TO ALL OUR FRIENDS AND PARNERS IN OVERSEAS
Greetings from the Land of the Resurrection, in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Bishop Younan recently returned from a ten-day journey to the United States where he was the keynote speaker at the Multicultural Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), held in Los Angeles, CA. His message about Palestinian Christians and about the current situation, "the second intifada" (or, "Al Aksa intifada",) was well received by the conference participants. Many of the people were hearing the story of the Palestinian people in general and of Palestinian Christians and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and Palestine in particular for the first time.
The bishop also conferred with ELCA officials at their headquarters in Chicago, IL. He is confident that the ELCA is very interested and serious about the just cause of the Palestinian people and the quest for a just peace in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine and Israel.
The situation for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip continues to be very serious. Bishop Younan reports that he found conditions to be much worse upon his recent return from the United States.
1. Israeli bombing, shelling and the use of machine guns and helicopter
gunships (Apaches and Cobras made in the USA) continue to occur in the
cities and villages, including Ramallah, Beit Jala, Bethlehem and Beit
Sahour where ELCJ congregations are located. Many houses and other
institutional buildings have been hit and badly damaged or destroyed.
People in Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, especially, have had to leave their
homes because they are so damaged and also to avoid the daily shelling.
The Lutheran boarding home for boys in Beit Jala was recently hit by gunfire.
A ten years old boy from the home sustained injuries, which were, thanks
God, superficial. And now, in the night of Nov. 15, a member
of the Beit Jala Lutheran Church of the Reformation was killed by Israeli
gunfire. He was a German medical doctor who was trying to help wounded
people. He was married to a Palestinian woman and together they had
three children. Bishop Younan officiated at his funeral on Nov. 16.
2. The Lutheran schools continue to struggle as they try to hold
classes and keep an atmosphere of hope and calmness for the children.
Teachers often have a difficult time getting to school and some have been
arrested. One teacher from the Lutheran school in Ramallah continues to be
detained by the Israeli military authorities. In addition, school tuition payments
cannot be made by parents who have no work and therefore the teachers are
losing their salaries. As Headmaster Michael Abu Ghazaleh of the Lutheran
School of Hope in Ramallah has said, "Our teachers are ready to give more
and more but they, too, have families to feed and homes to keep."
3. The Palestinian children are suffering from great fear and
disturbances, as becomes obvious in the schools. The children are afraid, they
cannot sleep at night, they cannot concentrate on their studies. The schools
are trying to help the children psychologically. But an Israeli spokesperson
has threatened to escalate the retaliations and make life even harder.
Everyone in Palestine lives in fear and confusion.
4. Israeli authorities speak of "self-restraint" but in fact they are
using all kinds
of modern weapons to destroy Palestinian homes and institutions; to injure
and kill Palestinian people; and make life very difficult. What is "self-restraint"? The Palestinian cities and villages have been sealed off for many weeks and nearly no one can pass through the checkpoints. People requesting to pass for "humanitarian reasons" are occasionally allowed to pass but not always. Once again, on Nov. 15, a pregnant woman from a village was not allowed to enter Ramallah and she gave birth at the checkpoint. This has happened to many women in the past.
5. The shortage of food is now a serious problem in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Palestine) The road blockages have led to food scarcity, and what little food is available from the outside is not fresh and is very expensive.
Two brief stories exemplify the Palestinian situation:
The Helen Keller School for the Blind is located in Beit Hanina, in "Greater Jerusalem", as Israel defines it. The school campus is directly across the road from an Israeli military compound and only two hundred meters away from a major Israeli checkpoint on the road to Ramallah. The principal of the school, Suad Younan, was recently ordered to come to the police station for "clarification", which actually meant she was interrogated for over two hours about the school, the staff and the transportation system which brings blind and visually-impaired children to the school from Jerusalem as well as from West Bank villages and refugee camps. Although the interrogator said this questioning was to provide "protection for Christian institutions", it became obvious to Mrs. Younan that the real purpose was to investigate the teaching staff, drivers and housemothers of the school. Mrs. Younan, the wife of Bishop Munib Younan, describes the interrogation as a "nasty experience" and is now very aware of surveillance and of the possibility of more bad experiences for the school staff.
Mr. Adeeb Mrabei, the accountant for the ELCJ, was unable to pass through the Israeli military checkpoint in Beit Hanina on Sunday, October 29. He was on his way to the Lutheran Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives to participate in the church activities, including the election of church representatives to the church council. Mr. Mrabei has papers identifying him as a Jerusalemite, but the Israeli soldiers would not let him pass through for "security reasons". They kept him waiting for nearly three hours before saying he would be allowed to pass at all. Mr. Mrabei returned home and learned later that in his absence he had been elected to the synod.
Bishop Younan reports that an historic occasion occurred when, for the first time, Christian representatives were invited to be present and to participate in the recent Islamic Summit Conference in Doha, Qatar. It is a sign that there is no other option than for Muslims and Christians to be in dialogue. The moderate decision of the conference supported the Palestinian cause, leaving options for a just peace. The bishop states that Palestinian Christians must live with Islam, and be open to cooperate with Muslims. He also states that he has been contacted by some Israeli rabbis of good will who believe the Palestinians have rights and who are interested in a just peace.
"This land cannot be restricted to one religion or one people," Bishop Younan emphasizes. "Those who want peace must understand that a secure future for Palestinians and Israelis involves sharing the land."
Bishop Younan appeals to people living outside this situation to do the following:
1. To speak up in various ways to put pressure on their own governments, asking them to put pressure on the Israeli government to implement accurately the agreements signed between the two parties, to stop the bloodshed and to work for a real and lasting peace. Now is the time for the political process to start with negotiations and immediate implementations.
2. To assist the ELCJ with the relief work it is now doing to help children and families who are without money, food and even homes, and also to help pay the teachers' salaries in the Lutheran schools, thereby keeping the schools open. The schools are a very important part of the emotional help the children need in these difficult and dangerous times. The church must establish a program of psychological counseling for the children who are traumatized by the warfare in their homes, schools and towns, but it is the schools that will do the long term psychological care.
3. To continue to pray for the Palestinian people, the Christian churches
and the ELCJ in these difficult times. Please remember the children
and the schools, the teachers, the families and everyone who is suffering
from the actual bombing and shelling, and all the after effects of the
Jerusalem on November 17th, 2000