Citizens of Aleppo take to streets, express joy over expelling terrorism from the city [Photo Collection]

the real Syrian Free Press

 

Citizens of Aleppo took to the streets following the announcement of the Army General command restoration of security and stability to the city after liberating it form terrorism and terrorists.

The citizens marched through the streets, expressing joy over the victory of the Syrian army and its allies on terrorists and expelling them from the city.

Aleppo residents carried flags of the homeland and raised pictures of President Bashar al-Assad, while the mosques called to prayers and the churches tolled their bells.

Earlier, the last batch of terrorists and their families left  neighborhoods of Al-Zibdyah, Ansari and Salah al-Din in East Aleppo.



Residents of the Syrian city of Aleppo have flooded the streets,
celebrating the city’s liberation from mercenary-terrorist gangs.


Hundreds of families return to their homes in Masakin Hanano
(Aleppo city)


SOURCES:
Submitted by SyrianPatriot
War Press Info Network at :
https://syrianfreepress.wordpress.com/2016/12/24/saa-aleppo-liberated/
~

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Sayyed Nasrallah: Aleppo Battle A Major Victory, Daesh Distorted Image of Islam

Zeinab Essa

Hizbullah Secretary General, His Eminence Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, delivered a speech on Friday in which he tackled various regional and internal issues.

Hizbullah Secretary General Hus Eminence Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah


Daesh and Ditortion of Islam

Addressing thousands of Hizbullah university students, Sayyed Nasrallah congratulated the Muslims, Christians and all Lebanese over the blessed birth of the Noble Prophet and his grandson Imam Sadiq [PBUH] and the birth of Jesus Christ.

In parallel, His Eminence extended gratitude to the Resistance fighters on the frontlines in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Gaza and other areas south of the Bekaa.
On another level, he viewed that “Islam has not been subjected to media distortion as has happened in the past few years because of the abuses that are broadcasted to every house within minutes.”

“No distortion has happened over the decades as what has happened by the armed groups, especially ‘Daesh’ [the Arabic Acronym for the terrorist “ISIS”/ “ISIL” group] that raises flags that are sealed with the slogan Messenger of Allah,” Sayyed Nasrallah added.

He also mentioned that the terrorist groups, mainly Daesh, have committed massacres at different levels, displaying hideous means to carry out their crimes. “He who is silent over this abuse is a partner in the distortion of Allah’s religion and His Messenger.”

“Wahhabism does not recognize the birth of Prophet Mohammad. Their scholars went to the extent that they reject and consider all those who celebrate it as atheists,” he said, noting that “this holiday is known for all Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites.”

According to the Hizbullah Secretary General, “Our religion and our prophet Mohammad [PBUH] have been greatly abused in recent years. Takfiris are those who have been abusing our religion and our prophet, because they are committing their crimes in the name of this religion and this prophet. Takfiris’ atrocities are real massacres on the humanitarian and cultural level.”

The Resistance leader also recalled how the Wahhabis bombed celebrations for the Prophet Mohammad and sought to impose their ideology by force of arms. “Those who reject the celebrations of the Holy Prophet will definitely refuse the Christmas celebrations.”

As His Eminence urged all sides to condemn such acts, he emphasized that denouncing these acts should be a daily responsibility for us and we must raise our voices.

“Their crimes, killings, slaughter, burning in cages…and destruction of Islamic, Christian and other religious sites and everything linked to history. It’s a comprehensive massacre,” he cautioned.

In response, Sayyed Nasrallah confirmed that we have a moral, religious and historic responsibility to say a word, write a sentence, express opinions that reject and condemn such crimes. “Those who remain mum are partners in the crimes against this religion [Islam],” he added.”

In a similar context, Sayyed Nasrallah stated that there is a terminology that is much spread in the Western and Arab media i.e. the talk of “Islamic” terrorism, “radical” Islam and “Islamic” terrorist groups. This comes as the media insists on using the “Islamic state” and not Daesh. This has an impact on media and psychological warfare.”

Daesh Criminalities

Meanwhile, His Eminence firmly denounced the heinous act of sending a female child to commit suicide in Syria.

“It is unacceptable to take advantage of little children in suicidal attacks or to carry out killings similar to the burning of the two Turkish soldiers today. The criminals are harming the image of Islam,” he said.

In addition, Sayyed Nasrallah underscored that “that monster appeared after that to say that he had sent his scared little child to God.”

“Everyone and every Muslim in the world should condemn the criminal and barbaric monster who sent a child to carry out a suicide bombing at a police station in Damascus.”

Commenting on Daesh’s attack against the Jordanian police in al-Kark, he wondered if the latest incident does not urge the Jordanian government to be warned and take a firm position in stopping support for terrorists and armed groups who carry the same ideology.

His Eminence also denounced the heinous crime that Daesh recently committed by burning two Turkish soldiers alive. He recalled that the whole wide world knows that Turkey has provided support for Daesh more than any other country in the world.

“Turkish people are invited to take a decisive position regarding Daesh,” he highlighted, pointing out that “the Turkish government does not want its people to acknowledge how it supported Daesh through oil, arms and money and all what Erdogan has offered for terrorists.”

Sayyed Nasrallah went on to say: “Islam doesn’t direct us to do such acts. We should raise [our] voices [against these acts], whether those harmed are our allies or not.”

Aleepo Victory Major Achievement

Regarding the recent victory scored by the Syrian army and its allies in Aleppo, His Eminence highlighted that “what happened in Aleppo in recent months is one of the most brutal battles in Syria for years. The battles in the west of Aleppo included tens of thousands of militants from different parts of the world. It was a daily continuous battle with the aim of overthrowing Aleppo.”

