Of Our Suffering Family in The Holy Lands of the Middle East
By Jeanne Conte
Sent with permission from the author on October 6, 2007

"Once again, in the name of God, I ask that an end be brought to this tragic violence[Š]"May the Lord bring forth and sustain makers of peace!" Pope Benedict XVI  May   2007

³When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. War settles nothing.²   Dwight D. Eisenhower

³God is Love² - what a perfect title for Pope Benedict XVI's First Encyclical. It is a definition of the Holy Trinity. It is a Bible verse. ³God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.² (1 John 4:16)  He calls it the heart of the Christian faith.  And in that same verse, Pope Benedict points out that ³We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.² Knowing this, believing this, as Christians, it is our refuge when the world goes awry, and our hope for times to come. It is something to keep in mind as we walk on unfamiliar ground, at times finding frightening facts about what is happening to our family-in-Christ. We've an injunction to be our brother's keeper, and to   love and have mercy.  Our fellow-Christians in the Holy Lands are suffering.  Let's have a look at our brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ in Palestine (the land of Jesus' birth) and in Iraq.
A ninth generation Christian Palestinian, Dr. Abe Ata laments that ³Few outside the Middle East even know we (Christian Palestinians) exist, and those who do, conveniently forget about us.²
 He left Bethlehem for higher education in Lebanon but was, as all Palestinians who leave, denied the right to return to the land of his birth. He tells us that after World War II, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was 80% Christian; now, he says, those percentages are 20% at the very most, and are rapidly shrinking.
 In Iraq the situation is similarly bleak. Iraq's minority Christian community, estimated at 800,000 on the eve of the U.S. invasion, has already been decimated by threats, fear and intimidation over the past four years, and as many as half (probably much more) of Iraq's Christians are now living outside the country, according to the latest report of the U.S. International Commission on Religious Freedom.
Professor Ata shares his statistics.
³When the modern state of Israel was established, there were about 400,000 Christian Palestinians. Two years ago the number was down to 80,000. Now it's down to 60,000. At that rate, in a few years, there will be none of us left.²
In Iraq, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its recent annual report that since the US invasion ³Iraq's religious freedom ranks among the lowest in the world.² But ³according to many Middle East experts, ChristiansŠ in Iraq enjoyed much more religious tolerance in Saddam Hussein's Iraq than in many other Middle East locales.²'
 In other words, when our ³Christian nation's² military invaded Iraq, the Christians there lost their protected status. Iraqis, seeing the US as invaders and therefore as enemies, link Iraqi Christians with the US military. Now, the report tells, ³there are innumerable reports of 'abductions, beatings, extrajudicial executions, torture and rape' perpetrated on Christians  by para-governmental factions. .... Such organizations frequently 'operate with impunity and often Š complicity' of the U.S.-backed government, Š.² So, sadly and with horror, we Christians learn of such terror to our brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ in the Holy Lands of the Middle East.
Recently, a number of northern Iraqi bishops sent an urgent plea to an international conference held in Sharm al-Sheikh, whose aim was to make a plan for security for Iraq. AsiaNews quotes them: ³We are urgently asking the entire international community, the participants at the Sharm al-Sheikh conference, the coalition forces and the Iraqi political representatives to intervene without delay to protect innocent Iraqis, their property, their rights and their personal freedom.² They further affirmed that ³Christians are authentic Iraqi people² and pleaded for their protection. (Again, Iraq's Christians are seen by many Iraqis as a part of the ³Christian² enemy invaders.)
The Chicago Tribune notes (May 8, 2007) ³Christians are fleeing in droves from the southern Baghdad district of Dora after Sunni insurgents told them they would be killed unless they converted to Islam or leftŠ .² This exodus began mid-April 2007 after a religious edict issued by Sunni Muslims offering all Christians a blunt choice: ³Convert to Islam and pay an ancient Islamic tax (about 200US$) or leave within 24 hours with no possessions. Kidnappings and shootings add to the dilemma prompting hundreds of Christian families to flee.²
³They have talked about a security plan and bringing peace (President Bush's strategy - the ³surge² ), but nothing has arrived here,² says Bishop Shlimon Warduni, a bishop of the ancient Chaldean Patriarchy. ³This is a full scale persecution. In all Iraq's history, we (never) faced a like situation.² (Chicago Tribune 5/8/07)
