Arafat Tells Church Delegation: "We Face Disaster"

Contact: Jim Solheim, press officer
Notre Dame Center
Jerusalem
Tel: (973-2)627-9111

Episcopal News Service
New York City, NY USA
Tel: 800-334-7626

Website: www.loga.org or www.loga.org/delegationhome.htm
 
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 

[Ecumenical Delegation to Jerusalem
December 7-12, 2000]
 
 
 
 
 

By James Solheim

GAZA CITY, December 11, 2000--"We are facing a disaster, (catastrophe?)" a grim-faced President Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Authority (PA) told a visiting delegation from the United States during a morning conversation.

"Sorry you are coming in such crucial circumstances as we face more aggression. In spite of that, we are doing our best to return to the peace process."

Arafat thanked the delegation for its visit in spite of the difficult situation and encouraged the delegation to make a strong push to save the peace process. "With your help we will be able to overcome what we are facing," he added.

"Unless we can put an end to the confusion" between the what the politicians talk about and what the military leaders are implementing, Arafat warned, the situation in the region could become "very, very dangerous." He indicated that a non-military solution must be found.

"All of our cities and towns are under siege," Arafat said. "What they are doing in Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour is unbelievable-a big crime."

The three West Bank towns have been shelled recently and the Israeli military authorities have made movement difficult in the area. The economic issues are also critical, he reported, since 340,000 laborers have lost their jobs, forcing the PA to support "some of our people facing real tragedy."

"We recognize peace comes with a price--justice," said the Rev. John McCullough of Church World Service, the relief arm of the National Council of Churches. "We are committed to be an agitating voice to establish justice."

Bishop Theodore Schneider of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, told Arafat about the ecumenical prayer vigil for peace in the Middle East that began in many American churches on the first Sunday of Advent--a vigil that would continue until the violence in the region ended and peace is achieved.

"Prayer excites God's people to know and care," he said. "This is not the way to live-and we know it."
 

De facto apartheid

The collapse of the peace process and the renewed intifada is creating a social and economic suffocation in the occupied Palestinian territories, a "de facto apartheid," argued Raji Sourani, director of the Palestine Center for Human Rights in Gaza City.

"Nobody should have any illusions about what is happening here," he said. "They are building Berlin Walls all over the occupied territories. "How can victimizing human rights be the price of peace?" he asked. "Who has a real, genuine interest in peace?"

He called the political rhetoric used by the Israelis "very scary." He said that the search for peace is complicated by the guilt resulting from persecution of the Jews. "But we are not responsible for the Holocaust," and he argued that having been victims does not now give Israel the right to make victims of others.

"Fair-minded Jews realize that what is happening is de facto apartheid."

Palestinians are not ready to be "good victims," Sourani said. When pressed, Israeli friends told him that "you Palestinians don't exist for us," except perhaps as a security problem, and the Israeli Army can handle any threats. He concluded that many Israelis think Palestinians should "take what we offer or things will continue." But he is convinced that "we exist for them right now--because of the blood."

He talked about the "vicious cycle of blood" and argued that the intensity of the Israeli military actions are the worst since the 1967 war. But he was worried that people are beginning to become insensitive to the violence.

"Last night there was five hours of shelling in a village and it didn't even make the news," he said, other than reporting the number of victims. "We are in bad need of your prayers and support," he concluded.
 

Standing by the truth

Dr. Haider Abdel Shafi, a highly respected Palestinian leader who led the negotiation team at the Madrid Conference, is also convinced that the Israeli strategy is to establish facts on the ground, especially through the expansion of settlements on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. He agrees with the United Nations condemnation of the settlements as "illegal and obstructions to peace."

Although he had "no illusions" when he went to Madrid, he harbored hopes that the United States would adopt a more balanced approach to the peace process. "Our hopes were frustrated when we asked the Israelis to stop the settlements.

He said that he did not know about the secret negotiations in Oslo but concluded it was "a bad agreement.

"I hope no one expects us to make further concessions. We have already made great concessions," he said. "Our demands are legitimate-we want a sovereign state within recognized borders with Jerusalem as the capital. And we can't understand that the world stands by when they can see the tragedy going on in this part of the world."

He asked, "Why should Israel be accommodated in its aggression? Basically because it enjoys the support of the U.S. government." He said that Arafat had been "very accommodating," showing his flexibility and risking credibility and the support of his people. "We think he's giving more than he should."

The doctor admitted that Palestinians had "not done enough and our failures are many," especially telling the story to the American society. "It is very crucial to try to affect Congress and the Americans about the realities of the problems here," he added. "My friends argue that the churches might help. We are certain church people are the kind who seek and support truth."

He concluded, "Despite what we have suffered and are suffering, we are sure that people will stand by the truth when they know it."
 

Staring truth in the face

The delegation was exposed to the harsh realities of the situation when they traveled south of Gaza City and met with farmers whose homes and orchards had been destroyed recently.