He also described the battles in Syria’s second city as one of the harshest battles the region has seen in years.

“Aleppo’s battle is one of the major defeats of the other camp and it is a victory for the anti-terrorism front and an important military development for our camp. But this does not mean the end of the conflict but rather that the scheme that was seeking to oust the regime has ended,” Sayyed Nasrallah added.

As he unveiled that the support and mobilization provided for the battles in Aleppo cost billions of dollars at the financial and logistical levels, Sayyed Nasrallah said this astonishing support in terms of facilities and capabilities support has surpassed the amount provided by the whole Arab world for the Palestinian people over a period of 60 years.

Meanwhile, His Eminence assured that the Syrian government’s victory in Aleppo could pave the way for a political settlement to the conflict, saying that “We should fortify our success in the field and politically.” He emphasized that this could lead to the end of the conflict in Syria through political means.

He also lashed out at deceptive media reports that he said launched false campaigns about the battle in Aleppo. “Pictures of children and devastation from the July war in Lebanon and “Israeli” aggression against Gaza were claimed to be of children of Aleppo. They further brought pictures from starving children in Yemen claiming that they are in Aleppo.”

In parallel, Sayyed Nasrallah stated that none of the children in Aleppo have died of starvation while thousands of children in Yemen are dying of starvation as the result of the Saudi blockade.

He continued, “all over the last week, civilians went out of the east of Aleppo, as militants fled the city.”

He asked, “Is there a city that either Daesh or al-Nusra Front had entered and emerged victorious, in which they have allowed the civilians or fighters to get out or flee?”

Refuting all claims that the Syrian army or its allies seek to establish demographic changes, His Eminence elaborated that armed groups were behind the demographic changes that happened. “There are no people of other faiths or other political affiliations in the areas that they control.”

He also assured that residents of Aleppo will return as those of Daraya.
He also reminded that both Saudi Arabia and the US sought to block any political solution. Thus, according to His Eminence, what had been scored in Aleppo is a major achievement for the Syrian army and its allies.

“The credit goes to the Syrian leadership, army and people, who took the decision to fight. Syria’s allies offered help but the Syrians are the ones who are creating the future of their country and the entire region,” the Resistance Leader underscored.

Hailing the fact that some countries have become realistic in dealing with the Syrian file, Sayyed Nasrallah stressed that the next stage will be focused on consolidating the victory in the city of Aleppo and its suburbs because the armed groups will seek to target the city and its suburbs.

Proportionality and Open for Dialogue

Moving to the Lebanese internal political front, the Hizbullah Secretary General assured that there exist no hurdles in the way of the Lebanese cabinet’s policy statement.

However, he urged the government not to consider itself as a merely ‘elections government. “The government must shoulder its full responsibilities towards the people at all levels, he said, noting that “it must not use the excuse of being an ‘elections government’ to justify any impotence or negligence.”

Sayyed Nasrallah also refused allegations that this government is controlled by Hizbullah. The Resistance movement only wants to ensure that the new Lebanese government represents people from all walks of life.”

“Some like to claim that this is “Hizbullah’s government” and that Hizbullah wants to seize control of the country and the institutions. These are false claims that some impotent and weak parties hide behind. We do not want to seize control of the country even if all political forces and parties ask us to do so…No one can accept to shoulder the responsibility of a country facing this amount of difficulties,” he said.

Regarding the electoral law, Sayyed Nasrallah reiterated that Hizbullah supports an electoral law based on proportionality.

However, he said that his party is open to dialogue as it understands the concerns of some parties which must be taken into consideration. “We do not back a return to the 1960 electoral law.”

“Our country is entering a state of stability [on the] political and security (levels). We’re awaiting the next parliamentary elections and we must remain alert at the security and political level because the terrorist groups are angry over their defeat. The country’s future hinges on everyone’s cooperation and understanding.”

Sayyed Nasrallah also denounced the stupid and dangerous attempt of the Bahraini regime and its supporters to storm the house of Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassem with what it carries from devastating repercussions.

Source: al-Ahed news

23-12-2016 | 17:47

 

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israeli rabbis launch war on Christmas tree

Shopping for Christmas trees and glitter in Tel Aviv. The shop has been repeatedly heckled for selling these emblems of Christmas. Photo by Ben Sales/JTA

Israeli rabbis launch war on Christmas tree

Jerusalem hotels receive warning letter noting that Jewish religious law forbids Christmas trees and new year’s parties

By Jonathan Cook, his blog and Al Jazeera
December 23, 2016

As tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims converge on the Holy Land this week to celebrate the birth of Jesus, senior Israeli rabbis have announced a war on the Christmas tree.

In Jerusalem, the rabbinate has issued a letter warning dozens of hotels in the city that it is “forbidden” by Jewish religious law to erect a tree or stage new year’s parties.

Many hotel owners have taken the warning to heart, fearful that the rabbis may carry out previous threats to damage their businesses by denying them certificates declaring their premises to be “kosher”.

In the coastal city of Haifa, in northern Israel, the rabbi of Israel’s premier technology university has taken a similarly strict line. Elad Dokow, the Technion’s rabbi, ordered that Jewish students boycott their students’ union, after it installed for the first time a modest Christmas tree.

He called the tree “idolatry”, warning that it was a “pagan” symbol that violated the kosher status of the building, including its food hall.

About a fifth of the Technion’s students belong to Israel’s large Palestinian minority.

Issa Kassissieh, a former professional basketball player, is Jerusalem’s Santa Claus. Photo by Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel

 

While most of Israel’s Palestinian citizens are Muslim, there are some 130,000 Christians, most of them living in Galilee. Other Palestinian Christians live under occupation in East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed in violation of international law.