On April 24, 2007, Asia News reported an urgent appeal from Msgr. Louis Sako of Kirkuk, the Iraqi president of the Council of Catholic Churches' Committee for inter religious dialogue. His plea: ³In Iraq Christians are dying -- disappearing under continued persecution, threats and violence carried out by extremists who are leaving us no choice: conversion or exile². Reports arrive of car bombs and the death of Christians in the Kurdish area, until now untouched by this violence. Msgr. Sako signed a declaration regarding ³the tragic situation.²
He goes on to say ³We can no longer be silent. We have to remind the world of the importance of the Christian presence in Iraq. Christians are one of the oldest constituents of the Iraqi people. Since the beginning, they have incorporated with the other constituents like Kurds, Turkmen, and Yazedis; playing a pioneering role in the building of the civilization of Iraq.² He tells of their living peacefully within the Islamic culture for the past 14 centuries. ³Today they want to continue this existence,²  he says, ³in the spirit of love and under the charter of human rights.²
In retrospect, it is interesting to look again at the statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops made on November 13, 2002 before we entered the Iraqi war. Heartbreaking in its accuracy, it reads, in part:
³The use of military force in Iraq could bring incalculable costs for a civilian population that has suffered so much from war, repression, and a debilitating embargo. In assessing whether 'collateral damage' is proportionate, the lives of Iraqi men, women and children should be valued as we would the lives of members of our own family and citizens of our own country.²
   In this article, although the aim is to tell of the plight of Catholics in the Middle East and to explain what is happening in the  Holy Lands from a Catholic perspective, Catholics will be referred to  generally as Christian, because what is happening to Catholic-Christians is also happening to the other Christians in the area where Jesus walked and where biblical stories unfolded. Among the Christians of the Holy Lands, some are descendents of the very ones who followed Jesus.  Many are fleeing. The Pope recently asked them to resist leaving.
Because in Israel, the indigenous Catholics are Palestinian, this article will dwell too on the Palestinian situation, how it came to be distorted in American eyes, and why it is central to any understanding of the Middle East today. Figures in this article are approximate and vary between sources, but in general they support each other and the ultimate facts. Because of war and its resulting chaos, current exact figures are impossible.
Catholics and other ancient Christian faiths in the Holy Lands are among the Arabic peoples there. Of course the original Christians were mostly Jews, but also Greek among others. Through the centuries, under Ottoman rule, they learned to live among the Muslims and work beside them and it was mostly a peaceful arrangement. The Christians were usually among the more educated and it was they who kept the Holy Scriptures for posterity, translating them into other languages, especially Arabic in order to relate to their neighbors. Gradually there were some intermarriages and the Christian people became known as Arabic and of course Palestinian as Palestine was their homeland, just as it was Jesus' homeland.
Further notes on Christianity in the Holy Land
  From the Catholic administrative offices in Jerusalem this history is shared:
³The Church of Jerusalem is today a small and divided Church: Catholics (six Churches, Latins, Melkites, Maronites, Syrians, Armenians, and Chaldeans), Orthodox (five Churches, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian and Ethiopian) and Protestants (two Churches: Anglicans and Lutherans). For all of these Churches this jurisdiction covers Israel, Palestine and Jordan. For the Latin Patriarcate, we add Cyprus.²  All Christians - Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants --  number about 350,000 souls. All consider themselves the heirs of the first Christian communities. They thank God that relations among them are good.
http://www.lpj.org/newsite2006/patriarch/history_patriarchate.html
     In a message from the Chanceler of the Catholic diocese of Jerusalem, these approximate figures are shared, although not up to date by any means: "Christians in Jordan are about 200, 000, in the Palestinian Territories 50,000 and in Israel about 200,000. Catholics are all together about 180,000. The Latin Patriarcate counts about 90,000 in the three countries of Israel/Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. The Greek Catholic Melkites have the same number for the three countries."
    The Latin Patriarchy Diocese of Jerusalem was established in 1099 by the Crusaders. Pope Clemens VI in 1342 made the Franciscan Friars the official custodians of the Holy Places of the Holy Land. For the next 500 years they did so and continue today. However, in 1847 Pope Pius IX reestablished a residential Latin Patriarch See in Jerusalem. The present Patriarch is H. B. Michel Sabbah, from Nazareth as was Jesus. On July 1999, he was elected as International President for the peace movement ³Pax Christi International.² His is a weighty responsibility that he shoulders and administers with a kind of uncommon Christian love, such as has been tried by fire and shines as a diamond that is created through intense pressure. Such is the brightness and serene loveliness one finds in the suffering Christians of the Middle East.

