Some Thoughts on the Latest Church Vandalism in Israel

Father Antonio Scudu, caretaker at the St. Stephen Church, west of Jerusalem, examines a portion of a shattered statue of the Virgin Mary. The vandalism of the church took place on September 19, 2017.

By Richard Edmondson

There still has been no arrest in the vandalism of St. Stephen’s Church, a Christian site near Jerusalem which vandals entered and desecrated on the night of September 19. I am, for that matter, not especially hopeful an arrest will be forthcoming. Israel has an extremely sorry history when it comes to investigating and prosecuting criminal cases of this sort. The record speaks for itself.

An article published by Haaretz on September 24 reports that over 50 Christian and Muslim religious sites have been vandalized since the year 2009. In that time only nine indictments have been filed, and only seven convictions have been handed down. That’s bad enough, but an article published Tuesday at Crux, a Catholic news site, suggests the record may be even worse than Haaretz is reporting. “There have been some 80 incidents of vandalism against churches and Christian sites in the Holy Land over the last decade. In most of the cases, no arrests or indictments have taken place,” that article states.

All I can tell you is that over the years since I’ve been blogging, which is about seven years now, I have reported on numerous attacks by vandals on religious sites in Israel, yet still the practice remains an acute problem.

My initial report on this month’s attack at St. Stephen’s was posted September 23. In that post I noted that the church is located on the grounds of a Catholic monastery, Beit Jamal, a Salesian monastery that lies near the city of Beit Shemesh. I also noted that this is the third time in four years that the site has been vandalized and commented, “Apparently the site is on somebody’s hit list.”

The previous attacks occurred in 2013, when a firebomb was thrown at the door and hateful graffiti scrawled on the walls, and in January of 2016, when the cemetery was vandalized. At the time, I put up a post on the 2016 cemetery attack, which you can access here. All this taken into consideration, it does seem as if the church might be on a hit list of some sort.

Whether this has anything to do with the fact that the locale is believed to have been the burial place of St. Stephen, I can’t say. But indeed, there is a longstanding tradition in church history that the saint’s remains were buried here. This of course is why the church is named after him, and perhaps for this reason, it is worth recounting a bit of St. Stephen’s story

Stephen, his speech before Jewish leaders and his death by stoning at their hands, are told of in the sixth and seventh chapters of the Book of Acts. Initially selected to help with daily distribution of food, Stephen was described as “a man full of God’s grace and power” who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people,” and he seems to have risen quickly to prominence among the disciples in Jerusalem. This of course in the months after Christ’s crucifixion.

Jews from one of the synagogues began to accuse Stephen in a manner very reminiscent of the charges brought against Jesus–and, like Jesus himself, Stephen ended up before the Jewish ruling council, or Sanhedrin. He was, among other things, accused of speaking “words of blasphemy against Moses and against God,” and he was also alleged to have invoked Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of the temple. It’s probably not too much of a stretch, then, to speculate he may even have told people that God didn’t live in the Jewish temple (as Jewish leaders claimed) and that it was not necessary for people to actually go there in order to worship God, that God can be worshiped anywhere. This would have reflected Jesus’ teaching in John 4:21-23, and if Stephen indeed spread such teachings, then it would have infuriated the Jewish leadership all the more, for the temple was an enormously lucrative enterprise for them.

Then the high priest asked him, “Are these charges true?”

This is the opening line in Acts chapter 7, and it is at this point that Stephen launches into his lengthy speech. Basically, it’s a speech recounting the narrative of the Old Testament. The Abrahamic covenant, the stories of Issac and Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, the bondage in Egypt, Moses and the Exodus–all of this is spoken of by Stephen. All of it makes up about ninety percent of his speech, and for the most part it doesn’t ruffle too many feathers, but then we get to the following passage–and it is at this point that all “heck” breaks loose. Here again, the speaker is Stephen:

You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him–you who have received the law that was put into effect but have not obeyed it.