“This is not about freedom of worship,” Dokow told the Technion’s students. “This is the world’s only Jewish state. And it has a role to be a ‘light unto the nations’ and not to uncritically embrace every idea.”

Rabea Mahajni, a 24-year-old electrical engineering student, said that placing the tree in the union was backed by Palestinian students but had strongly divided opinion among Jewish students and staff. The majority, he said, were against the decision.

“One professor upset [Palestinian] students by taking to Facebook to say that the tree made him uncomfortable, and that those who wanted it should either put one up in their own home or go to Europe,” he told Al Jazeera.

Mahajni added: “This is not really about a Christmas tree. It is about who the tree represents. It is a test of whether Jewish society is willing to accept an Arab minority and our symbols.”

He pointed out that Palestinian students had not objected to the students’ union also marking Hanukkah, referring to the Jewish winter “festival of lights” that this year coincides with Christmas.

Interest in Santa hats

For most of Israel’s history, the festive fir tree was rarely seen outside a handful of communities in Israel with significant Christian populations. But in recent years, the appeal of Christmas celebrations has spread among secular Israeli Jews.

Interest took off two decades ago, after one million Russian-speaking Jews immigrated following the fall of the Soviet Union, said David Bogomolny, a spokesman for Hiddush, which lobbies for religious freedom in Israel.

Many, he told Al Jazeera, had little connection to Jewish religious practice and had adopted local customs in their countries of origin instead.

“The tree [in the former Soviet Union] was very popular but it had nothing to do with Christmas,” he said. “Each home had one as a way to welcome in the new year.”

Nazareth, which claims to host the tallest Christmas tree in the Middle East, has recently become a magnet for many domestic tourists, including Jews, Christians and Muslims. They come to visit the Christmas market, hear carols and buy a Santa hat.


Santa hats are particularly popular at Christmas markets, this one in the Wadi Nisnas neighbourhood of Haifa. Photo by Jorge Novominsky/FLASH90

Haifa and Jaffa, two largely Jewish cities with significant Palestinian Christian populations, have recently started competing. Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv, staged its first Christmas market last year.

Meanwhile, hotels are keen to erect a tree in their lobbies as a way to boost tourism revenue from Christian pilgrims, who comprise the bulk of overseas visitors.

‘No danger’ to Judaism

But the growing popularity of Christmas has upset many Orthodox rabbis, who have significant powers over public space. Bogomolny said that some rabbis were driven by a desire to make the state “as Jewish as possible” to avert it losing its identity.

Others may fear that the proliferation of Christmas trees could lure Israeli Jews towards Christianity.

Wadie Abu Nassar, a spokesman for the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, said that he had noticed an increasing interest from Israeli Jews in Christian festivals, including in some cases requests to attend Christmas mass.

He told Al Jazeera this was not a threat to Judaism, but healthy curiosity. “If we want to live together in peace, we have to understand each other and learn to trust,” he said.

Tree-free Knesset


A Christmas tree in Jerusalem. The chief rabbis’ request appears to contradict guidelines issued by the Chief Rabbinate in 2015, stating that the kashrut certification of hotels could not be revoked based on music, photography, or the displaying of Christmas trees. The guidelines were implemented in response to a petition by Israeli NGO Hiddush*- For Religious Freedom and Equality, demanding that that the existing regulations be changed. Caption from jp updates, Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90

The controversial status of Christmas in Israel was underscored four years ago when Yair Netanyahu, the 21-year-old son of Israel’s prime minister, caused a minor scandal by being photographed wearing a Santa hat next to a Christmas tree.

The office of Benjamin Netanyahu hurriedly issued a statement saying that Yair had posed as a joke while attending a party hosted by “Christian Zionists who love Israel, and whose children served in the [Israeli army]”.

Two years earlier, Shimon Gapso, the mayor of Upper Nazareth, originally founded for Jews on Nazareth’s land, banned all signs of Christmas in the city’s public places. He has been a vociferous opponent of an influx of Christians from overcrowded Nazareth.

The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, has also been declared a Christmas tree-free zone.

In 2013, its speaker rejected a request from Hanna Swaid, then a Palestinian Christian legislator, to erect a tree in the building. Yuli Edelstein said it would evoke “painful memories” of Jewish persecution in Europe and chip away at the state’s Jewish character.

Attack on religious freedoms

Swaid pointed to the prominence of Jewish symbols in public spaces in the United States, including an annual Hanukkah party at the White House, during which the president lights menorah candles.

“Israeli leaders expect the US to be religiously inclusive, but then they refuse to practise the same at home,” he told Al Jazeera.

He also noted that the religious freedoms of the Palestinian minority were under ever greater attack, most notably with the recent drafting of a so-called “muezzin bill”, which would crack down on mosques’ use of loudspeakers for the call to prayer.

“Given this hostile political climate, the battle to gain legitimacy for our religious symbols becomes all the more important,” he said. “Otherwise we face a dark future.”

Threat to kosher status

Nonetheless, there has been a backlash, especially from secular Jews, against the rigid control exercised by Orthodox rabbis.

Haifa’s mayor, Yona Yahav, overruled the city’s rabbi in 2012 when he tried to ban Christmas trees and new year’s parties. The Jewish new year occurs several months before the Christian one.

And last year, in the face of a legal challenge from Hiddush, the chief rabbinate backed down on threats to revoke the kosher status of businesses that celebrate Christmas.

But while the ban on Christmas trees has been formally lifted, in practice it is still widely enforced, according to Bogomolny.

