MIDDLE EAST: Jerusalem church leaders offer to mediate in Fatah, Hamas conflict

Monday, January 15, 2007
 
[Ecumenical News International]  Church leaders in Jerusalem have warned warring Palestinian factions they could trigger civil war and, offering to play a mediating role, they are urging an end to violence in order for them to focus on the true priority of their people: independence.

"As leaders of the Christian churches in Jerusalem concerned at the present situation in the Palestinian Territories we feel we must voice our anxiety for all our people -- Christian and Muslim alike -- at the deteriorating relations between Fatah and Hamas leaders and the armed forces," they said.

In a statement made available on January 15, 13 church leaders noted that "all kinds of mediation and attempts at reconciliation have so far failed, resulting in a deadlock in the situation." They said the latest accusations and threats made known through the media had triggered "some large-scale fighting which soon will be very difficult to stop."

They warned: "Fighting and kidnapping opponents will not bring down the Separation Wall or end the embargo on the Palestinian people."

News agencies have in recent days reported fighting of an unprecedented ferocity between Fatah and Hamas, the two major Palestinian factions, noting that more than 30 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah and president of the Palestinian Authority, said at the end of 2006 there should be fresh elections.

The church leaders noted: "The threatening language of the last few days by representatives of both movements and other related parties are both unprecedented and very aggressive. Such occurrences can only bring a civil war nearer by the hour. The outcome would be so drastic that it will obscure the real priorities of the whole Palestinian issue."

Among the signatories of the statement are: the most senior Roman Catholic leader in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah; Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III; Patriarch Torkom II of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church; Anba Abraham of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate; the leader of the Anglican community in the Holy Land, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal; and Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

"The time has come for an all-out effort to unite our people and so concentrate on working for independence together," they said, to offer "the opportunity for all people in this Holy Land -- Christian, Muslim and Jew -- to know security and peace."
 
The Jerusalem church heads called for a removal of arms from the street, a government of national unity and an Israeli-Palestinian return to the negotiating table, and they pledged to play their part in ending strife and made an offer of mediation. "Bloodshed and violence will not bring peace; it will only further destroy family life and further endanger the economy of our land," said the church leaders.

The full statement follows:

A MESSAGE OF CONCERN TO ALL THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE

As Leaders of the Christian Churches in Jerusalem concerned at the present situation in the Palestinian Territories we feel we must voice our anxiety for all our people -- Christian and Moslem alike -- at the deteriorating relations between Fatah and Hamas leaders and the armed forces.

It would appear that all kinds of mediation and attempts at reconciliation have so far failed resulting in a dead lock in the situation. The latest allegations and threats which have been aired through the local and international media have resulted in some large scale fighting which soon will be very difficult to stop. Added to this, the threatening language of the last few days by representatives of both movements and other related parties are both unprecedented and very aggressive. Such occurrences can only bring a civil war nearer by the hour. The outcome would be so drastic that it will obscure the real priorities of the whole Palestinian issue.

So we feel the time has come to call for intense prayer to Almighty God for peace and an opportunity for calm in order that all parties can consider carefully the various issues at stake. Instead of hurling accusations at each other we would urge everyone to pray for their neighbors in the widest possible sense. It is surely time to unite rather than collide. Fighting and kidnapping opponents will not bring down the Security Wall or end the embargo on the Palestinian people.

We believe we have an obligation to change course especially for the sake of all our children and young people who deserve a better future devoid of hatred and bitterness. Bloodshed and violence will not bring peace, it will only further destroy family life and further endanger the economy of our land.

The time has come for all our effort to unite our people and so concentrate on working for Independence together with the opportunity for all the people of this Holy Land -- Christian, Moslem and Jew -- to know security and peace.

We are ready to play our part in attempting to end the present situation as quickly as possible as mediators or in whatever role deemed necessary and helpful by our people. It is vital to bring a real sense of unity in government; to unite the security forces; remove arms from our streets and encourage the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to return to the negotiating table.

In conclusion we would remind everyone of the words of our Blessed Lord:

"Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be called children of God." (Matt. Ch5v9.)

Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarchate
Patriarch Torkom II, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate
Fr. Pier Battista Pizzabella, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate
Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
Abune Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayyah, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem & the Middle East
Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan & the Holy Land
Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
Bishop George Bakar, Greek Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
Fr. Raphael Minassian, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate