The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation*

News Release

For Immediate Release
Contact: Robert Younes, MD

October 24, 2002
(301) 983 3022, younes@hcef.org


 

All Major Christian Denominations in Solidarity with Holy Land Christians

The three events of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s Fourth International Conference on the Christians of the Holy Land were attended by over 700 people from 17 states and 12 foreign countries.  Attendees pledged fifty new Child Sponsorship Scholarships and 250 additional Child Sponsorship Scholarships were pledged by the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore.  Attendees also agreed to work on forming HCEF Committees in 5 cities (Charlestown, SC, Austin TX, Lexington, KY, Toronto, CA and Montreal, CA.).  Committees in two other cities have been reinvigorated.  A total of 15 North American cities have active or soon to be active committees committed to informing American and Canadian Christians about the Christians of the Holy Land and providing them spiritual and material support. Descendents of the first Christians who heard the words spoken by Jesus Christ now have the support of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and mainline American Protestant denominations.  All major Christian denominations have committed themselves to maintain Christianity in the land of its birth.

 

Opening Prayer

Rev. Dr. Frank Trotter prayed for God’s goodness and love to sustain us and that we seek guidance and wisdom as we work to strengthen the Christians in the Holy Land. All the speakers reiterated this prayer by emphasizing that what would bring healing to the Holy Land is God’s justice and peace.

 

Opening Remarks

Rateb Y. Rabie, KHS, President, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), offered the opening remarks for the Fourth International Conference. He explained the theme for the conference, The Divine Light Still Burns: the Holy Land Christians Endure, was picked because Palestinian Christians continue to carry the light of Christ despite hardship and suffering.  He noted that HCEF continues to provide for the housing needs of Christian families. Last year, due to the generous contributions of donors, HCEF was able to send a half million dollars to support construction of housing units for 24 families in Beit Jala. HCEF would like to see support for construction of housing units for 30 families in Taybeh through the Greek Orthodox Housing Project.

 

The Emergency Relief Fund set up job creation programs in 10 Christian towns and enabled workers to earn a wage while rebuilding homes and infrastructure destroyed in shelling. Over 177 workers and 220 Christian families benefited. Sir Rabie mentioned the Holy Land Gifts program that provides artisans skilled in carving traditional olivewood crafts, a source of income by finding markets for their products in the US. The Child Sponsorship Program for Christian education support helps cover costs of educating youth in the Holy Land’s Christian Schools.

 

Sir Rabie stated that HCEF had invited all churches in the Holy Land to participate. Currently, over 600 children of all Christian denominations are sponsored in Latin Schools in the Holy Land. This year, the Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic church school systems in the Holy Land are participating and HCEF hopes the rest will accept the invitation. The Child Sponsorship Program continues to grow, but there are still approximately 18,000 Christian children that need to be sponsored. Sir Rabie urged conference attendees to sponsor one of these children. He then stated that HCEF has the capability to develop networks of support for programs to benefit our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, but it needs you to volunteer your time and provide financial support. He would like attendees to put together concrete plans for introducing some of these programs in their areas. He then urged attendees to take the information received this weekend back with them to their respective churches, schools, organizations, and families. He asked that participants encourage the faithful in their communities to join HCEF’s efforts through the Holy Land Christian Support Network. Sir Rabie closed by thanking everyone for coming to the conference to show their solidarity with and support of Holy Land Christians.
 

Update on the Arab Christians in the Holy Land

The first part of the conference provided participants with an update on the Arab Christians in the Holy Land. Father Alex Kratz moderated as Brother Vincent Malham and the Honorable Hanna Nasser gave first-hand accounts on the suffering of Palestinian Christians. Father Kratz began by stating that Christians in the Holy Land are Christian ambassadors to the rest of the world. Father Kratz also stated Jesus is calling us back to our Christian roots to remind us who we are today. Brother Malham, President, Bethlehem University, then gave an eyewitness account of recent events on Palestinians, specifically the students and teachers at Bethlehem University. Brother Malham spoke of the numerous obstacles faculty and staff had to overcome, and continue to overcome, to stay open for their students. He gave detailed accounts of the material and financial lose as a result of damage done to buildings from Israeli military missiles and bullets, imposed curfew, loss of summer school, and the constant disruption of the academic year. Brother Malham concluded by stating that one of the hardest things for Palestinians Christians is living with the unknown—always wondering what will happen tomorrow.

 

The Honorable Hanna Nasser, Mayor of Bethlehem, began by stating that while the church of Bethlehem is small in size it is the most important church, it is the Mother Church. Mayor Nasser told how at the turn of the century the Christian population was 18% of Palestine, and now it is less than 2% and within the last 18 months 1,500 Bethlehem Christians have left for good. He attributed the declining existence of Christians to the continuing arrest, political situation, fear, and frustration. He spoke of the dying tourism industry in Bethlehem and unemployment rate around 70%. In closing, Mayor Nasser urged all Christians of the world to stretch their hands to support the Palestinian Christians.

 

Zionist Israeli Settlements in the West Bank and Gaza

Rev. Dr. Michael Prior, C.M., Chair of Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust, U.K., stated his conclusion that, “it is one of the anomalies of recent Church history that while Christians, embarrassed by past association with colonial enterprises, have supported oppressed peoples virtually everywhere else, there has been little protest against the historic injustice perpetrated on the indigenous population of Palestine by Political Zionism, a movement thoroughly at home in the colonial spirit of nineteenth century Europe.”  Describing the Evangelical Zionist’s immoral and heretical interpretation of biblical prophetic and apocalyptic texts, Prior concludes that the god of such revelation is a “militaristic and xenophobic genocidist, who is not sufficiently moral even to conform to the requirements of the Fourth Geneva Convention or any of the Human Rights Protocols which attempt to set limits to barbarism.”  He criticized the perspectives and actions of the World Council of Churches and of the Holy See, citing the example of the agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel that does not make any reference to Palestinian Arabs or any injustice done to them upon the establishment of the State of Israel.  Indeed, the Holy See essentially silences itself by committing to remain “a stranger to all merely temporal conflicts, which principle applies specifically to disputed territories and unsettled borders.”  Prior reiterated that the performance of the mainstream Christian churches (not merely that of the Holy See) has not been a model of ethical engagement.  Prior suggested that Church authorities ought to be prepared to insist that Israel (1) apologize for its injustice to Palestinian Arabs, (2) undo the damage it has perpetrated, (3) honor its commitments regarding the Palestinian right of return, (4) make appropriate compensation for the damage it has done, and (5) on the basis of confession of restitution, move towards a less ethnocratic polity.  Rev. Prior also encouraged conference attendees not to be afraid of being called anti-Semitic simply because we are calling for justice.

 

Presbyterian Ministry to the Holy Land

Rev. Dr. Victor Pentz, Pastor of Peachtree Presbyterian Church, began by sharing his own Damascus Road experience in opening his eyes to the plight of his brothers and sisters in Christ in the Holy Land. Rev. Pentz then asked the questions: how do we affect change in the present situation and what does the Lord require of us? Rev. Pentz listed five areas that Christians must recognize and become involved in. These five areas are:

 

· Relationships—calling us to make personal connections between Christians in the West and the Living Stones of the Holy Land.

· Repent of bad theology—Rev. Pentz went into further detail on the theological

problems of interpreting political-Zionism as a fulfillment of Biblical prophesy.

· Receive gratefully the heroic example of pastoral ministry in the Middle East.

· Utilize our resources in support of the Mother Church.

· Finally, the Lord requires that we reconcile in all ways possible with those in

conflict.

In conclusion, Rev. Pentz spoke of the long history the Presbyterian Church has had in working towards peace and reconciliation and stated, “today’s hour calls for high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity—and if it does not come from the Church, from where will it come?”

 

Claudette Habasch, Director, Caritas International, Jerusalem
Ms. Habasch began by saying, “I am a Palestinian.  Palestine is my country.  I am one of 12 million Christians from the Middle East.  That is my faith.”  Describing her many roles – a mother, wife, daughter, friend, fighter, member of a community, survivor, and human who wants to live with dignity and respect – she asserted that her most important facet is that she is someone who believes in the power of peace.  She told a story about a parent whose daughter, like every child, must go through a checkpoint at gunpoint on her way to school.  The parent was concerned because one day he heard his daughter describing feelings of happiness about a suicide bomber she had her about, saying that this suicide bomber was trying to “protect” her.  Knowing that the suicide bombings are unjustifiable violence, the father described his disappointment that in spite of his attempts to raise her according to Christian principles, the violence around her “took over” her sense of morality.  Because it came into his home daily, his daughter now identified violence as something that could protect her.  Many parents are working, like this one, to raise their children and grandchildren without hate and ready for reconciliation.  Even so, students ask their teachers at school, “How are we to love this enemy who constantly shells our homes?”

 

“I propose to reframe the debate,” said Ms. Habasch.  “The situation is not about Israel and Palestine.  It is about those who choose violence versus those who choose peace.”  She described her respect for the Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah whose relentless call to peace and nonviolence.  She lauded the advocacy efforts of groups like Caritas International, Churches for Middle East Peace, the World Council of Churches, and Caritas U.S.  Any organization who is working for economic or social reform must now challenge injustice because if they don’t, according to Habasch, they do harm.  “I call it applied social justice . . . As Palestinians we are well-researched and analytical.  We explore the relationship between our belief in God and how we live our life.

 
What is needed is to establish common ground that will allow us to join together and make an appeal for action . . . We need to mobilize people who want peace but are afraid to take action.”  Habasch applauded her staff, who have great courage and tend to needs in spite of the dangers they face every day.  She thanked the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) for keeping the Christian presence on the international map, and she urged everyone to work for unity so that we can “speak truth to power, name the sin without condemning the sinner, cooperate among Palestinian and Israeli peace groups, and sacrifice what is necessary for peace.”

Viveca Hazboun/Ninos, M.D., Director, Guidance and Training Center, Jerusalem
Dr. Hazboun framed her words by invoking Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  She quickly answered that the work of HCEF’s conference reassured her that Palestinian Christians are not quite forsaken and that these words of Jesus and this feeling of having been forsaken were only the beginning of the great things that followed.  “I have Israeli colleagues,” reported Hazboun, “who are ashamed to be Israelis.  I do not know any Palestinians who are ashamed of being Palestinian.  Indeed, I now realize that none of us would change places with one another.”  Living in Jerusalem, Dr. Hazboun travels through the checkpoint to Bethlehem each day to see patients.  Citing statistics from a clinic’s studies, she said that 45% of the people in Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition, 54% of the population is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, 56% of children are experiencing bedwetting, and 13% of the children have developed serious mental disorders and aggressive behavior.  Witnessing these kinds of problems, Dr. Hazboun confessed, “I haven’t reached the level of maturity to turn the other cheek, but I’m working on it.”  Because of her Christian faith, she knows that justice will be done, whether now or in the hereafter.  Speaking scientifically, she reiterated that people who think that they can make their own laws (i.e., criminals) generally have much shorter life spans.  In addition, she noted that injustice goes through a vicious cycle.  If we feel pain, we think we can get rid of it by causing pain to someone else.  Clearly, this cycle is self-defeating.  “I hope that we do not fall into the same cycle and fall into abuse when this occupation ends.”

 

During the occupation of Bethlehem, Dr. Hazboun’s patients called her to say that the only reason they maintained hope in life was the “talks” they shared with her when she came to see them.  Dr. Hazboun reiterated the importance of al-karame, or dignity, for people suffering under the occupation.  “You see this karame in the eyes of children who are aching and suffering.”  But it is difficult to maintain.  Dr. Hazboun shared a story of a child who was very afraid and whose mother continually reassured her that they were in the safest room of the house.  The child went totally mute on the day that a bullet came through the window and lodged in the wall beside her.  Children are learning in very real terms that even parents are not perfect.

 

Continuing her descriptions of children’s mental health issues, Dr. Hazboun described the difference between the drawings made by children in 1993, after the Oslo agreements.  There was hope throughout Palestine, and the children’s drawings were of such scenes as weddings and olive picking.  Today, the pictures are of dead people, coffins, bleeding, tanks, barbed wire, and helicopters.  Children tell her that they have no hopes or dreams for their future.  “We can’t dream,” they say literally, “we can’t even sleep.”  90% of the dreams reported by children are about people coming to take them or their fathers away.  In asking children what they would wish for if they had three wishes, a typical response in the past was to ask for more wishes.  This request has stopped.  “For a child to not express wishes is worse than cancer.”

 

One of the major pains for Dr. Hazboun has been that people outside the region have virtually no means of knowing the truth because the U.N. is denied the right to investigate, reporters are the victims of violence and are kicked out of controversial areas, and the call for international observers is still denied by the Israeli government.  Dr. Hazboun closed by saying that there are many reasons people choose to commit violence and otherwise abuse their own maturity levels.  There is only one reason that we choose not to do these things – we have a conviction against such things.  She reiterated that, if we cannot create peace on a public level, we must at least continue to work toward some kind of inner harmony.