“The problem is that the chief rabbinate actually has no authority over city rabbis, who can disregard its rulings, as we have seen with the letter issued by the Jerusalem rabbis,” he said.

Most hotels wanted to ignore the prohibition on Christmas trees because it was bad for business, but feared being punished.
“It is a problem throughout the country,” he said. “The hotels are afraid to take a stand. If they try to fight it through the courts, it will be costly and could take years to get a ruling.”

One hotel manager in West Jerusalem to whom Al Jazeera spoke on condition of anonymity said he feared “retaliation” from the rabbis.
“The letter was clearly intended to intimidate us,” he said. “The Christian tourists are here to celebrate Christmas and we want to help them do it, but not if it costs us our certificate.”

Christmas Memo to PM Theresa May, “Stop worshipping israel”

Stop worshipping Israel, learn the ugly truth … and find a new speechwriter!

By Stuart Littlewood | Dissident Voice | December 22, 2016

Prime Minister,

This is still a Christian country, as your colleague David Cameron reminded us not so long ago. But you wouldn’t think so when non-Christian creeds are given exceptional protection and privileges to smooth their ruffled feathers. Your government is even introducing new laws to stifle questions about Israel’s legitimacy and quash criticism of its criminal policies. We have entered a sinister era of censorship and harassment as the gulf between government and public widens.

In an excruciating speech to a Conservative Friends of Israel lunch earlier this month, you told 800 guests that the British government will be marking the centenary of the infamous Balfour Declaration next year “with pride”. Yet that ill-conceived letter by the British foreign secretary caused a running sore in the Middle East that has lasted a hundred years. And Britain’s failure to make amends continues to endanger the whole region and cause grief for millions.

You said some astonishing things too about Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine. For example, Britain stands “very firmly” for a two-state solution and the two sides must “sit down together, without preconditions, and work towards that lasting solution”. It is plain to nearly everyone that this futile and lopsided mantra is a ploy designed to buy Israel all the time it needs to establish enough irreversible ‘facts on the ground’ to ensure permanent annexation. But like all leaders before, you go along with it, And you’re careful not to mention that international law has already spoken and it’s high time for enforcement – or sanctions.

There seems little comprehension among you and your colleagues of the consequences for the Middle East, and indeed the whole world, if Israel is allowed to achieve its ambition to expand its borders to the Nile and the Euphrates.

You even praise Israel for being “a thriving democracy, a beacon of tolerance”, when it is obviously neither. Maybe an ethnocracy, or a theocracy, but certainly no liberal democracy. As for your remark that it is only when you walk through Jerusalem or Tel Aviv that you see a country where people of all religions “are free and equal in the eyes of the law” and “Israel guarantees the rights of people of all religions, races and sexualities, and it wants to enable everyone to flourish”, have you ever walked through East Jerusalem?

What really offends me, though, is your belief that our two countries share “common values”. That’s straight out of Tel Aviv’s hasbara instruction manual. And it is deeply insulting to anyone who lives by Christian values, which are alien to the Israeli regime given its crimes against humanity and cruelty to the indigenous people it terrorises. I don’t suppose too many British people feel they have much in common with a criminal foreign power that tortures children.

However, the speech did provide mild amusement when you unwisely attacked the successful BDS campaign – that’s boycott, divestment and sanctions – calling it wrong and unacceptable and warning that your government would “have no truck with those who subscribe to it”.  Two hundred legal scholars and practising lawyers from 15 European countries promptly slapped you down in a statement that BDS is a lawful exercise of freedom of expression and outlawing it undermines a basic human right.  One expert pointed out that advocating for BDS is part of the fundamental freedoms protected by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Another said BDS is civil society’s response to the international community’s irresponsible failure to act. Repressing it amounts to support for Israel’s violations of international law and a failure to honour the solemn pledge by states to ‘strictly respect the aims and principles of the Charter of the United Nations’.

Of course, if your Israeli friends don’t like BDS, they only have to comply with international law like everyone else, get back behind Israel’s internationally recognised borders and leave the Palestinians alone.

Just think for a moment about the shredded remnants of Palestine, the endless misery in Gaza and the obscene 8-metre wall with gun towers imprisoning Bethlehem and its Christian community – all courtesy of Israel. Remember that in their 2014 blitz on Gaza Israel killed more than 500 children, injured 3,374, left more than 1,500 orphaned and 373,000 in need of psycho-social support.

There are 1.75 million people, including about 800,000 children under 15, packed into the tiny Gaza enclave with no escape. They have suffered horribly under Israeli blockade – a collective punishment which as you know is considered a war crime – for nearly 10 years. And your own ministers report that 90% of Gaza’s water is not fit even for agricultural use.  The puzzle is why your government would have any truck with anyone who subscribes to an Israel fan club.

According to Wiki, you are the daughter of an Anglican priest and a regular churchgoer. The Holy Land is the well-spring of your religion, is it not? I wonder what the Good Lord, looking down on the hell-hole Balfour created and Western politicians have perpetuated, thinks of your performance this Christmas.


Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine can now be read on the internet by visiting radiofreepalestine.org.uk.

Merry Christmas And Happy New Year

Dear brothers and sisters…a lot of mess ahead…stay strong and truth will prevail…

Genius card by Enzo Apicella 

Genius card by Enzo Apicella

‘Tis the Season: Attacks on Christmas and Christianity from the ‘Usual Suspects’

By Richard Edmondson

In the video above, Fox News commentator Todd Starnes discusses the cancellation of a performance of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, that was to have been staged at a school in Pennsylvania; a prohibition against children singing at a nativity scene in North Carolina; and the removal of a Charlie Brown-themed Christmas decoration from a school in Texas.