Root of Problem
From Jerusalem, Patriarch Sabbah, asked in his 2007 Easter homily:
³In our Holy Land, Š will our leaders and the international community ever be able to put an end to this dysfunction? In itself the issue is simple: two peoples are at war with each other, and one of them occupies the house of the other. To put it simply: the solution would be for each one to occupy his own house, the Israelis their house and the Palestinians theirs. To be sure, fear has complicated matters Š which has further complicated things that were simple enough in themselves. Given that reality, we believe that the dysfunction will continue as long as someone occupies the house of someone else. And as long as this dysfunction continues in the Holy Land, the region and the world will suffer from it. We must take the risk of making peace and put an end to the occupation (each one in his own house), in order to begin the healing process in our land, in the region, and in the world.²

Father Sabbah is certainly not alone in his assessment.  Jews for Justice in the Middle East publishes a booklet, now in its third edition, called The Origin of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict http://www.cactus48.com/truth.html. It is a corroboration of the statement by the Latin Patriarch, told by Jews, explaining what the root is of the terrible situation in the Middle East. In its conclusion, it states:

³Like all other colonial enterprises Š Zionism was based on the total disregard of the rights of indigenous inhabitants. As such, it is morally indefensible. And, as previously stated, all subsequent crimes - and there have been many on both sides - inevitably follow from this original injustice to the PalestiniansŠIn the long run, only by admitting their culpability and making amends can Israelis live with their neighbors in peace. Only then can the centuries-old Jewish tradition of being a people of high moral character be restored. And only in this way can real security, peace and justice come to this ancient land.
 ³As the periodic bloodshed continues in the Middle East, the search for an equitable solution must come to grips with the root cause of the conflict. The conventional wisdom is that, even if both sides are at fault, the Palestinians are ³terrorists² who have no point of view worth listening to. Our position, however, is that the Palestinians have a real grievance: Their homeland for over a thousand years was taken, without their consent and mostly by force, during the creation of the state of Israel. And all subsequent crimes, on both sides - inevitably follow from this original injustice.²
Here, coming from two distinctly different but knowledgeable sources: The root of the problem in the Middle East (with repercussions around the world) is that some strong Zionist Jews of an extremist nature, unfortunately financed in large part by the United States, took what belonged to the Palestinians - their land, lives, dignity, health, reputations and their country. They took lives of men, women and children, their homes, they took possessions, uprooted vineyards, took water rights, drove the people by machine guns from their homes to other countries.  And they continue in inhumane ways to make it impossible for Palestinians to survive, these Palestinians whose people had lived there for hundreds of years - some to the time of Christ. Homes are demolished and no construction permits are given; they are isolated from passage to places of employment; vineyards are repeatedly uprooted; water rights are severely curtailed if offered at all; their men and boys are taken to prisons with no right of appeal. The list goes on,  and onŠ .
Jewish philosopher Avram Noam, author of Peace in the Middle East? laments that within the American Jewish community, ³there is little willingness to face the fact that the Palestinian Arabs have suffered a monstrous historic injusticeŠ . Until this is recognized, discussion of the Middle East crisis cannot even begin.²   
  
However, more and more Jewish people, especially in Israel, decry the situation and try to help turn the tide away from the horrendous treatment of Palestinians. A few of these are:
*The Israeli Committee against house demolitions
http://www.icahd.org/eng/about.asp?menu=2&submenu=1
*Jews for Justice in the Middle East
represented by  http://www.ifamericansknew.org

*Zochrot's Learning Center
http://www.nakbainhebrew.org/index.php?id=341

*Znet
 www.lbbs.org and www.commondreams.org/viewsarchive.htm.