 

Mother Agapia (Stephanopoulos), Administrator, Orthodox School of Bethany
Mother Agapia arrived in Palestine six years ago “with no intention of working with people in Palestine.”  She intended to live an inner life and remain within the walls of her convent.  “When you become a monastic, you wear a cross and carry it with you inside the monastery.  I’ve learned from Palestinians what it means to carry a cross.”  Her home is at the school in Bethany on the Russian Orthodox compound.  Bethany is Area B which means that it is under Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control.  Muslims are the majority in town; and Muslims and Christians have always had friendly relations.  By May 2000, according to the Wye Agreements, Bethany was supposed to come under full Palestinian control.  During the time leading up to this transfer of authority, according to Mother Agapia, there was a general acceptance between the Palestinians and the Israeli settlers nearby.  The transfer of authority never happened, and four months later, Ariel Sharon made his appearance on the Temple Mount.  Describing the 2001-2002 school year, Mother Agapia remarked that it was impossible to plan a day at school because the military repeatedly put the town under curfew.  “Rather than being awoken by the call to prayer or the church bells, we would hear the armed personnel carriers and Israeli jeeps driving through town calling out, ‘Curfew’ from their loudspeakers.”

 

It became impossible to feel that the school was a safe place for the sisters, the 300 local girls, and the 12 boarding students.  “The effects of curfew are powerful.  In broad daylight, there is not a soul in the street, but I know that the girls are in the building, even though I can’t hear them.”  In 2001-2002, the Orthodox School of Bethany missed two full weeks due to curfews, and there were innumerable days when portions of the faculty and staff could not get to the school.  The new school year began on August 21, and so far, they have been closed already for three days due to curfews.  The crisis is escalating as fewer and fewer parents can pay any tuition, and the Israeli economy is also in a downward spiral.  The maintenance work that the school has contracted is incomplete because workers and materials can’t get through the checkpoint.  “It is edging toward anarchy . . . there are now settlers placing bombs in front of school yards.”  The girls from the school now play “checkpoint,” where students acting as Israeli soldiers make a Palestinian stand for an hour in the playground while they “check” her papers.  There is now a nursery rhyme that students sing that mimics the curfew call that they hear from the Israeli jeeps.  Parents come into the school in tears because, despite their message about nonviolence and Christian love, their children are coming to see suicide bombing as an accepted retaliation.  She remarked that Christ’s entryway into Jerusalem (the road from Bethany) is now covered with mounds of dirt and cement blocks to prevent the road’s use by Palestinians.

 

Mother Agapia described her violation of a curfew one night when she went, with two sisters and two priests, to Lazarus’ tomb to celebrate Lazarus Saturday.  She described three nonviolent marches that were dispersed by the Israeli army with tear gas and jeeps driving through the crowds of protesters.  Despite the Israeli government’s concerted efforts to squelch any nonviolent resistance, Mother Agapia urged concerned Christians everywhere:  (1) Do not despair.  (2) Speak when you can.  (3) Give as you can.  (4) Visit when you can.  (5) Do not be afraid to speak because according to her Russian Orthodox tradition, “by silence, God is betrayed.”  Mother Agapia also urged people to make contact whenever possible with Holy Land Christians because these words of consolation are of great significance for a people who are so isolated.  “The last and greatest thing is prayer, and the greatest reward comes in prayer.”  Quoting an Orthodox hymn to the Mother of God, she prayed, “Lord, grant patience to the oppressed and fear of God to the oppressors,” and closed by quoting the Epistle of James which urges that we should count it all joy when we fall into trials and realize that when our faith is tested, it makes for endurance.

 

Rev. Dr. Donald Wagner, North Park University, Chicago, IL

Rev. Wagner began his talk about the influence of the Christian right in the United States by decrying Jerry Falwell’s recent television address in which he called for the 70 million evangelical Americans to become Israel’s safety net in the U.S.  Wagner noted that such messages are often deliberately provocative and that, in other cases as well, the alliance has deliberately inflamed Arabs and Muslims to justify the control that the Israeli government exerts over Arabs and Muslims.  He reminded listeners that the Christian right is not “newly” Zionist, citing an Anglican priest who called for the creation of  Jewish state in 1585 so that Biblical prophecy could be fulfilled.  By 1800, Christian Zionism had taken root, though it was still not called Christian Zionism.  At this point, there were a variety of fundamentalist theologians arguing that the Bible must be read literally and taken as the infallible word of God.  The Church, and Arabs in particular, are called, within the movement, “a parenthesis that will be removed from history” in the Rapture, when all who will be saved, will ascend into heaven in a cloud.  The covenant with God, in Christian Zionist theology, has shifted to Israel.  It is not with the Church of all Christians.  Clearly, this is heretical teaching and is not based on Christian theology.
 