The commentary is good as far as it goes, and the book Starnes is promoting might be a worthwhile read, but as is often the case with Fox News, the report stops short of identifying the exact nature of the fault lines in America. For instance, is this simply a dispute between Christians, on the one hand, and “godless grinches” or “secular humanists,” on the other?

Or would it be more accurate to describe it as a cultural war–or maybe even a “cultural jihad,” as Starnes characterizes it–being waged by Jews (or some Jews, to be more precise) against Christians?

Aside from the incidents discussed by Starnes above, there have been at least four attacks upon Christianity published in the mainstream media just since the beginning of December. These include an article entitled, “Virgin Mary, Career-Killer,” published at the Daily Beast; “Our Culture of Purity Celebrates the Virgin Mary. As a Rape Victim, that Hurts Me,” published by the Washington Post; “Judaism Brings God into the Home in a Way that Christianity Rarely Does,” posted at The Guardian; and “I Baptized My Kid, But I Kind of Regret It,” which can be viewed at Redbook Magazine.

Perhaps oddly, a lot of these articles are written by Christians, including, in two cases, by those who hold positions as pastors. It seems self-evident, but perhaps it needs to be pointed out: wherever there are attention-seeking Christians hoping to make a name for themselves by offering “criticisms” of their own faith, you will likely find Jewish media owners, or editors employed by them, only too happy to oblige by affording them airtime or print space to do so.

This is not to say that criticisms of religion, including Christianity, should be shut down. There are plenty of Christian leaders, for instance, including Pope Francis (who is universally praised by the mainstream media, though that in and of itself should tell us something) who more than merit criticism. But with so much wrong in the world today, including wars and occupations and the politicians and media outlets who endlessly lie about them, how becoming or seemly is it for Christians to grandstand and publish articles disparaging their own church’s teachings?

What I would like to do here is offer a brief summary and commentary on each of the four articles named above, starting in reverse order with the piece published at Redbook. Entitled “I Baptized My Kid, But I Kind of Regret It,” the article is written by Megan Angelo, who professes to be a Catholic and who agonizes at length on the recent baptism of her son, Rocco, and whether or not it was a good idea.

Entirely shallow and vacuous, the piece itemizes poor Megan’s complaints about the Catholic Church–its “archaic” teachings on divorce, the “rejection of anyone who isn’t straight,” “condescension to women,” and “dogged, exhausting fixation on abortion”–while making no mention whatsoever of Jesus or his teachings.

Though it was against her better judgement, Megan went through with little Rocco’s baptism anyway, even though, as she describes, “it made my heart pound with irritation when, during our prep class, the deacon took a shot at the Jews for ‘letting their children choose the faith as young adults’ rather than locking salvation down at the infant stage.” (Doubtless the scandalous deacon she mentions deserves excommunication from the church and should be fired for his display of rabid anti-Semitism). Of her final decision to go ahead with the baptism she writes:

Why did I do it? I know what you’re thinking: the grandparents. Isn’t that why everyone does it? My parents and in-laws are Catholic; yes, they would have been surprised if we decided not to baptize our sons.

But the bottom line is that little Rocco was sprinkled–certainly a more horrendous and gruesome fate than being circumcised!

We are also treated to some memories by Megan. She recalls the “nice coats” her own mother made her wear to church when she was small, but which she herself  “hated”–and she also discusses her Catholic elementary school, where time was set aside each day for religion, though Megan is convinced this was for no other reason that to “remind you, firmly, that it is your job to be nice to people”–and of course what a frivolous, self-indulgent pursuit that must have been.

Perhaps inevitably Megan also criticizes “the century-sized pile of sexual abuse that kicked the moral high ground right out from under the Church,” but it appears she has nothing to say about about the arrests of numerous rabbis on child sex abuse charges or the child sex scandal that engulfed Yeshiva University High School for Boys in New York in 2012. Of course her focus is on Catholicism, not Judaism. But accusing one of these faiths of a “century-sized pile of sexual abuse” while omitting any mention of the other tends to plant the idea in readers’ minds that Jewish religious leaders are free of sin and that only Catholic priests have ever displayed proclivities of this sort–which is not the case by any means.

But of course criticism of Judaism or sensationalized reports on pedophile rabbis is something you will see precious little of in the mainstream media. The only religion that gets rapped, panned or swiped at on a regular basis is Christianity. When it comes to Juadism, a different standard applies–which brings me to the next article.

On December 15, The Guardian published “Judaism Brings God into the Home in a Way that Christianity Rarely Does,” which basically offers a comparative analysis between Christianity and Judaism, and of course, not surprisingly, Judaism comes out on top. Not to harp too much on the point I made above, but can you imagine–in any mainstream media outlet, whether it be in Britain or America–an article entitled: “Christianity Brings God into the Home in a Way that Judaism Rarely Does”? I think I can state with a fair degree of confidence you will not find such a view offered up by any of the “usual suspects” whose editorial policies are notorious for trampling opposing viewpoints on a whole host of issues.

Now the astounding thing about The Guardian piece is that it was authored by a Christian pastor! Specifically he is a priest with the Church of England, Giles Fraser, currently serving as parish priest at St. Mary’s in London’s Newington area. In his piece for the Guardian Fraser confides that he is writing “under the bedcovers, metaphorically speaking,” and goes on to share:

I’m supposed to be on paternity leave but don’t like the idea of not doing this column, so I’m working in a few snatched moments between nappy changes and feeds. Nonetheless I’m keeping my promise to stay at home and so am taking a break from all the activity of the church in the run-up to Christmas.