Notice that Stephen chooses the same adjective–“stiff-necked”–used by Moses in describing the Israelites. He is in effect saying that the Abrahamic covenant is hereby abrogated. If you consistently disobey the law–most especially if you murder God’s son–what other conclusion than that can be drawn? The covenant is dead. Jews can no longer consider themselves God’s “chosen,” Stephen is basically saying. It’s a pivotal moment. It is literally earth shaking. And the reaction from the Sanhedrin is spontaneous and immediate:

When they heard this they were furious, and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him.

Thus Stephen became the first Christian martyr in recorded history. Interestingly, the text notes that one of those present, giving his approval to it all, was Saul–later Paul–who, somewhat astonishingly, ended up becoming an apostle of Christ himself.

Could this narrative in the New Testament have anything to do with why St. Stephen’s and the monastery have been attacked repeatedly?

The night of September 19/20, when the vandal(s) entered the church, was the eve of the Jewish New Year. “The monastery is open for visitors and generally has good relations with its Jewish neighbors,” the Crux article notes, “including the residents of an ultra-Orthodox town.” The “ultra-Orthodox town” being referred to here is Beit Shemesh, located nearby, a city of about 103,000 population.

Beit Shemesh is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as being among the towns allotted to the Levites, or priestly class. In the modern, post-1948 era it was settled by Jewish immigrants from Bulgaria, though by the late 1970s it had become a major center of the Likud Party. The “good relations” mentioned in the Crux article probably pertain to Neturei Karta, which has a small community living in Beit Shemesh, primarily in one neighborhood of the city. You can go hereto see video of a protest in which an NK member, holding a Palestinian flag, is attacked and chased by Israeli police. The date on the video is 2015. An earlier video, also shot in Beit Shemesh, shows a confrontation between police and a large group of Orthodox men demanding enforcement of segregation between the sexes. It is perhaps not terribly surprising that a Christian church and monastery located in proximity to such a city would come under attack.

The vandals destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary, a cross, and smashed stained glass windows depicting events in the life of Jesus. While Hebrew graffiti has been a hallmark of previous church attacks in Israel, nothing of the like was left in this case. Still,  Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Catholic patriarchal vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, expressed the view that the attack was most likely carried out by “Jewish extremists.”

“Vandals broke into the church and destroyed the crosses, the statue of Our Lady and the stained glass, as well as the faces of the saints,” Mgr. Marcuzzo said.

“In the Old Testament, it is written to destroy the statues as a symbol of idolatry. Here, these people distort the Scriptures and promote fanaticism. Perhaps it is not a direct attack on Christians, but it is certainly a message against those who do not share their ideology and it is scary because it shows that there is no respect for others. Living together is undermined,” he added.

Anther cleric who commented on the matter is Salesian Father Antonio Scudu, who serves as caretaker of the church.

“I was shocked. I didn’t expect to see something like this. The church is always open. If you see what happened, you feel they did it with hate. They smashed everything,” he said.

Israeli Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told the Catholic News Service that the case is being given “top priority.”

“There have been arrests in previous cases. We are looking into this case to see if it was an individual or a group. These are all separate cases,” Rosenfeld said. “People can say what they want. This kind of case is top priority.”

Yet as the report posted by Crux notes:

Christians in the Holy Land, including Catholic leaders, have expressed frustration with lack of legal action against cases of desecration and vandalism of sacred places.

Even as the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land issued a statement condemning the September 20 desecration and vandalism of a Catholic shrine in Israel, some people criticized the statement’s “weak language” and asked, “How long will we be tolerant?”

“Unfortunately, in these situations we feel how vulnerable we are,” one person wrote on Facebook.

The words “how long will we be tolerant?” have a certain poignance to them, for in Israel there are “Jewish extremists” who seem to feel the nation has been overly “tolerant” by even allowing Christians and Christian churches to exist inside the country’s boundaries. One such individual is Benzi Gopstein, whose views I discussed in the post I put up in January of 2016 on the St. Stephen’s cemetery desecration.

Gopstein is the leader of Lehava, the far-right Israeli organization that opposes intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews. He also hates Christianity. My 2016 post included an excerpt from a Times of Israel report in which Gopstein is quoted as referring to Christianity as “that accursed religion” and likening Christians to “vampires.”