 

Christian Zionism came to the United States in the 1880s with the Bible Prophecy Conference Movement, and in this same timeframe, William Blackstone developed the first American Zionist lobby.  In other words, noted Wagner, the Christians Zionist lobby existed before the Jewish Zionist lobby.  Blackstone’s movement was financed by the likes of John D. Rockefeller and had Supreme Court justices as signatories.  Its aim was to create a state for Israel in Palestine in order to help Jewish settlers escape the pogroms in Russia.  Thus, long before Theodore Herschel, Christian Zionists were advocating the Zionist cause.  Indeed a British politician used the phrase “A land of no people for a people with no land” in 1839!
 

When Israel was created in 1948, the Christian Zionist movement in the U.S. was revived.  It is, according to Wagner, a very pessimistic theology – not a theology of hope.  The 1967 war increased the momentum of the Christian Zionists who believed that the following things were necessary to urge along the Rapture: (1) Jews needed to recapture Jerusalem.  (2) The temple needed to be rebuilt.  Indeed, many Christian Zionist groups are funding the yeshivas in order to move toward this rebuilding of the temple.  (3) The rise of the antichrist, described as a ten nation coalition must occur.  For now, Christian Zionists describe the enemy/antichrist as Islam.  During the Cold War, it was Communism and the USSR.  Wagner distinguished between evangelicalism, which is a movement that emphasizes the Bible, a personal relationship with Jesus and a commitment to mission (among other things).  Fundamentalism is a branch that has spun off from evangelicalism.

 

Regarding the specific influences of the Christian right on Presidents, Wagner stated that Jimmy Carter had the support of the Christian Right when he was elected.  “Pro-Israel voters put him over the top in the 1976 election.”  But in March 1977, when Jimmy Carter inserted into a speech that his administration supported the rights of Palestinian people to a Palestinian homeland, he began to lose his right wing Christian constituency.

 

Ronald Reagan on seven separate occasions stated that he supported the views of Armageddon and that he was a Christian Zionist in world view.  James Watt, his Minister of the Interior, sold land on the West coast of the U.S. because he knew that Jesus was coming back and, so, we need not be too worried about the environment.  The 1980s election of the first Likud government in Israel brought about new language for Zionism.  The West Bank was now referred to as Judea and Samaria.  Christians began to visit the Holy Land at the request of the Likud government, and Jerry Falwell was given his own Lear jet by the Israeli government.  The potency of America’s Christian right can be seen in the fact that when Israel, in 1981, bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor, the Israeli government contacted Jerry Falwell before contacting President Reagan to explain their decision.
 

Christians Zionists send money to support Israel in ever increasing amounts.  The strength of this movement fell away a bit during the Clinton years, but it is completely back in place in the George W. Bush administration.  Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, has the ear of the President, and AIPAC (American Israel Political Action Committee) cultivates this relationship.  More than 200 organizations had Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon speaking at their events in the U.S., and the movement appears to be growing.

Rev. Wagner stressed that if Americans want to counter the strength of this movement, they must reach out to Evangelical brothers and sisters.  They must partner with mainline Christian churches.  They must educate Muslims that the Christian right only represents a small, heretical movement of the Christian church.  They must reach out to Palestinian Christians as their best allies.  They must be sharper in Biblical analyses and expose the human rights violations committed in the cause of Zionism.  We must assert that our cause is both just and biblical and expose the Christian Zionist cause as racist, heretical and ethnocentric.  It is not a truly Christian movement since it does not recognize that every person is created in the image of God and deserves the respect and dignity required by the Christian faith.

 
Michael Tarazi, Esq., Advisor to the Palestinian Authority
In 1988, reported Michael Tarazi, Israel was recognized on 78% of historic Palestine, and it was agreed that the remaining 22% would become the Palestinian state.  Statehood has not happened for Palestine, and according to Tarazi, there is good news and bad news.  The good news is that the perceived obstacles of Jerusalem, the settlements, and the refugees are not really obstacles.  On the subject of Jerusalem, Tarazi defined the Israeli position that Jerusalem is the eternal undivided capitol of the Jewish people.  He also reiterated that under international law, Israel does not have a right to any part of East Jerusalem.  With this in mind, though, Tarazi was confident that there were enough options available to reach a compromise on Jerusalem.  Option A would make it an open city where anyone could come into the city without a passport and, upon leaving, would have to show a passport to enter either Israel or Palestine.  Option B would create a shared city with one representative municipal council.   Option C would be a shared city with divided sovereignty over particular areas.  Indeed, Tarazi said, there are options even beyond these with regard to how we can share Jerusalem.
 

With regard to the settlements, Tarazi noted that there are currently about 400,000 settlers in over 200 settlements.  Half of these settlers are in East Jerusalem.  Israel generally asserts that this is just too many people to move and that they should be allowed to annex the territory of the settlements and the water beneath the settlements and the agricultural land near the settlements.  They offer, in exchange, other Israeli land which in every case is less appealing than the land for which is it offered.  “They want East Jerusalem in exchange for areas in the Negev Desert.”  Even so, according to Tarazi, there are options that could resolve the issue of the settlements.  Option A asserts that most settlers live in settlements not out of religious conviction or extremist views but because they had extraordinary financial incentives provided by the Israeli government.  They received such things as special mortgages, subsidized education, and tax benefits for moving to the settlements.  So, it is reasonable to assume that after 35 years of providing incentives for people to move into the settlements, the Israeli government could, over the course of a transition period, incentivize these same settlers to move back to Israel.  Option B is that these settlers could become permanent residents of the Palestinian state, as many Arabs are currently permanent residents of the Israeli state.  They would carry green cards and have the same rights as permanent residents of Israel.  Option C is that the settlers could become Palestinian citizens.  There is no inconsistency for Palestinians in the idea of a “Jewish Palestine.”  Palestine has never been a place that was only for Jews or Christians or Muslims.  Rather, it has always been defined simply by the fact that Palestinians (of many faiths) live in it.

 

The issue of the Palestinian refugees creates a concern for Israelis.  In general, the response of the government is “Don’t talk to me about 3 million Christians and Muslims coming back into the Jewish state.”  Tarazi asserts, “I understand the concern.  I don’t share it.  I don’t share it because it means that a Jewish state reserves the right to discriminate against Muslims and Christians.  There is no denial that these refugees are, indeed, from this land.  There is only the statement that they are not wanted.  We do have to address this Israeli fear – not because it is legitimate, but because it is there.”  Knowing that being a refugee means the denial of the ability to create one’s own identity, Tarazi suggests four options.  Option A is that Palestinian refugees would stay where they are.  Many Palestinians would choose this option because they have very stable and happy lives where they are.  “Queen Rania or Jordan will probably not step down from her throne to return to Israel.”  Option B is for the refugees to go to a third country (or countries).  Canada, among others, has offered to help absorb refugees.  Option C is for the refugees to be allowed to return to the newly created Palestinian state.  The state would acknowledge that it is not the land on which the refugees lived for centuries (which is in Israel), but that they are welcome to create new homes and lives within Palestine.  Option D is that the refugees would have the right to return to their own land in what is now Israel.

 

Believing that there are enough options to come to reasonable agreements, Tarazi then presented the bad news: the Israeli government is unable to view Christians and Muslims as having an equal right to live in the Holy Land.  Of course, there are notable exceptions to this assertion, but by and large, it is true.  There is a “disillusioned Israeli left” who feels betrayed by Palestine’s refusal of Barak’s offer, and while most Israelis do say that they want a Palestinian state, this is primarily because they are desperate to find a way to get rid of the 3 million Palestinians who threaten their demographic concerns.  They worry that the Palestinians will request such things as equal passports and would prefer a Palestinian state so that Palestinian people won’t ask to come back to Israel.

 

Tarazi showed maps that reveal the current (and continuous) Israeli strategy.  (He noted that these maps were delivered to Condoleeza Rice in early October).  Essentially, the maps revealed that the location of settlements and settlement roads effectively cut off Jerusalem from the South and leave no ability for the Bethlehem towns and cities to expand.  The Israelis have said from the beginning of the occupation that these settlements would be built in this manner, and Israeli academics like Professor Jeff Halper have affirmed that in the case, for example, of one new settlement, there is no need for it based on housing needs of the Israeli population.  So, this settlement will consist of such things as shopping malls and hotels rather than homes.  Of course, the settlement is necessary if the intent of the government is to annex East Jerusalem by having a wall of settlements around the city that “will have to be annexed” in any final status negotiations.