Fraser doesn’t specify who the “nappy changes” are for–himself or the baby–though one presumes the latter. But he does inform us that “my mother-in-law is over from Tel Aviv,” which apparently means he is married to a Jewish woman, and he goes on to add that “sociologists of religion” have concluded that “many of the great liturgies and festivals of Judaism centre on the home in a way that they do not with catholic Christianity” (catholic spelled with a lower-case “c” since he is using the word in its more generic meaning of “universal”). Christmas, Fraser somewhat grudgingly allows, may be “the only possible exception” to this.

The main thrust of the article is that while Jews perform a number of religious rites in their homes (Passover seders, mezuzahs on the doorpost, etc.), Christian religious rites, such as baptism and Eucharist, are administered mainly in church. Of course Christians say prayers at mealtimes, but Fraser confides that in his own home this occurs “very occasionally” and usually only “when we have the bishop round for supper.”

Christianity once maintained “a firm distinction between the sacred and profane,” and this, our devout priest says, may account for the emphasis on church, though he also argues that the distinction became less important with the Protestant Reformation and the “rejection of the idea that the church is the middleman between human beings and God.” It is an argument slightly at cross purposes with itself, but in any event, Fraser announces happily he’s “going to enjoy a guilt-free paternity leave, messing around with my son, eating my mother-in-law’s borscht and lighting our candles.”

“My Jewish relatives,” he adds in closing, “are all secular Israelis – yet it is they, not I, who have introduced religious liturgies into our house. And I thank them for bringing God home. Happy Chrismukah.”

Another clergy member to take a potshot at the faith is Ruth Everhart, pastor of a Presbyterian church in Bethesda, Maryland. Her article in the Washington Post was published December 16 under the headline, “Our culture of purity celebrates the Virgin Mary. As a rape victim, that hurts me.”

Everhart may be stretching things when she describes America as having a “culture of purity” about it, but in any event she relates that at the age of 20, during her senior year in college, she and her housemates were victims of a home invasion in which they were raped repeatedly at gunpoint by a gang of intruders. The experience left her traumatized as well as “bound up in a sense of sexual shame.”

This is certainly not to minimize Everhart’s suffering–what she went through at the time of the rape, as well as afterward–but she seems to feel that the Virgin Mary, at least in part, bears some responsibility for what happened. Or as she puts it, “I’m not blaming my sense of ruin on the Virgin Mary, not entirely.”

She goes on to add:

Protestants do not claim Mary in the way Catholics do, but every Advent I feel a sense of kinship. I know what it’s like to be a good girl whose life got upended by what someone did to her body. Of course, her story plot was good and mine was bad. Plus she was, well, a saint. And I’m not.

Still, I study her this time of the year — always dressed in blue with downcast eyes — and want to ask: “How was it really? And how do you feel about what the patriarchy has done with you?”

I myself am kind of neutral on the subject of patriarchy. It’s neither inherently good nor inherently bad. But to get on with the story, more than a decade after the rape, Everhart became a church pastor because she “had to face down the demons,” and to do that she had to “live inside church culture.”

One might almost get the impression it was a gang of Christians who raped Everhart, though I doubt that is what the author was intending to imply.

She does make a valid point, however–that women have been sexualized in our society, and that while having a body is a gift from God, “if you’re a woman, it’s a complicated gift.” Christianity, through the teachings of Jesus, offers forgiveness for sins, real sins as well as imagined sins–and when I say imagined sins I am referring to those tormented souls who imagine themselves guilty of things they in reality were not responsible for. While Everhart speaks of the “redemption” she found in the gospel message, she doesn’t seem entirely conscious of this latter point, although maybe it’s told of in her book.

And yes, perhaps not surprisingly, Everhart has a book out! It is entitled Ruined. The book description, available here, opens with the following line, apparently a quote from inside: “It happened on a Sunday night, even though I’d been a good girl and gone to church that morning.”

So is Everhart blaming Christianity and the Church–or praising them? It seems perhaps a little of both. On the one hand, God didn’t stop the rape. But on the other there was the redemption gained in the years afterwards.

And as for the mother of Jesus, Everhart feels that while Mary’s story potentially, under different circumstances and if society were different, “could liberate us,” for the most part the saga of the virgin birth, she believes, has served “to oppress women.”

The Virgin Mary also takes a kicking in an article published at The Daily Beast on December 17 under the headline, “Virgin Mary, Career Killer.” And underneath that main head there is also a subhead which reads: “Questioning the birth story central to Christianity has been taking down scholars and skeptics for just about 2,016 years.” This is a rather amazing claim, especially when you consider that the only two examples the writer cites of  this are an incident from the fourth century and a later one that occurred in the sixteenth century. The writer seems oblivious to the fact that people are far more likely to have their careers destroyed these days from criticizing Israel than the mother of Christ.

The piece is written by Candida Moss, who identifies herself as an instructor at the University of Notre Dame–presumably of religious studies, for she also tells us that “almost every atheist I meet,” upon learning of her teaching position, “will make a crack about Mary’s sexual history.” This would tend to contradict the assertion in the subhead that vast numbers of scholars are “taken down” by voicing skepticism of the virgin birth. How, after all, can people make “cracks” of this nature so freely and openly without suffering repercussions?

Indeed, Moss goes on to assert that of all Christian doctrines, none is “as closely protected or as broadly scorned” as the virgin birth. And she also relates the story from the Talmud that Mary was a whore and that Jesus’ biological father was a Roman soldier, commenting, “The implication here is that Mary was a collaborator who got knocked up by a hated occupier and decided to concoct a story in which Jesus was the product of a sexless encounter with God.”