Interestingly, the Lehava leader has also been referred to as “Israel’s teflon man, nothing sticks to him.”

The Israeli government may be feeling mounting pressure to do something about the wave of attacks upon religious sites, and if that is the case, we could end up seeing an arrest in the St. Stephen’s case. This of course would not alleviate the anti-Christian hatred felt by Jews like Gopstein, and if anything will make it worse. There is a reason the Christian Church, founded by men like Stephen, ended up breaking off from Judaism: the two faiths are pretty much incompatible.

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‘Assad is Protector of the Christians in the Middle East’ – Archbishop Hanna

Source

Atallah Hanna, the Archbishop of Sebastia from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has visited Damascus today.

http://www.fort-russ.com/2017/08/assad-is-protector-of-christians-in.html

During his visit, he met with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, stressing that President Assad assured himself as an important figure of protecting the Christians, not just in Syria, but elsewhere in the Middle East too, noting that he does not consider Christians just as a “minority”, but rather an important and integral part of the Syrian society.
He noted that during the past few years Christians have suffered a lot, but thanks to President Assad there is hope now, as was also seen in Maaloula where wounds are slowly healing.
Bishop Hanna also said that he received negative reactions from both, the Palestinians and the Israelis because of his meeting with Assad and his supportive position on Syria, and as regards Israel, also for his role in the case of Al Aqsa mosque, saying that all this may cause his arrest or deportation, adding that none of this will deter him from his positions on Palestine and the Arab world issues, noting that conspirators against Syria are conspirators against Palestine as well. 
He then said that the majority of in fact Palestinians support his visit to Syria, and most of them are aware of the seriousness of the conspiracy against Damascus.
Some, however, objected to his presence inside the Al Aqsa mosque because of his position on Syria.
He pointed out one cannot talk about Palestine without talking about Muslims and Christians together, stressing that unity of the Palestinian people is the most important step to achieve freedom.
Regarding Jerusalem, Hanna said Jerusalem’s native inhabitants are treated badly, as if they were strangers to the city, noting there are constant attempts being made to falsify the history of Jerusalem.

Sayyed Nasrallah on 2nd Liberation: Lebanon Protected…US-’Israeli’ Scheme Falling Apart

Zeinab Essa

31-08-2017 | 20:13

Hezbollah Secretary General His Eminence Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah delivered Thursday a speech celebrating the 2nd Liberation, represented by liberating the Lebanese eastern borders from the terrorist groups.

Sayyed Nasrallah on 2nd Liberation: Lebanon Protected...US-’Israeli’ Scheme Falling Apart

Addressing a huge crowd of people in Baalbek, Sayyed Nasrallah apologized for not being able to be among them.

“I liked to be among you in Baalbek on this glorious day, the same as I went to Bint Jbeil on May 25, 2000, but the situation after 2006 war is different, especially that the “Israelis” are angry and the US scheme is being defeated in the region,” His Eminence said.

He further congratulated the people for this great victory: “This victory is that of the army, people and resistance against all terrorists, who were occupying our precious land.”

39 years on the kidnap of Imam Musa al-Sadr by the former toppled Libyan regime, Sayyed Nasrallah emphasized that Sayyed al-Sadr was a man in a nation. “His cause is dear to all of us,” he mentioned.

Meanwhile, His Eminence saluted Lebanese House Speaker Nabih Berri over his national stances. “He has always proven that he is the man of all challenges and the guarantee of national unity,” he added.

Back to title of celebration, Sayyed Nasrallah clarified that the terrorists’ control of the Lebanese-Syrian eastern border has formed a threat for both Lebanon and Syria.

As he hailed the fact that there are political forces in Lebanon that supported confrontation with terrorists on the eastern border, His Eminence unveiled that

“some Lebanese were neutral towards the terror on our northern and eastern borders, some were positive towards the terrorists and offered them assistance, as other political forces chose confrontation.”

“During the previous phase and because of the political division, the Lebanese state was unable to make a decisive decision regarding the military confrontation, but it did enter into a security confrontation with the terrorist cells,” Sayyed Nasrallah highlighted.