Tarazi also commented on the “security fence” being built by the Israeli government.  When first hearing the idea, Tarazi said he thought, “Great.  Build a wall on the Green Line.  But, of course, the wall is being built within Palestinian territory.”  He gave the example of Qalqilya in the South, most of which was taken by Israel in the 1948 war, is now facing a complete loss of its agricultural land to the Israeli government.  This pattern of taking away the livelihood (agricultural land and water) of the Palestinians and constructing walls (or Israeli-access roads) has become quite predictable.  B’tselem now reports that 42% of the West Bank belongs to colonies/settlements.

With all this, Tarazi asserts that the Israeli government believes in a Palestinian state that has: no agriculture, no industry, no meaningful access to Jerusalem, not enough land for its population, and no access to water.  If this continues, he said, there will soon be no point in talking about a two-state solution.  The only two other options are (1) a one-state solution with equal opportunity for all citizens, or (2) ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.  Unfortunately, the second option is no longer out of the realm of possibility.  There are billboards now in Israel reading “Transfer = Peace”, “No Arabs.  No terror.”  And “Land of Israel for the People of Israel.”  Also unfortunately, ethnic cleansing would be accepted by most of the world if it occurred in the form of “transfer” and was claimed to be the result of security needs.  The fact that the international community would likely not intervene in such a transfer is only a sign of the truly bad news.
 

Seeking a Path to Peace (Part One)

Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel, current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, USA and the first Palestinian to be elected to this position, began with a reading of the Beatitudes focusing on the role of God’s call to Christians to be peacemakers. Rev. Abu-Akel then shared two faith influences—witnessing his mother’s strong faith and two Scottish Presbyterian missionaries who stayed his Abu-Akel’s family. He then discussed how American Christians could lift up the story of Christians in Palestine and Israel. He stated that Christians should help their fellow Christians in the Holy Land be able to live as human beings in their land. Rev. Abu-Akel cited six areas in which Christians in the U.S. can play a role.

1. Challenging the leadership of the various Christian denominations to pass down the information about Palestinian Christians from the top to the local church

members and ministers.

2. Christians can become better educated about this issue by witnessing the situation for themselves. Rev. Abu-Akel encouraged each denomination to plan

at least 12 mission trips every year to the Holy Land.

            3. American Christians need to form relationships with the Living Stones (the

Christian community in the Holy Land) by starting prayer groups, sending

encouragement and support.

4. Spread the word about the plight of Christians in the Holy Land. Rev. Abu-Akel stressed the importance of visiting elected officials and sharing information with people at work, church, and in the neighborhood. He specifically encouraged

each participant to share with 10 other people who are not already aware of the

situation.

            5. Every church in Palestine should have a sister church in the United States.

He stated, “We need to smell their suffering for real.”

            6. The last area is education. Rev. Abu-Akel encouraged participants to sponsor

a child in Palestine; to learn more about the daily economic situation of

Palestinians; and for medical doctors from the United States to visit Palestine to

see the suffering first-hand and to assist.

 

Rev. Abu-Akel concluded by sharing the story of David and Nathan as a metaphor for the relationship the United States needs to have with Israel. He stated that Nathan loved David and believed in him, he also told David when he made mistakes, just as the United States can say to Israel, “I love you and believe in your security, but what you’re doing with the Palestinians is wrong.”
 

Seeking a Path to Peace (Part Two)

After lunch, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, once again addressed the attendees. His Beatitude Sabbah focused on the role of the churches in supporting Christians in the Holy Land. Patriarch Sabbah stated that this moment, now more than ever, is when churches need to revitalize their communion with the Mother Church of Jerusalem. He then stated that there are two main needs of the Mother Church today:  justice and daily bread. Under the banner of justice, Patriarch Sabbah stated that Christians needs to “interfere” in the Israeli policies and state clearly what is moral and what is immoral. He encouraged Christians to have the courage to say “no” when all of public opinion says “yes.” He further stated that Christians must demand justice for those who are oppressed, just as Christ did. Those Christians who call themselves Christian Zionists are heretics and are not Christians.  Christian Zionists do not follow the teachings of Christ.  Patriarch Sabbah stated that, “Whether Palestinian or Israeli, Christians are equally for all human beings.” The conflict is not just a Palestinian/Israeli conflict, but the conflict affects the whole world. He reminded that attendees to follow Christ’s model to love everyone, even our enemies. The second main concern of the Mother Church is “daily bread,” referring to survival. He stated that there are 50,000 Christians in the Holy Land and it is not so difficult to volunteer to sustain the Holy Land Christians. Patriarch Sabbah explained that with the recent Intifada, Holy Land Christians feel as if they have been abandoned. He warned against political leaders who do not obey the Bible, but rather make the Bible meet their own needs. He also stated that it is the responsibility of American Christians to live in communion with those Christians who are distressed. Patriarch Sabbah concluded by saying that there needs to be a plan of action now, because we are in a time of war. He stated that the Christian community needs to help their brothers and sisters out of love. Patriarch Sabbah then listed numerous practical steps that can be taken to live in communion with Palestinian Christians. These practical steps include the various HCEF programs:  child sponsorship, job creation, housing projects, emergency aid, church partnerships, and Holy Land gifts.
 

Workshops on the Christians of the Holy Land

There were three workshops that attendees could attend:  Christian Grassroots Activities, Holy Land Economic Support Programs, and Christian Solidarity.
 

· Christian Grassroots Activities

At this workshop, participants discussed the importance of constant education of and through schools at all levels, schools of theology, conferences, pilgrimage, media, politicians, church hierarchies, web sites and fellow church members. The group discussed the role that HCEF plays by creating an electronic resource which would include various website information and resources that could be used by members and the Holy Land Christian Support Network (HSCN). President Rateb Rabie challenged attendees to give just two hours a week as a start. At this point several attendees volunteered to form an HSCN committee in their area. He also encouraged attendees to pick a day once a month as a day devoted to praying for peace in the Holy Land.
 

· Holy Land Economic Support Programs

George Ghattas, Claudette Habasch, and Viveca Hazboun each spoke about the work that their particular agencies accomplish in the Holy Land.  All three stressed the importance of the agencies reaching out to one another to have a unified plan of action for addressing the economy of the region.  They also expressed a concern about creating a culture of dependency and agreed that the best response to the current crisis is to help create jobs for Palestinians so that they may earn wages with dignity.  Julie James briefly described the existing HCEF programs that help accomplish this, focusing on Child Sponsorship, Emergency Relief (in the form of job creation), Holy Land Gifts, and the matching of American churches with sister churches in the Holy Land.  In addition, Ms. Habasch talked about the great need for affordable housing, especially for young couples, so that they can afford to purchase or renovate their own homes (not live in shelter that was provided out of charity).  George Khoury initiated a discussion about other industries that might do well in Palestine, such as light industry and technical industries.  Indeed, because the families in Palestine live on so much less than Americans do, it was agreed that no ideas for job creation were too small.  A small amount of money has a big impact.  Ms. Habasch described that her organization occasionally receives donations of things that they simply cannot use and that they would have preferred to simply receive a donation for the amount of the shipping costs so that they could create a local job.  HCEF has a uniquely capable Holy Land Coordinating Committee to allow for excellent lines of communication about what Holy Land Christians really need.
 

· Christian Solidarity

At this workshop, participants discussed and emphasized the importance of creating and maintaining relationships with fellow Christians in the Holy Land. The main venues discussed for relationship building focused on the HCEF programs of child sponsorship, church partnership, and the Living Stones Pilgrimages. Additionally, speakers mentioned that since the recent outbreak of violence, there haven’t been many visitors, which is severely affecting Palestinian Christians both financially and emotionally. Speakers also stressed the importance and uniqueness of Christian schools in Palestine and the essential role they play in Christian-education of children.

Palestinian Cultural Night

The conference concluded with a time of fellowship and celebration of the Palestinian people and their culture. Attendees were treated to a display of fashion, music, and dance as they enjoyed a dinner of Arabic food. The evening began with traditional Palestinian music that was performed live for the attendees. Following the musical performance was the fashion show. The fashion show displayed several types of traditional Palestinian dress, of which several items belong to a historical collection that currently is displayed in California. The various dresses and headpieces each demonstrated a unique design and influence on traditional Palestinian dress. The dresses were exquisite examples of vibrant and diverse embroidery designs in blue, red, gold, orange, and green hues. After the fashion show attendees enjoyed watching the Birzeit Youth Folkloric Troupe perform Palestinian debkeh folkloric dance. It was amazing to watch these young people perform such a beautiful and intricate dance. Afterwards, the troupe gave basic dancing lessons to the group, which gave the attendees an even greater appreciation for the dancers! The evening of fellowship and celebration was a wonderful way for attendees to conclude the conference.