But she then goes on to concede that while “conspiracy theorists may love it” (i.e. the story that Jesus was the bastard offspring of a Roman), there is in reality no historical evidence to back it up. Still, though, “of all the miracles recorded in the New Testament, the virgin birth of Jesus garners the most cynical attention.”

And finally, in a rickety stab a humor, Moss imparts in closing that when it “comes to Christian theology, as it does with yo’ mamma, Mary is both the most criticized and the most defended.”

Recap

So to recap, what we have are a series of snide put-downs of Christianity in the media, combined with attempts at blocking children from learning or being formally taught anything about the true meaning of Christmas, or indeed of any acknowledgement of Christmas in any public education setting at all, in different regions of the country. The cancellation of the play at the school in Pennsylvania, mentioned by Starnes, is perhaps especially instructional.

In a tradition stretching back some 40 years, the 5th grade class at Centerville Elementary School in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has staged annual productions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” But this year the play was cancelled by the school’s principle, reportedly at the insistence of a group of parents who have yet to be identified.

In a report on the decision here, Lancaster County is described as a conservative area with a “rich history of religious liberty,” and understandably many families are upset at the cancellation.

“It seems like people are trying to take away our traditions left and right,” said local attorney Randy Wenger. “We need to do something to push back.”

There is disagreement on the number of parents who complained about the play. Residents who have voiced outspoken opposition to its cancellation say the objections were from two parents only. The school’s principal disputes that, but is vague on the exact number. You can read his full statement on the matter here.

The principal of Centerville Elementary School is Tom Kramer. According to his Linked In profile, he has served as principal of the school only since July of this year.

“In addition to focusing on high quality instruction, our decision is rooted in the desire to be respectful of the many cultural and religious backgrounds represented by the students attending Centerville Elementary,” he says in his statement.

Kramer adds that normally the play requires 15-20 hours to prepare for, and that this takes too much time from classroom instruction–even though the tradition has been going on for 40 years.

“I was very surprised because it’s going on for decades and it’s a tradition at the school that everyone looks forward to,” said local resident Jane Burkhart.

Centerville Elementary is part of the Hempfield School District. A report by WHTM, a local ABC affiliate, includes comments from Shannon Zimmerman, a school district official, who claims that students were “required” to participate in the play, and that “we can’t allow that to continue.”

Is Zimmerman suggesting that students who may have wished to opt out of participating in the play for religious reasons were not permitted to do so? In a town with a “rich history of religious liberty” I find this difficult to believe. At any rate, rather than being “required” to participate, the students at the school, it seems, are now required not to participate.

In his statement released to the media, Kramer professes that “alternate solutions” for the play were explored, including the possibility of having rehearsals after school hours, but that so far neither parents nor other community members have “stepped forward” as volunteers to handle the responsibility–but of course these are working people. They are not hedge fund managers. They have regular jobs they have to go to, some of them probably holding down more than one.

It is amazing that a small number of people, a very tiny percentage of the population, are able to prohibit practically all official public expressions of religious beliefs, even though these religious beliefs are held by the majority–but that is the situation we have in America. And it is a state of affairs that doesn’t sit well with growing numbers of people–or at least that seems to be the case in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Most of the above was reported between December 15-17, but now the situation there seems to be evolving even further. According to a report here, published on December 22, a Jewish family has left the county out of fear for their safety, this after reader comments about the cancellation were posted on website.

The debunker website Snopes has also weighed in on the issue, attempting to make the case that the cancellation of the play was not an act of censorship, nor did it have anything to do with complaints about the play’s Christmas theme, and that it was all due to concern over taking away too much time from the classroom. The writer of the piece, however, seems to have been a little careless, referring to the school’s principal as “Kramer” in some parts of her article, and as “Kessler” at other points.

Despite all the attacks, Christmas–and the Christian faith–will survive, just as they have survived the last 2000 years. My guess, in fact, is that the faith will emerge even stronger–the cycle will swing back the other way–to the detriment of those now launching these attacks. After all, the more you attack something, the more your motives and your credibility are called into question. This is something we have seen with media attempts to demonize Russia, and I suspect the same will ultimately hold true for attempts to tear down Christianity.

O Come All Ye Faithful

“Come and behold Him born the King of angels;
O come let us adore Him Christ the Lord”

Former opposition militants in Syria vow to help rebuild Damascus

The recently liberated city of Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, has erupted into euphoria on the cusp of Christmas Day.

The video shows Christians and Muslims celebrate as a Christmas Tree is lit up. It demonstrates the symbolism on the defeat of radical Islamist forces in the city.

Amongst the crowd, flags of the Syrian Arab Republic, the Russian Federation, and Hezbollah can be seen. This was complimented with a band playing music.

Occupied Palestine: Hundreds of Children Participate in ‘Bethlehem Heart of Christmas’

bethchild1

Christians in US, Occupied Palestine, Hold Joint Worship Service

[ Ed. note – It’s always nice to see Christians in America reaching out to their Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine. That’s what took place today as the Washington National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem held a live-stream simulcast. The “Bethlehem Prayer Service,” as it was called, began at 5 p.m. Bethlehem time and at 10 a.m. Washington time.

Meanwhile, as you’ll see from the article below, hundreds of children, both Christians and Muslims, have been bussed into Bethlehem from all over Palestine to visit the city’s renowned holy sites. Their activities have included visits to Manger Square as well as the Church of the Nativity. ]

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Hundreds of Children Arrive in Bethlehem for ‘Bethlehem Heart of Christmas

IMEMC

On Friday, December 16th, 350 children from around Palestine visited Bethlehem’s holy sites to learn first-hand about Palestine’s living Christian heritage. The event was part of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s 12th Annual “Journey to Bethlehem.” For the majority of these children, this represents the first time they have ever set foot in these holy places. Children came from schools and orphanages around Zababdeh, Jenin, Tulkarem, Jericho, and Birzeit.