Meanwhile, the Resistance Leader uncovered some aspects of the Lebanese political scene upon dealing with the terrorist groups.

“Due to political divisions, the Lebanese state was unable to take a decisive decision to launch a military confrontation.”

However, His Eminence added:

” To be fair, the Lebanese state was engaged in a clear security confrontation with the terrorist cells and networks. The army, General Security and State Security scored very important achievements.”

He also unveiled that “there was information that Daesh [Arabic Acronym for the terrorist “ISIS”/”ISIL” group] was preparing to occupy two Lebanese towns.”

In this context, His Eminence went on to say “It is clear that terrorism was strongly reactivated with the beginning of spring and that the next summer will be a serious one.”

“When the victory was achieved in Arsal outskirts, the Americans sent the Lebanese state a message of anger. When the Lebanese state decided that the brave Lebanese army would liberate the remaining outskirts, the Americans returned and asked the Lebanese officials not to carry out this operation and threatened to cut off military aid to Lebanon,” Sayyed Nasrallah detailed.

Praising the sacrifices of the Lebanese army in defending and liberating the eastern borders, Hezbollah Secretary General stressed: “The Lebanese army and its leadership have done a great job and political confidence must be enhanced by the army’s ability to conduct accurate operations.”

However, he reiterated that Hezbollah had no problem if the Lebanese state decided to liberate Arsal’s outskirts in July.

“The Lebanese Army Command was ready to do the mission but there was political hesitation. So, we decided to head to liberate Arsal’s outskirts. The hesitation was not due to insufficient army capabilities but rather for political considerations veiled as humanitarian considerations. Meanwhile, the state’s decision to launch Operation Dawn of the Outskirts was a very significant development and represented a form of practicing a sovereign political decision.”

Sayyed Nasrallah viewed that

“the 2nd liberation is one of the achievements of the new presidential term represented by President Michel Aoun, the man whom I always described a brave, independent leader who does not bow or submit to any state, embassy, pressures or intimidation. President Aoun preserved the state’s prestige through taking a sovereign Lebanese decision to launch the border operation.”

He also thanked the Syrian leadership for its efforts in accomplishing this liberation, particularly that it bore embarrassment in sake of Lebanon.

On this level, he uncovered that he met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to over the deal with Daesh to uncover the fate of kidnapped Lebanese Army soldiers.

“I headed to meet President Bashar Assad in Levant and asked him for a settlement to move Daesh militants with the aim of unveiling the fate of the kidnapped servicemen,” Sayyed Nasrallah said .

Meanwhile, he urged the Lebanese state to take a sovereign decision to liberate occupied territories from “Israeli” occupation.

“We are waiting for another sovereign decision because there is Lebanese territory still under the “Israeli” occupation, the Shebaa farms and Kafrshuba hills. We call on the Lebanese state to plan for its liberation by a sovereign decision,” His Eminence said.

He further urged the Lebanese officials to take a sovereign decision to coordinate with Syria because this is a solution for us and we must hurry in this away from Western pressure

Sayyed Nasrallah also thanked the people and the government of the Islamic Republic for their continuous support to the resistance, Syria and Iraq. “I Congratulate Iraq for the liberation of Tal Afar and announcing Nineveh province free from terrorists.”On another level, Sayyed Nasrallah explained that “Israel” was disturbed by the liberation of the outskirts. “”Israel” is concerned by the coordination on both fronts and the performance of the Lebanese and Syrian armies. “Israel” is crying its orphans in Syria,” he said.

Sayyed Nasrallah also praised and thanked the Lebanese and Iranian Foreign Ministries’ efforts to block suggested major amendments to the mandate of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon following Wednesday evening’s vote at the Security Council.

“The British-American scheme sought to modify the UNIFIL’s mission in sake of “Israel” and to tighten the noose on Hezbollah,” he warned.

To the people in Bekaa, Sayyed Nasrallah sent a clear message:

“These borders and outskirts are the responsibility of the Lebanese army, and we never said that it’s our responsibility. Your eastern border with Syria is now under Army’s control. You must come together so that you mend your internal relations.”