Walking through a field where almost 500 trees had been systematically bulldozed in the last few weeks by Israelis who claimed that youth were stoning convoys of settlers on the nearby road, the delegation met the human face of the issue.

"We ask for international protection," pleaded nine-year-old Maran. She described her walk to school, detouring around Israeli tanks recently deployed to block the main road through the area.

The bulldozers came without warning in the early hours of the morning and leveled a house where families were sleeping. Members of the delegation sifted through pieces of furniture and clothing.

"How can you explain this to your children when you are trying to teach them peace?" asked one of the farmers. "We are here to stay. We're not going anywhere." Local Palestinians are convinced that Israel wants to "eradicate our history and make it difficult to live here."

In a brief stop for prayers at the chapel at Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, the delegation was shown fragments of an American-made missile that had killed one of the hospital's ambulance drivers.

Bishop Vincent Warner of the Diocese of Olympia in Washington prayed for the hospital "where brokenness is made whole. Heal Palestine, heal Israel and heal us. What we have seen here is breaking our hearts and all we can do is turn to God."

At the Gaza border, Constantine Dabbagh, Executive Secretary for the Middle East Council of Churches' Committee for Refugee Work in Gaza, urged members of the delegation to couple their prayers with action and, accepting the gift of a crystal dove, he urged them "to give the dove wings" through their efforts for peace."
 

Meeting with rabbis and Jewish peace activists

At the end of a long and sobering day, the delegation met with four Israeli religious peace activists. They were very open about their hopes for continued dialogue with their Palestinian counterparts. At the same time their fear for their personal safety has been heightened since the outbreak of the second intifada.

Midway through the conversation it was reported that the shelling had resumed in Bethlehem and Beit Jala with the likelihood of further casualties.

"Our hearts are breaking every day," said Rabbi Yehezkiel Landau. "This is a very dark period. How do we get people to hear the fear?"

"Do the Palestinians and Israelis hear the fears of each other?" asked Bishop Browning of the Episcopal Church USA.

You can't blame a people whose humanity has been denied from rising up and demanding their rights, argued McCullough…..If one people fail to recognize the humanity of another, you cannot blame them when you suffer. Deal with the reality of what created the crisis."

* * *

--Jim Solheim is director of the Episcopal Church's Office of News and Information and is serving as press officer for the peace delegation. To follow the stories and photos check the Web site of the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs: www.loga.org.
 

-end- >>
 

-----------------
Forwarded Message:
 

Subj: Title: Arafat Tells Church Delegation: "We Face Disaster"
Date: 12/11/00 7:42:14 PM Pacific Standard Time
From: JerusalemRelOrgs
To: wfn-editors@wfn.org
 

Title:  Arafat Tells Church Delegation: "We Face Disaster"

Contact: Jim Solheim, press officer
Notre Dame Center
Jerusalem
Tel: (973-2)627-9111

Episcopal News Service
New York City, NY USA
Tel: 800-334-7626

Website: www.loga.org or www.loga.org/delegationhome.htm
 
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 

[Ecumenical Delegation to Jerusalem
December 7-12, 2000]
 
 
 
 
 

By James Solheim

GAZA CITY, December 11, 2000--"We are facing a disaster, (catastrophe?)" a grim-faced President Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Authority (PA) told a visiting delegation from the United States during a morning conversation.

"Sorry you are coming in such crucial circumstances as we face more aggression. In spite of that, we are doing our best to return to the peace process."

Arafat thanked the delegation for its visit in spite of the difficult situation and encouraged the delegation to make a strong push to save the peace process. "With your help we will be able to overcome what we are facing," he added.

"Unless we can put an end to the confusion" between the what the politicians talk about and what the military leaders are implementing, Arafat warned, the situation in the region could become "very, very dangerous." He indicated that a non-military solution must be found.

"All of our cities and towns are under siege," Arafat said. "What they are doing in Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour is unbelievable-a big crime."

The three West Bank towns have been shelled recently and the Israeli military authorities have made movement difficult in the area. The economic issues are also critical, he reported, since 340,000 laborers have lost their jobs, forcing the PA to support "some of our people facing real tragedy."

"We recognize peace comes with a price--justice," said the Rev. John McCullough of Church World Service, the relief arm of the National Council of Churches. "We are committed to be an agitating voice to establish justice."

Bishop Theodore Schneider of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, told Arafat about the ecumenical prayer vigil for peace in the Middle East that began in many American churches on the first Sunday of Advent--a vigil that would continue until the violence in the region ended and peace is achieved.

"Prayer excites God's people to know and care," he said. "This is not the way to live-and we know it."
 

De facto apartheid

The collapse of the peace process and the renewed intifada is creating a social and economic suffocation in the occupied Palestinian territories, a "de facto apartheid," argued Raji Sourani, director of the Palestine Center for Human Rights in Gaza City.

"Nobody should have any illusions about what is happening here," he said. "They are building Berlin Walls all over the occupied territories. "How can victimizing human rights be the price of peace?" he asked. "Who has a real, genuine interest in peace?"

He called the political rhetoric used by the Israelis "very scary." He said that the search for peace is complicated by the guilt resulting from persecution of the Jews. "But we are not responsible for the Holocaust," and he argued that having been victims does not now give Israel the right to make victims of others.

"Fair-minded Jews realize that what is happening is de facto apartheid."

Palestinians are not ready to be "good victims," Sourani said. When pressed, Israeli friends told him that "you Palestinians don't exist for us," except perhaps as a security problem, and the Israeli Army can handle any threats. He concluded that many Israelis think Palestinians should "take what we offer or things will continue." But he is convinced that "we exist for them right now--because of the blood."

He talked about the "vicious cycle of blood" and argued that the intensity of the Israeli military actions are the worst since the 1967 war. But he was worried that people are beginning to become insensitive to the violence.

"Last night there was five hours of shelling in a village and it didn't even make the news," he said, other than reporting the number of victims. "We are in bad need of your prayers and support," he concluded.
 

Standing by the truth

Dr. Haider Abdel Shafi, a highly respected Palestinian leader who led the negotiation team at the Madrid Conference, is also convinced that the Israeli strategy is to establish facts on the ground, especially through the expansion of settlements on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. He agrees with the United Nations condemnation of the settlements as "illegal and obstructions to peace."

Although he had "no illusions" when he went to Madrid, he harbored hopes that the United States would adopt a more balanced approach to the peace process. "Our hopes were frustrated when we asked the Israelis to stop the settlements.

He said that he did not know about the secret negotiations in Oslo but concluded it was "a bad agreement.

"I hope no one expects us to make further concessions. We have already made great concessions," he said. "Our demands are legitimate-we want a sovereign state within recognized borders with Jerusalem as the capital. And we can't understand that the world stands by when they can see the tragedy going on in this part of the world."

He asked, "Why should Israel be accommodated in its aggression? Basically because it enjoys the support of the U.S. government." He said that Arafat had been "very accommodating," showing his flexibility and risking credibility and the support of his people. "We think he's giving more than he should."

The doctor admitted that Palestinians had "not done enough and our failures are many," especially telling the story to the American society. "It is very crucial to try to affect Congress and the Americans about the realities of the problems here," he added. "My friends argue that the churches might help. We are certain church people are the kind who seek and support truth."

He concluded, "Despite what we have suffered and are suffering, we are sure that people will stand by the truth when they know it."
 

Staring truth in the face

The delegation was exposed to the harsh realities of the situation when they traveled south of Gaza City and met with farmers whose homes and orchards had been destroyed recently.

Walking through a field where almost 500 trees had been systematically bulldozed in the last few weeks by Israelis who claimed that youth were stoning convoys of settlers on the nearby road, the delegation met the human face of the issue.

"We ask for international protection," pleaded nine-year-old Maran. She described her walk to school, detouring around Israeli tanks recently deployed to block the main road through the area.

The bulldozers came without warning in the early hours of the morning and leveled a house where families were sleeping. Members of the delegation sifted through pieces of furniture and clothing.

"How can you explain this to your children when you are trying to teach them peace?" asked one of the farmers. "We are here to stay. We're not going anywhere." Local Palestinians are convinced that Israel wants to "eradicate our history and make it difficult to live here."

In a brief stop for prayers at the chapel at Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, the delegation was shown fragments of an American-made missile that had killed one of the hospital's ambulance drivers.

Bishop Vincent Warner of the Diocese of Olympia in Washington prayed for the hospital "where brokenness is made whole. Heal Palestine, heal Israel and heal us. What we have seen here is breaking our hearts and all we can do is turn to God."

At the Gaza border, Constantine Dabbagh, Executive Secretary for the Middle East Council of Churches' Committee for Refugee Work in Gaza, urged members of the delegation to couple their prayers with action and, accepting the gift of a crystal dove, he urged them "to give the dove wings" through their efforts for peace."
 

Meeting with rabbis and Jewish peace activists

At the end of a long and sobering day, the delegation met with four Israeli religious peace activists. They were very open about their hopes for continued dialogue with their Palestinian counterparts. At the same time their fear for their personal safety has been heightened since the outbreak of the second intifada.

Midway through the conversation it was reported that the shelling had resumed in Bethlehem and Beit Jala with the likelihood of further casualties.

"Our hearts are breaking every day," said Rabbi Yehezkiel Landau. "This is a very dark period. How do we get people to hear the fear?"

"Do the Palestinians and Israelis hear the fears of each other?" asked Bishop Browning of the Episcopal Church USA.

You can't blame a people whose humanity has been denied from rising up and demanding their rights, argued McCullough…..If one people fail to recognize the humanity of another, you cannot blame them when you suffer. Deal with the reality of what created the crisis."

* * *

--Jim Solheim is director of the Episcopal Church's Office of News and Information and is serving as press officer for the peace delegation. To follow the stories and photos check the Web site of the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs: www.loga.org.