*Jews for Justice for Palestinians
http://www.jfjfp.org/links.htm

*Jewish Voice for Peace
http://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org

Among helpful books in this understanding are:
*The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe
(Written by a Jewish academic, who, as John Pilger said, is ³Israel's bravest, most principled, most incisive historian.²)
*Bitter Harvest by Sami Hadawi. Caravan Books 1979.
(Written by a Palestinian Christian who lived through the beginnings of Israel)

Professor Joseph Levine, Professor of Philosophy at The Ohio State University, said in 2002 in an article published in the Columbus Dispatch:
³With more than $3 billion per year (now $5 billion) of U.S. taxpayer money going to support the occupation, it is especially incumbent on American Jews to speak up and demand a cessation of U.S. economic and diplomatic support for Israel until it finally agrees to abide by international law: that is, quit the settlements, withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders and deal justly with the Palestinian refugeesŠ. But what must be kept in focus is that the root of the violence is the occupation, not blind hatred or ethnic-religious warfare.²

Brief Background -of the Making of Israel and the Christian Right

³God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.² (2258 Catechism of the Catholic Church)
To many, the background of the Middle East is muddled. Dr. John Quigley, Law professor at The Ohio State University, tells it succinctly in his article published in the Hastings International and Comparative Law Review of 2005. He tells about how, after World War I, British colonial powers promoted Jewish migration to the area ³even though this migration threatened the exercise of self-determination by the predominantly-Arab population of Palestine. Then, after World War II, the United Nations placed the imperative of relocating Jewish people displaced by the Holocaust above the international legal rights of the Palestinian people. ŠThe 1967 hostilities represented aggression on Israel's part.²
Much of the world felt sorrow for what happened to the Jews in WW II; this gave impetus to helping them take a land that did not belong to them - Palestine. And in the doing, the Palestinians became treated by the Zionist Jews (with American and other Western help) in much the same manner as the Jews were treated by the Gestapo. Many Christian fundamentalists today, including high government officials, believe that God promised Palestine to the Jews and hence support what Israel is doing. We see in the Old Testament how God apparently allowed the killing of entire nations, but when Jesus came, He did not teach that and He would never condone what is happening to the Palestinians today. Never, in the New Testament, is such condoned.
       Ata quotes fundamentalist Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Representative Dick Armey (Rep., Tx):
³God Appeared to Abraham and said: 'I am giving you this land,' the West Bank.² Inhofe claimed. ³This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.²
Ata's refutation:
  ³Inhofe must have got it wrong. Š Paul wrote that the Holy Land was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. These are those who have been  living in the Holy Land for thousands of years.² (Ata refutaion draws from Hebrews 11. It might be noted that in any interpretation, unless a conclusion is in harmony with Jesus, it cannot be correct.)
Ata  quotes Representative Dick Armey:
³I'm content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank² Armey says. ³I happen to believe that the Palestinians should leave.²
Ata's answer:
³There is a phrase for this, 'Ethic Cleansing.'²
Ata further laments:
³Strangely, they (the religious right) find the liberation of Iraqis from a vile dictator just, but do not find it unjust for us to be under military occupation (for decades and decades).²
 
Indigenous Christians of the Holy Land and the word ³Terrorist²

According to Yonat Shimron, an Israeli who writes for The News and Observer of North Carolina, some of his readers visited what he calls some ³living stones² -- Christian Arabs - ³who never left the Holy Land or the faith they inherited from 2,000 years ago.  This ancient community whose ancestors converted to Christianity during Jesus' time are now experiencing extreme hardship.² He goes on to say ³Christians make up only about 2 percent of the total population of the Holy Land today, compared with about 20 percent at the beginning of the 1900s. In other Middle Eastern countries, where a population census is hard to come by, the situation is similarly dire.²
Innocent Christians of the Middle East are targets of our war on terrorism because they share the name Palestinian. They are among those cast off in the US as Palestinian ³terrorists² although nothing could be further from the truth. In order, however, to deal with terrorism in the Holy Lands, reply to and help in these crises, we need to understand what creates them, who they are and why they are acting in the way that they do.
To wage a war against terrorism, as the Bush administration says it is doing, with the lives of our loved ones, men and women of our military dying in the process, and with the lives of a tremendous number of other human beings (innocent civilians on the battlegrounds of war for the most part) also dying on a daily basis - one should at least analyze, as a physician would do - find the cause of the problem before planning a cure. A nation cannot successfully fight a war on terrorism without knowing its cause.
Dr. Quigley wrote in his ³Identifying the Origins of Anti-American Terrorism² published in The Florida Law Review, 2006: ³If terrorism is to be addressed rationally, its origins must be determined.²
He further explains:
³The current 'War on Terrorism' will fail unless the United States changes its policies in the Middle East. The cause of international terrorism, is the history of heavy handed self interest in Western and, in particular, U.S. intervention in Middle Eastern affairs. The remedy,² he says, ³ is for the United States to change its policies in the Middle East and toward the Muslim world. If terrorism is to be addressed rationally, its origins must be determined.²
Let's examine the word ³terrorist.²  Who is a terrorist?  One who causes terror - extreme fear.
A Pakistani friend recently, gently, asked me that question. With a soft smile, he spoke to me, an American, asking,
³Who are the terrorists²?  Then he gave the reply.
³The ones who cause terror,² he said.  ³The ones who drop bombs on innocent people, killing them, and dropping brightly colored cluster bombs that don't explode on the first impact, but lie around attracting little children and then explode. These are the terrorists.² ³http://action.atfl.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=6644&track=wrmeatxt
During the 2002 Israeli ³incursions² into the gentle town of Bethlehem where our Lord was born, I received an urgent e-mail from my friend, a young Palestinian Christian. She wrote:
³We are so afraid. They are bombing us. The bombs are exploding everywhere and we don't know what to do! My sister's leg is injured and bleeding and we have no water and the ambulances aren't allowed to come. I'm so scared!²
That was the last time that I heard from her. She felt terror. It is well
known to Palestinians that the planes and bombs that attack them were made in America.
In considering some statistics of late 2006 in Iraq, almost the same number of Iraqis died in Baghdad alone just in September of 2006 - 2,667 souls of Iraqi-mostly-civilians, versus 2,785 US combatants in the 3 _ years (at that time) since the war began. (Dispatch 10/19/ 06 and US News & World Report 10/23/06). Can we wonder why they hate us so?
Actually, Hitler said the same thing as Bush when he went into other countries making war - ³We come to liberate you.² He killed and tortured.  We went into Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction which we never found. We took with us our own weapons of mass destruction and we've been using them there ever since.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently told the Syrians that Washington wants Damascus to do more to seal its borders and stop foreign fighters from entering Iraq. Is it possible that she does not understand that our presence there in Iraq, our war there, is creating terrorists within Iraq who will haunt us and our children's children far beyond our lifetimes?
In the killing fields of Bush's ³war on terrorism² those whose loved ones suffer and die at the hands of invaders are so deeply grieved and enraged, and so helpless in their lack of ability as a people to resist, that in ultimate frustration some create terrorist acts as their own battles in a war in which there can be no winners.
This we as Catholics cannot condone, but it is so very important that we understand. It is only in the understanding that something can be done to help. Our brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ are trapped there, between warring factions; they are horrified and vilified, yet also deeply saddened and frustrated because their fellow-Christians outside of the Holy Lands do not seem to care. Perhaps most don't realize.
This is not about 9/11 as so many are led to believe. Our war in Iraq will not stop ³terrorism.² It is creating terrorism, as it is ignoring Israeli terrorism. If this happened to us, wouldn't our rage know no end?

