but this cannot be a battle fought on our own. We need the collaboration of our partners and friends from all around the world to help us find the road to peace and freedom, for all who live in the Land of the Holy One.
I was invited to and attended the Summit of the Arab League in Amman. The discussions and resolutions were very clear and positive. The basis for stability and security in the area, for all concerned, lies in the full implementation of the United Nations Resolutions regarding the plight of the Palestinian people, 242, 338, and 194. Israel must comply with the international Resolutions; the way Iraq was pressured. As we returned from the Summit, I was greatly disappointed at the deterioration of the situation here in our Land. Added to our frustration, came the American veto of the United Nations Observer Forces, and their active plans to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is an act that shows complete disregard of the unilateral actions of Israel, in annexing large segments of the Eastern part of Jerusalem.
In light of all this and the ongoing conflict and suffering of the people of Palestine, I find myself turning to all Churches, and peace-loving people, to listen to the voice of the powerless, the true bearers of the cost of the conflict in the past as well as in the present, here in the land of the Holy One.
As the Church proclaims Jesus, the victim of the powerful, who is Lord of all, it is called to be the voice of the voiceless, to speak for a purpose and a future for humanity beyond political self-interests. Even God-in-flesh, lived amongst us in our land and made the crying-out of those victims his own. The Church is called upon to speak out against injustices. If we do not make their silence heard, the stones of the Land would cry out.
Conflicts are not solved by simple goodness, nor by the ‘if only’ method. How unprophetic can the Church become? Peace is only relevant when the conflicts are carefully and accurately analyzed. Without such analysis, and the work that is demanded as a result, our words about peace tend to become pious wishes, but ineffective, and our Church prayers for peace become stereotyped and conventionalized.
The situation we are faced with is comparable to South Africa before the collapse of Apartheid, if not more difficult. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the majority of the Palestinians found themselves either refugees or second-class citizens in their own country. Therefore, they have always found themselves in a position of resisting the occupation. In 1967, Israel occupied what was left of Palestine (Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and since then continues to occupy these territories thereby inflicting the greatest amount of suffering on the Palestinian population. Military administrative detentions without charges, home demolitions, uprooting trees, land confiscation, and the expansion of settlements in a provocative and flagrant violation of the sovereignty of Palestinian lands, closures, denials of access to medical facilities and limitations on movements of goods and labor are normal daily occurrences in Gaza and the West Bank today. Peace without justice is not possible, and Israel’s security is an outcome of, not a precondition to peace. The best of secured borders are reconciled neighbors. The Palestinians are the closest of neighbors.
Know that this comes with my prayers that the peace, joy and power of the Resurrection remain with you always.
+Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal
Mohammad Al Naka
Ahli Arab Hospital, Gaza
I dreamed to have my own home. For many years my wife and I lived with my extended family. I wanted to change my situation and worked very hard to fulfill my dream. I wanted my wife to be the queen of her own kingdom. For seven years she and I, and our three children, lived in one room. Five people living in one room. In August 2000 we finally realized our dream and bought our own four-room home. One month later the Al Aqsa Intifada began.
Settlers and settlements surround us. Barracks for the Israeli soldiers are 100 meters from our house. I look from the window, morning and night, and see Israeli soldiers. Our children see them too. I cannot even work in my garden, often they open fire on anyone on the streets. I moved from one room to four rooms, yet we use only one room. Three rooms of our home contain windows and we are under danger of being shot by soldiers through the windows. I cannot put my wife, and now our four children at risk. So, we live in one room, away from the firing. I ask God, what did I do in the past? I dreamed to live in my own house, and live as any other person. Up until now I cannot live normally.
Last night my wife and I were up until three in the morning, moving our children from place to place, as our neighborhood was attacked by tanks, helicopter gun ships, and sniper fire. We moved from room to room, away from the shooting. My children wake up shouting, and crying from the noise of the shooting. The voice of the bullets becomes normal. If we don't hear shooting at night, it becomes abnormal. Sometimes we play music very loud so as not to hear the bullets. We sit together and sing or pray loudly. Most often the shooting starts after 3 pm. We can come and go during the day easily. Last night it began at midnight. I take one window and my wife takes another window.
I am so tired. I am not healthy; it is not easy to sleep. When I do sleep I have bad dreams. Nisma, our 7 year old daughter, used to have high marks in school, and now they are very low. Some days she tells us she is too tired to leave the house and refuses to go to school. Some days she cannot get to the school.
This is a daily problem. We are just one family, but it affects everyone in our camp, Khan Younis Camp. Many friends and neighbors have been injured and killed. Some live in homes that are 10 meters from the settlements.
I work with the local communities. I teach emergency managements, and how to deal with this situation. I teach women to talk to their children, and help them with the circumstances. I support the poor families to stand up. I feel this is my duty with others. I feel ashamed if I have food in my house and my neighbor has none. We are all one family. I don't think as a social worker, or a psychologist. I think as a human being, and people should not be made to ask for food.
The settlers come in the morning and are bussed out each night. They come in at seven or eight in the morning, and disrupt all the roads. The soldiers move all Palestinian cars away so that the settlers can pass. They usually leave between three and five in the afternoon, and only the soldiers stay in the settlements during the night.
Gaza has a population of 1,200,000 people.
It has 11 settlements, with 3500 settlers
The control 80% of the water
They control 36% of the land, including much of the sea front and the
best agricultural areas