Moving to the international scene, His Eminence also described the United States as the real threat to the international community, warning that the policies of the administration of President Donald Trump vis-à-vis North Korea were steering the world towards a nuclear war.

“We must know that the other scheme in the region is being toppled, and that the American-“Israeli” dreams that were built on Daesh and its sisters are falling apart. The world must know that Lebanon is protected and anyone who thinks of attacking its territory will have his hand cut off, thanks to the golden equation,” he concluded.

Source: Al-Ahed news 

Resistance Finds in Qalmoun Dangerous Video Revealing ISIL Intention to Attack Lebanese Towns

August 31, 2017

20-5

Hezbollah Military Media Center announced that while combing ISIL ex-posts in the outskirts of western Qalamoun, the mujahidin found an SD memory card in a wallet forgotten by one of ISIL terrorists before they left the area.

After examining the SD memory card, it ended up to include a video which shows one of ISIL commanders explaining his plan to attack and occupy Ras Baalbek and Al-Qaa towns in northeastern Lebanon.

In cooperation with the Lebanese and the Syrian armies, Hezbollah launched a major offensive against ISIL terrorists in Lebanon-Syria border outskirts, defeating them and eradicating all the plots.

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  تيار المستقبل وعلماء “السنة” في لبنان وحزب الله “المخادع

Iraqi “14 March Movement”

Flashback

 

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Nasrallah: The US Created ISIS

Posted on July 12, 2017

“The victory in Mosul is major. It’s as clear as the sun that the Obama administration established ISIS, and there is proof of this within the American government.”

–Hasan Nasrallah

The above quote from Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah is taken from an Israeli website here. The report concerns a speech Nasrallah gave on Tuesday in which he praised Iraqi forces for their liberation of the city of Mosul. You can read more about the speech at Al Manar and at Press TV (h/t summitflyer).

I suspect we are going to see a new war between Israel and Hezbollah break out probably in the not-too-far-distant future. Perhaps worth keeping in mind is that Megiddo, the site in Israel traditionally thought of as where the Battle of Armageddon will be fought, is no more than 35 miles from the Lebanese border.

Over the past three days Israeli media have been full of stories about underground “missile factories,” supposedly built in Lebanon by Iranians, where Hezbollah members are now manufacturing missiles to fire upon Israel. The US media, preoccupied with the “Russiagate” story, have had little to say about it so far, although a couple of commentaries have been published, one in the Washington Times and the other in US News and World Report, and I suspect CNN, the New York Times and the rest of the herd will jump on the story before too long.

The commentary in the Washington Times, written by one Clifford D. May, includes a bellicose quote from Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman:

“We are fully aware” of the factories, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told military correspondents in a briefing in Tel Aviv on Sunday. “We know what needs to be done . We won’t ignore the establishment of Iranian weapons factories in Lebanon.”

The gist of the reporting on the story is that at least two factories–both built deep underground–have been set up, and that both are now actively producing weapons with which to attack poor, little Israel. Whether there is any validity to the reports at all is impossible to say, but clearly the groundwork is being laid to establish a pretext for an Israeli attack upon Lebanon. This of course comes after repeated Israeli attacks upon Syria, but of course all that will be forgotten. Forgotten also will be Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine.

Of course, one thing we should try very hard not to forget is that, just as Bashar Assad’s government has protected Christians in Syria, so too has Hezbollah protected Christians in Lebanon. Here is a picture of the St. Joseph Maronite Church–located right in the heart of Haret Hreik, the Hezbollah neighborhood of southern Beirut:

I visited Beirut in 2014 and saw the church with my own eyes–in fact passed right down the alleyway you see in the picture that runs alongside of it. You don’t have to be a Shiite Muslim to live in Hezbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon; people are free to worship as they see fit.

One thing I’ve noticed about the Zionist media’s reporting on Hezbollah is that they always try to blur the line between Hezbollah and ISIS–as if deliberately trying to instill the impression that both are “terrorist” organizations and that both follow the same ideology. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Suffice to say, Russiagate isn’t the only media deception game going on.

Russia Says Latest US Threat Against Syria is ‘Warning Sign of Intervention’

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova is calling it a “warning sign” of a possible US troop buildup and all-out military intervention in Syria. She is referring to Washington’s claim earlier this week that it believes Syria is planning a chemical attack.

The announcement was made Monday night by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who insisted the US has seen indications that the “Assad regime” is planning a chemical attack that would “likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”

Zakharova described the public comments as an “information attack” that may be a precursor to an actual war

“The current information attack is very likely a warning sign of an intervention. The story will be the same: an incident happens on the territory controlled by the terrorists, civilian casualties follow. The so-called opposition – de facto the same jihadists, not very different from IS [Islamic State, formerly ISIS/ISIL] and Al-Qaeda, but who are still getting help from the US and allies – announce yet another ‘crime by the regime,’” Zakharova said.

A particularly ominous aspect to all of this is that the US has threatened to make Syria pay a “heavy price” should such an attack take place–and Zakharova sees this as a threat aimed not only at Syria, but also at Russia:

“The situation seems to be a massive provocation, both military and information-wise, a provocation which targets not only the Syrian leadership, but also Russia,” she said.

What has happened to the anti-war movement in America?

When the US invaded Iraq in 1991, there were huge protests in a number of American cities. And in 2003, when the US again sent forces into Iraq, protests were widespread and in some places quite large. Why are we not seeing similar protests now against US troops being sent to Syria?

The pretexts are just as flimsy as they were in 2003, but the anti-war movement is either out to lunch or in permanent retirement.

The only protests we see on American streets these days are protests focusing narrowly on such things as race, sexual orientation, gender identity–i.e. identity politics. The country has been divided along these lines. And as a result, there are no genuine anti-war protests taking place. How did it get to this point?

American society has been overtaken by a mass collective psychosis. This psychosis has a breath and life of its own.

Instead of seeing Russia, a Christian country, as our friends in the fight against terrorism, we see Russians as our enemies; instead of recognizing Bashar Assad as what he is–a benevolent, enlightened leader who has allowed freedom of worship and protected Middle East Christians–we have become convinced he is a dictator intent on killing his own people. These are a few of the characteristics of the psychosis which has overtaken us.

There are others. Accusations are also flying over personalities. This person’s a racist. That person’s a bigot. Politicians are corrupt. So are the media. And not all the anger is based upon illusions or misconceptions. Some of it is genuine. America is in a permanent state of road rage. The psychosis was spawned by the media, but as I say, it has taken on a life of its own, and the media are even now becoming its victims.

Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here. Maybe this is what happens when a nation loses touch with its roots and discards its spiritual faith. When America was solidly Christian, the country was unified. But gradually, the country moved away from religion. Prayer was outlawed in schools. And the culture began to be debased with film, music and TV shows promoting decadence and degeneracy. The result is what we see now. And it is not pretty.

As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.  “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

(Luke 8:23-25)

The solution is a return to our Christian faith. It is the antidote to the psychosis. And it will lead to the downfall of the psychopaths in Washington.

Father Daniël Maes (78): “Western media spreading lies on Syria and Western governments are in alliance with radical Islamists who completely ruining the country”

The Flemish Father Daniël Maes (78) lives in Syria in the sixth-century-old Mar Yakub monastery in the city of Qara, 90 kilometers north of the capital Damascus.

Father Daniel has been a witness to the war and according to him, Western media spreading lies on Syria and Western governments are in alliance with radical Islamists who completely ruining the country.

Palestinian Christians Send Open Letter to World Council of Churches

Posted on June 16, 2017

Palestinian Christians have published an open letter to the World Council of Churches asking that the international ecumenical body recognize Israel as an apartheid state.

“As we meet this month in Bethlehem in occupied Palestine, we are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unjust and unlawful Balfour declaration,” the letter begins.

The document makes no specific reference to Christian Zionism, but it does assert that Palestinians are suffering “because of one political declaration from a Western empire, based on a twisted theological premise,” and calls upon the WCC to “take the strongest theological stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and privileges one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant.”

The phrase “twisted theological premise” is a pretty good way of characterizing Christian Zionism, and I probably couldn’t have come up with a better descriptor myself.

Additionally, the letter makes reference to two other documents, one of them being the Amaan Call, issued by the WCC ten years ago following a meeting held in Amaan, Jordan. The other document mentioned is the Kairos Palestine document, a letter signed by Palestinian Christians and published in 2009.

This latest letter urges Christians of conscience not to “hide behind the cover of political neutrality,” and also calls upon the WCC support the BDS movement.

The WCC is scheduled to hold a meeting next week in Bethlehem.

The Friends of Sabeel of North America is calling upon members of the public to sign onto the letter. I reproduce the letter in full below. You can go here to sign onto it.

***

 

Letter from Palestinian Christians to the World Council of Churches

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. (Isa. 1:17)

Background

As we meet this month in Bethlehem in occupied Palestine, we are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unjust and unlawful Balfour declaration. The injustice was intensified through the Nakba and the influx of refugees, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza, the fragmentation of our people and land through policies of isolation and confiscation of property, and the building of Jewish-only settlements and the apartheid wall.

We are still suffering because of one political declaration from a Western empire, based on a twisted theological premise. Even some churches and Christian leaders supported the establishment of the colonial state in our land, and totally ignored—even dehumanized—the nation, our people who had already existed here for centuries and paid the price for atrocities committed in Europe.

Hundred years later, with thousands of lives lost, towns and villages razed from the face of the earth (though not our memory), millions of refugees, thousands of homes demolished, and continued incarceration of prisoners, our Nakba continues.

A hundred years later and there is still no justice in our land! Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule. Today, we stand in front of an impasse and we have reached a deadlock. Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leaders’ callings, Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality. Humanly speaking, we have reached the “moment of impossible,” as Emeritus Latin Patriarch Sabbah said recently.

Could it be that we have reached this “impossible moment” because things were built from the very beginning—a hundred years ago—on an unjust premise? Should we expect that such an unjust declaration will create anything but strife and destruction?

Today is also an opportunity to remember the 10-year-old Amman Call. We are thankful to those who stood with us back then in costly solidarity—those who stood for truth and justice. We are also concerned that 10 years later the situation is still deteriorating. Like other initiatives advocating end of occupation, the Amman Call did not achieve its goals in building and achieving just peace. We must ask ourselves today why that is.

We are also concerned by Israel’s systemic assault on Palestinian creative resistance, and on our partners worldwide who use this method to pressure Israel to end the occupation. Many new laws were issued in Israel and around the world to oppose this creative non-violent resistance unlawfully, and to stop all effort toward peace. Not only is this an attack on the freedom of conscience and speech but it is also an assault on our right and duty to resist evil with good. Israel is even now trying to prevent pilgrims from visiting Bethlehem, the city of Emmanuel!

While we are grateful for the ‘costly solidarity’ articulated in the Amman Call and exercised by many churches around the world, we are concerned that some churches have weakened their positions in the last 10 years as a result of Israeli pressure. Many still hide behind the cover of political neutrality, not wishing to offend their partners in religious dialogue.

Finally, we meet in an environment of religious wars and persecution in our region. Religious extremism is on the rise, and religious minorities have paid a painful price. We thank you for your efforts toward the refugees and toward ending the conflicts in our region. We also thank you for your support of persecuted Christians in places like Iraq and Syria.

Our Call

“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness (Justice), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”. (Matthew 5:10-11)

As we stand in front of this “impossible moment,” it gives us no pleasure to say that “we told you so” eight years ago when we declared the moment as a Kairos moment! We stand facing the impossible, but we have not lost hope, since as followers of the Risen One, we are the people of hope. However, we need you and we need you now more than ever. We need your costly solidarity. We need brave women and men who are willing to stand in the forefront. This is no time for shallow diplomacy Christians. We urge you to hear our call and adopt the following:

1. That you call things as they are: recognize Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law and in agreement of what a person like Desmond Tutu said and as the UN ESCWA report said: “Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.. We are disturbed by the fact that states and churches are dealing with Israel as if the situation were normal, ignoring the reality of occupation, discrimination, and daily death in the land. Just as churches united to end apartheid in South Africa and whereby the WCC played a courageous and pivotal prophetic and leadership role, we expect you to do the same!