World Trade Center and 9/11

Today many wonder why we are in Iraq. Not to blame our military who because of orders give their lives daily over there.  But what did Iraqis have to do with 9/11?  Nothing, really.
The perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing, in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 24, 1998, gave the following reasons for their attack.
³This action was done in response for the American political, economical, and military support to Israel the state of terrorismŠ The American people must know, that their civilians who got killed are not better than those who are getting killed by the American weapons and support (Palestinians including Christians).²
Regarding the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, Osama Bin Laden told the reason - he said he did so because of injustices against the Lebanese and Palestinians by Israel and the United States.
Intense scrutiny has not found a relationship between Iraq and these terrorist attacks. This is not a statement in support of the heinous crime. It is a look at the cause of the attack.  How can one defend America from further such attacks without knowing the cause, in humility considering what the US might have done in the causing of such hatred to have precipitated these attacks
On our Money Supporting Israeli Violence
A bit about our money and Israel. According to The Washington Report, our aid to Israel is close to $84,854,827,200 since 1948 (and counting). This amounts to a total US taxpayer cost per Israeli of about $23,240. Every day we give $7,023,288.00 to the Israeli government and military and nothing to the Palestinians for the past year. However, moneys were finally released in an announcement Monday June 18, 2007 to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by the Bush administration after a broad takeover of Gaza and parts of the West Bank by Hamas. Quite possibly, these moneys are too little too late, as it has been almost impossible for Abbas to retain control with a destitute government. Typically, Israel offered to ³consider² releasing a ³portion² of half-billion dollars in Palestinian taxes collected by Israel and impounded.² (USA TODAY 6/19/2007)
(www.wrmea.com/html/us_aid_to_israel.htm)
In the mission statement of If Americans Knew, they state that, ³Israel is the largest recipient of US aid in the entire world. It receives more aid than that given to all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, put together. Israel receives over $10 million dollars per day from the United States.²
In his book The Struggle against Terrorism, Dr. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh tells that, ³In Palestine, the enduring illegal Israeli occupation and violence against the natives would have collapsed long ago were it not for US backing. We give Israel, which represents about 0.1% of the world population, 33% of our foreign aid (100 billion dollars in direct aid transferred over the past 30 years and much more indirectly).²
So the figures vary a bit from different sources, but the bottom line is that it is a super tremendous amount, and that it supports Israeli terrorist acts against Catholics and other fellow-Christians, as well as so many other innocents. The fact remains that our aid to Israel is enormous and our aid to the suffering Palestinians is nil. This - because the US  government claims that Palestinians are ³terrorists.²
Professor Steven Zunes, teacher of politics at the University of San Francisco, said in a recent article:
³Total U.S. aid to Israel is approximately one-third of the American foreign-aid budget, even though Israel comprises just .001 percent of the world's population and already has one of the world's higher per capita incomes. Indeed, Israel's GNP is higher than the combined GNP of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. With a per capita income of about $14,000, Israel ranks as the sixteenth wealthiest country in the world; Israelis enjoy a higher per capita income than oil-rich Saudi Arabia.²
So why the aid and what are the Israelis doing with all of that money? The ³why² is the hard part. The ³What?² is that they use it in their ³ethnic cleansing² of Palestinians from the land they took from them.

Statistics and the ³Why²s of it All
Always, in all reliable statistics, overwhelmingly more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis. In the beginning, when the Zionists began their taking of the land, if the Arabs resisted (as freedom fighters resist those who wish to take their land and homes and threaten their families), they were termed ³anti-Semitic² and if the resistance used weapons they were termed ³terrorists.² The term continues to this day in the press in the United States, but not in other western countries.
Let's look at statistics on the dead and injured since the second Intefada, which began after Sharon with his military went among Palestinians with threats, firing live ammunition into a crowd of children who were throwing rocks. Wikipedia states that between September 29, 2000, when the 2nd Intefada began and 2006, over 4,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis have been killed.
The web-site of If Americans Knew, giving reliable sources, offers the following statistics of Palestinians and Israelis since September 29, 2000:
*926 Palestinian children have been killed versus 118 Israeli children.
*31,302 Palestinians have been injured versus 7,633 Israelis.
*4080 Palestinians have been killed versus 1021 Israelis.
*4,170 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israelis versus 0

Israeli homes demolished by Palestinians.

*Over 60 UN Resolutions have targeted Israel for human rights
violations while none have targeted Palestine.
*Israel has over 233 Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian territory
while Palestine has none on Israeli territory.
*9,599 Palestinians are currently imprisoned by Israel versus 1 Israeli held by Palestinians.

A note on this. Washington Report tells us that ³Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel. This forms approximately 20% of the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).²  These are people picked up by the Israeli military and taken into custody without due process of law. They are not told why. Their families seldom are able to determine their fate. As one Israeli Palestinian told me ³They take our men and boys, under threat of death, to their prisons and throw away the key.²  It is a known fact and admitted that ³force² and ³pressure² (torture) is used against them. With these facts known, who are the terrorists?  And why has our press not told us these facts so well known elsewhere?
Before I understood what was happening, as I walked the Via Dolorosa with friends, our hands folded in prayer, a few Palestinian youngsters ran alongside us beating tin cans with sticks, trying to drown out our prayers. I've never seen such hatred as that in their eyes as they shouted at us in Arabic. I only knew a little Arabic but it seemed just what I wanted to say.
³Salaam, salaam-min fadlak-salaam alaikum.² (Peace, peace, -- please-peace be upon you .) I kept repeating it over and over as I looked into their eyes. Strangely, I felt an overwhelming love for them. They were hurting deeply and terribly. They began nudging each other, pointing toward me, then walking away.
 All but one. This little boy with fierceness ran right in front of me, brandishing his fists as words in Arabic spewed forth his rage. Suddenly I knew why and later the guide corroborated it. This boy's father, brothers and uncles were either in Israeli prisons (with no charges and no hope for release) or had been killed by Israelis bearing US-made guns. I was the enemy - his family and his life were in shambles. His hatred knew no end.
And I recalled in the not-too-distant past, in Chechnya, people gathered in a building hoping to be safe from their enemies. The world watched on television; I prayed, feeling the horror of it; they waited, huddled in terror. Then it happened -- they were all killed. This memory washed over me when our planes bombed a theater in Iraq mistakenly believing that Saddam might have been there. Bush's informers told him so. Saddam was not there. But our bomb killed all in a building full of innocent civilians. And the killing goes onŠ . How can their families not detest us? As well as others throughout Iraq? Is it wrong to wonder if Afghanistan and its peoples were ravaged by war in our search, again, for one person -- Osama?
An estimated 654,965 more Iraqis (men, women and children) have died than would have died under pre-war circumstances, since the US invasion began in March 2003 through autumn 2006, according to a survey by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The survey compared mortality rates before and after the invasion at 47 randomly chosen areas in Iraq. These are above the normal pre-war death rate. Deaths have doubled since the invasion creating close to 500 dying there each day.
Regarding the monetary cost of the Iraq war, according to the Columbus Dispatch (May 2, 2007) it has cost close to $500 billion dollars to date - 10 times more than Bush told us that he expected when he launched the invasion.
The understanding of it all, the whys and wherefores, are imperative if there is ever to be an end to terrorism which by now is not in sight for, it seems, us or our grandchildren's grandchildren. There has been too much killing; too much torture; too much hate generated. Every day that our soldiers are in Iraq it creates more hatred. Every day we support the current Israeli government it creates more hatred. Recently on a documentary about terrorism, an Arabic intellectual in a Middle Eastern University observed that, for decades, Americans have either been killing Arabic people or paying others to do so. It didn't take a lot of thinking to figure out what he was talking about.
In my travels on 6 continents in the recent past, I always try to ask what people think of America and why. It was in Jordon that I think that I heard the kindest observation, and a good one, from a 14 year old Jordanian. When asked what  he thought of Americans, he quickly answered:
³I like Americans; I think they do not want war. I don't like your government; I think it wants war.²

Yet for all That, a Light Shines in the darkness

Yet, for all that, our suffering brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ, the Palestinian Christians, are like gold tried by fire.
 Professor Ata tells,
³We are equally frightened by those who commit suicide bombings. None of us Christians have condoned it or even contemplated the idea. Our commitment to Jesus' teachings will never shake our resolve in this matter.²
  And in a message from the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem in 2007, they compared Paul's mission and their own mission as suffering Christians:
³The statement (Paul) sets before the Philippians is regarded by many people as the most powerful: 'All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his suffering.'  In this short sentence he links the cross and the Resurrection. The sufferings he had to face for his faith led him to become conscious of the power of the Resurrection given to those who truly believe, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet again, recent months have shown us much of the hardships and sufferings people have to endure, not least in this land. Much of this burden has arisen from man's inhumanity to man together with the deprivation of basic human dignity and rights, all caused by the siege imposed upon us.
³Our Blessed Lord challenges all of us; if we are to be his disciples we must take up our cross and follow him. In the midst of sufferings, we reach for the power of the Resurrection and the power of the Spirit that enables us to take away the oppressions that are imposed upon us.²
 
Israeli massacres
We cannot end a discussion of the Holy Lands and what is happening to the Christians there without looking closely at at least some Israeli massacres of Palestinians. No one can tell how many Palestinians have been killed in Israel's routine incursions and massacres. For example, when they went into Jenin, they allowed no one there but their own military - for days. When they finally left, buildings were rubble and the people were eerily gone. The UN pulled bodies from the rubble, yet never reached the bottom where many more were possibly entombed. One woman was brought out eight days later, fortunately still breathing.
   Author Ilan Pappe, Israeli Jew and academic, tells in his The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, with firm sources, of the original plan laid out on March 10, 1948 when 11 men, Zionist leaders mostly, met in Tel Aviv. Code named Plan D (Dalat in Hebrew), it planned for the ³systematic expulsion of Palestinians² including ³large scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centers; setting fire to homes, properties and goods; expulsion; demolition. And, finally, planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning.² This, in order to make a ³clean² Jewish state.
        How was this accomplished?  An example was the massacre of Deir Yassin less than a month later on April 9, 1948. The New York Times reported ³A combined group of Jewish extremist forces Šcaptured the Arab village of Dier Yassin Š (near) Jerusalem. In house to house fighting, the Jews killed more than 200 Arabs, half of them women and children. As they burst into the village, the Jewish soldiers sprayed the houses with machine gun fire, killing many of the inhabitants². It went on to say that then ³The insurgents Š escorted a party of United States correspondents to a house near Dier Yassin .. and offered them tea and cookies.²  With this came propaganda. Pappe explained further that the remaining villagers were gathered together and murdered in cold blood, their bodies abused while a number of the women were raped and then killed. (The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine p. 90)
    Other examples spelled out in Pappe's book as well as in many other sources concerned the massacres of other villages. Zionist troops were assigned different Palestinian towns to ³cleanse² and usually attacked in the early morning hours. Villagers were massacred although sometimes some Palestinians were taken to POW camps, or completely out of Israel.
There was a time when Christians were given the option of staying if they vowed allegiance to the Jewish state.
³To their credit,² Pape tells, ³most of the Christians refused to participate willingly Š . As a result, the (Zionist) army soon meted out the same treatment to Christian as to Muslim villagesŠ .² (Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine p. 182)     
        Yet all the while, the Zionists squelched verbal resistance as ³Anti-Semitism,² and armed resistance as ³terrorist.²
Not so the European press.  On a recent Press Tour in Denmark I was assailed by fellow journalists from Scandinavia, Germany and Ireland who could not understand why the US reelected George W. Bush, decrying our war against Iraq. They told me in no uncertain terms that their press shows the whole story of our bombardments and that they notice that CNN tells only a one-sided view.
Notes on the diaspora of the Palestinians
Pappe delineates in his The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, that in 1897, Nahman Syrkin, founder of Socialist Zionism, called for a ³home for Jewish people of Palestine,² which he said ³must be evacuated for the Jews.² Seven years later, and for ten years, 40,000 Zionists arrived in Palestine. By 1920, at the beginning of the British Mandate, the Palestinians still numbered 90% of the people of that land. By 1947, Palestinians were the 2/3 majority of Palestine. According to the CIA World Factbook, as of 2004, Israel's Jewish population was 76.4% and non-Jewish (mostly Arabic) was 23.6%. The New York Times 2005 Almanac lists Israel's ethnic groups as 80% Jewish and 19.9% non-Jewish (mostly Arabic).
What Can We Do?
Most of us are familiar with St. Francis and his walk through the Holy Lands in the years 1219 and 1220. He traveled to Egypt, it is said,  hoping to convert the Sultan of Egypt, Malik-al-Kamil to Christianity or become a martyr. He went away much touched by his experiences on this trip and his passage through Palestine. Later, Pope Clemens VI, in 1342, made the Franciscan Friars the official custodians of the Holy Places in the Holy Land. This they still do with faithfulness no matter what the situation. They probably can advise better than anyone how one might help our suffering family there. They can be reached at the following sites.
http://198.62.75.4/opt/xampp/custodia/indexENG.php
http://ffhl.org/2006/oportunities.asp
Words of Christ come to mind that we should feed the hungry, visit those in prison, clothe the naked and to give a cup of water to those who thirst and in so doing, it is done unto Him. And there is the story of the Good SamaritanŠ .
A Voice of Peace and Hope
In his Easter Sunday message from Jerusalem on April 3, 2007, H. B. Michael Sabbah, the first Palestinian Patriarch of the Holy Land, raised his voice and his hand in blessing --
³Our land is at the same time a land of resurrection and of death, but its vocation and its fundamental mission is to be a land of love and life, of abundant life for all its inhabitants of all religions and of all nationalities. We ask God to grant that this becomes a reality and to give us all, by the grace of the Resurrection, abundant life, tranquility, and his blessing.

³Christ is risen. Indeed, he is truly risen.  Happy Easter²


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