Desperate plea to World Church by Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem

(The Christian community focus on Christian - Muslim relations instead of the human rights abuses, suffering and apartheid situations that Palestinians are facing daily. "We live in harmony with the Muslim community here. The current Intifada has reflected Palestinian unity to the world; we live together under the Israeli tank fire, as human beings, as one people. Enough talking - we want action)

By Bishop Riah Abu el-Assal, Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem
March 11, 2001

Addressing a group of church leaders, journalists and NGO representatives
in London earlier this week, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal clearly carried the weight of the suffering of the Palestinian community; he looked tired and reflected his peoples' desperation. Speaking from the heart, Bishop Riah provided details of the current situation in the Holy Land and made a plea for help and support from the World Church and its leaders, and from the World Council of Churches for his fellow Palestinians and the Christian community which he leads in the Middle East.

The Bishop commented on how the Jewish and Muslim groups are strongly supported by their worldwide communities, and he went on to lament "there are two billion Christians in the world - we receive messages of encouragement and support as well as gifts from Malaysia, even Sudan!

But the church in the States, Australia, Canada and the UK ..." He asked how he and his fellow clergy are meant to help their congregations believe that they are members of the body of Christ, "We are desperate for support these days, we are desperate."

Rev Hanna Mansour from St Luke's hospital in Nablus, West Bank, agrees, "It is time for the Church to show their commitment. Statements are not enough, we need more tangible things. Christians must show solidarity with the marginalized, the injured, the victims of injustice and those under occupation. Talk is easy during peaceful times, it is a burden during these difficult days of conflict."

Bishop Riah spoke too of the frustration that across the world the Christian community focus on Christian - Muslim relations instead of the human rights abuses, suffering and apartheid situations that Palestinians are facing daily. "We need to protect human rights across the board - not one party only."

This was reiterated by Rev Mansour, "We live in harmony with the
Muslim community here. The current Intifada has reflected Palestinian unity to the world; we live together under the Israeli tank fire, as human beings, as one people. Enough talking - we want action from the world's Christians.
We want to challenge them to a commitment, a worldwide commitment from
Christians."

The Jerusalem Diocese itself has 34 institutions with over 1200 people employed - hospitals, clinics, schools, homes for those with disabilities, and for the elderly - "Our institutions are badly needed in times of war, the services of the church are greatly appreciated but without support and finance we cannot help."

Unemployment in Gaza is now at 81% and in the West Bank over 180,000 people are out of work. People had invested greatly in what was meant to be a boom in tourism but instead hotels lie empty. The bishop gave one example of a hotel in the centre of Jerusalem which has 360 rooms and yet only nine people are there. St George's College has had to cancel nearly all of its courses as people are unable to get to Jerusalem and overseas students are returning home.

Rev Mansour commented, "Things are awful. I have never experienced such a situation, even during the first Intifada. The amount of violence practiced by the Israeli military is simply intolerable ... Movement around Nablus is difficult to impossible. The present situation is economically crushing, and there is no way for families to provide their daily bread. They come to us, the hospital and the Church, for help, and assistance."

The Bishop highlighted, "In Nazareth, as Israeli Arabs the people recognize that they are better off than their brothers and sisters in Gaza and the West Bank." In response the congregation at Christ Church, Nazareth, recently collected over 20,000 kilos of rice, flour and cooking oil for 100 families in the West Bank. This was taken in UN lorries to Jerusalem and then put into other vehicles and taken to the West Bank. Within Jerusalem the congregation of St George¹s Cathedral have also collected food and clothing to support 30 families in nearby Ramallah.

The Bishop strongly signaled that Palestine is economically reaching a point of complete disintegration - a situation that both threatens the welfare of individuals and families, and also presents a danger as desperation could fuel the conflict.

Bishop Riah finished his talk reiterating how he would like to see the church take the initiative and do something; "I pray one day that when we stand before the throne of God we will be able to say that we did not ignore God¹s call to the least, to the homeless, the hungry and the bereaved."

"Never underestimate what each one of us can do - the church began with 11 people who were ordinary individuals and who between them changed the course of history - it is time for the church to change history once more in the Middle East."

The event was hosted by the Amos Trust, a UK Christian charity working for justice and hope for the forgotten. The Amos Trust is a delegated channel for support for the Diocese of Jerusalem.