2. That you unequivocally condemn the Balfour declaration as unjust, and that you demand from the UK that it asks forgiveness from the Palestinian people and compensates for the losses. We ask that churches and Christians support the Palestinians in their request for justice.

3. That you take the strongest theological stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and privileges one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant. We ask that you adopt and live the theology suggested by Kairos Palestine and that you organize conferences to bring awareness toward this end.

4. That you take a stand against religious extremism and against any attempt to create a religious state in our land or region. We ask that you support us in combating the foundations of extremism and that you seek our council when acting against religious extremism so that you do not jeopardize and harm our standing here.

5. That you revisit and challenge your religious dialogue partners, and that you are willing to even withdraw from the partnership if needed, if the occupation and injustices in Palestine and Israel are not challenged.

6. That you lead campaigns for church leaders and pilgrims to visit Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities on this side of the wall in cooperation with Palestinian tourist and pilgrimage agencies, in response to recent attempts by Israel. We ask that you publicly challenge any attempt by Israel or other Christians that discourage pilgrims from visiting Palestinian places.

7. That you defend our right and duty to resist the occupation creatively and non-violently. We ask that you speak in support of economic measures that pressure Israel to stop the occupation and that you support atheltic, cultural, and academic measures against Israel until it complies with international law and UN resolutions urging the ending of its occupation, apartheid, and discrimination, and accepts refugees to return to their homeland. This is our last peaceful resort. In response to Israel’s war on BDS, we ask that you intensify that measure.

8. That you create lobby groups in defense of Palestinian Christians. We ask that you publicly and legally challenge Christian organizations that discredit our work and legitimacy.

9. We therefore propose as a matter of the greatest urgency that you create a strategic program within WCC similar to the program “To Combat Racism” to lead efforts to lobby, advocate, and develop active programs toward justice and peace in Palestine and Israel and maintain the presence of the Palestinian Christians through supporting their organizations, church work, and peaceful efforts.

As faithful witnesses, we acknowledge, affirm, and continue the long-standing prophetic tradition, especially the one started by the Amman Call and articulated in the Kairos Palestine document. We fully grasp the pressure church leaders are facing here and abroad not to speak the truth, and it is because of this that we are raising this call.

Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. The current status quo is unsustainable. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land. Our only hope as Christians comes from the fact that in Jerusalem, the city of God, and our city, there is an empty tomb, and Jesus Christ who triumphed over death and sin brought to us and to all humanity, new life.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

12 June 2017

Signed By:

Jerusalem
Arab Catholic Scouts Group
Arab Orthodox Society, Jerusalem
Caritas, Jerusalem
Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees—Middle East Council of Churches
Greek Catholic Sayedat AlBishara Association
International Christian Committee
Laity Committee in the Holy Land
National Christian Association
Pontifical Mission Palestine
Sabeel—Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
Seeds of Better life
Union of Arab Orthodox Club, Jerusalem
Young Men’s Christian Association—YMCA
Young Women’s Christian Association—YWCA

 

Gaza
NECC office

 

Bethlehem (NCOB) Network of Christian Organizations in Bethlehem
The East Jerusalem YMCA—Beit Sahour Branch
The Arab Educational Institute
Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem
Wi’am Center, Bethlehem
Saint Afram Assyrian Society
Holy Land Christians Ecumenical Foundation, Bethlehem
Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI)
Arab Orthodox Club, Beit Sahour
Arab Orthodox Club, Beit Jala
Arab Orthodox Club, Bethlehem
The Arab Orthodox Charitable Society, Beit Sahour
Bethlehem Bible College
Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies
Alternative Tourism Group, ATG, Beit Sahour
Senior Citizen Charitable Society
Environmental educational Center, Beit Jala
Saint Vincent Charitable Society, Beit Jala
Shepherds’ Children Society, Beit Sahour
Kairos Palestine

 

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