During their journey, the children received educational tours of Shepherds Field, the Church of the Nativity, the Milk Grotto, and Bethlehem Museum, where they learned about the role that everyday Palestinians have played in preserving Christianity in the Holy Land. After visiting the sites, the children reflected on their favorite things:

“We loved visiting the Church of the Nativity! We saw the priests give mass for the first time ever. It was really cool!” – Alisa, 8 years, Jericho

“We enjoyed the museum, especially seeing the solidarity cross because the word ‘peace’ was written on it. We hope that there will be peace for us soon.” – Dala, 8 years, Jericho

“I loved the Christmas tree because its was so beautiful! I loved seeing Bethlehem!” – Hala, 12 years, Jenin

“Today I learned a lot, that we should love each other and pray for others.” – Zaed, 9 years, Birzeit

After their tour, the children joined in with local families to participate in a Christmas celebration at Catholic Action Community Center, where they enjoyed face painting, games, and treats followed by an interactive Christmas play. After receiving a gift from Santa, the group of 400 strong processed down Star Street to Manger Square—down the very path that Christians believe the Holy Family took over 2000 years ago! The procession was met with fanfare, as community members lined the streets, enjoying the singing and laughter of the children.

According to organizers, the procession commemorates Jesus’ call to “follow the children, ” and serves as an important reminder to the community that our children are our future, and that it is our responsibility to educate them about their history, heritage and identity.

The event was sponsored by World Vision International, Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, Caritas Jerusalem, and by individuals from around the world who donated through HCEF’s 2016 Giving Tuesday campaign.

The Regional Director of Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Anthony Habash, said the procession carried the message of peace and hope to the entire world, and delivers a message that the children of Palestine, just like all other children, deserve to live in dignity, justice and peace.

Palestinians light the second Christmas Tree in Occupied Jerusalem

 He added that the children in this procession, who came from different parts of the West Bank, are Christians and Muslims, and delivered a message or brotherhood and peace, the message of Christmas in the holy city of Bethlehem.

Habash expressed his hope that such activities will build help break in restrictions and barriers imposed by the Israeli occupation army in Palestine.

For his part, Kayed Boulos, vice-president of Terra Sancta School in Jericho, said he came to Bethlehem in a procession of peace, to introduce the children to the birthplace of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, and to introduce them to its historic and religious importance.

Samer Sharqawi, the head of Ta’ayush grassroots movement, said the visit and this activity aims at introducing the children of Palestine to Bethlehem, and its significance.

Sharqawi added that Palestine is the land of coexistence and dialogue, and sets an historic example of love and brotherhood, and that the children, who came from Tulkarem, Jenin, Jericho, Nablus and Bethlehem, got this great opportunity to learn about Bethlehem, and to learn about all holy sites in their homeland.

Sister Mariam Ba’abish of the Rosemary School said there are many children who do not know the importance of all holy sites in Palestine, and that this activity was a great opportunity for them to meet and learn.

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[ Ed. note – Below is a video of the joint worship service live-streamed earlier today. You can click here for a program guide in PDF format. The service includes music as well as prayers, readings, and scriptural lessons in both English and Arabic. I strongly urge you to access the program guide as it provides English translations to the Arabic portions of the service. All in all a very wonderful and uplifting service.

Another thing worth mentioning is that this is a service that has been held on an annual basis for several years now:

In 2006, a group gathered in concern for the deteriorating situation in Palestine and Israel. It was a few months before Christmas, and thoughts turned to Bethlehem and the present-day wall around the city. What if the Christmas events took place today? Would Mary and Joseph be able to cross into Bethlehem on their journey from Nazareth? The 30-foot wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem would block the way. Perhaps Mary would give birth while waiting to cross through a checkpoint, as happens for some Palestinian women today on their way to the hospital. Recognizing that most Americans do not know about the realities of Palestinian life, the Ad Hoc Committee for Bethlehem was formed to raise awareness.

This committee then sponsored events to lift up the need for justice and peace in Bethlehem and throughout the land, and to remind the faithful of the calling to be peacemakers. This service is an outcome of their work.

Today, a concrete wall not only separates the West Bank from Israel: it cuts through Palestinian land, separating farmers from fields and effectively annexing their land. Israeli roads and settlements in the region further segment Palestinian communities. Many Palestinians who have the means have left the Holy Land in search of a better life elsewhere. The Christian population of Bethlehem has declined from a majority several decades ago to about fifteen percent today. The presence of Christians throughout the Holy Land has dwindled to less than two percent.

The current situation in Bethlehem is of concern to Christians around the world who seek to follow the Prince of Peace in building bridges that connect rather than walls that divide. Today we turn our hearts to the one God who loves all equally, and pray that a new day will dawn for us, for Palestinians, and for Israelis.

It’s kind of surprising to see a statement like the above coming from a cathedral in the heart of Washington, but indeed such is the case. The Washington National Cathedral, formally known as The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, is an Episcopal cathedral. Let’s wish them well in their continued solidarity with the Christians of Palestine. ]

Christmas Tree Lighting in Bethlehem–Ceremony Attended by Thousands

‘Western Laws Now Clash with Moral Nature of Man,’ says Russian Religious Leader

“In the countries that declare their commitment to freedom of speech, you can get punished for expressing your opinion…”

[ Ed. note – A fascinating interview with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. You will likely find interesting his thoughts about how Western laws, in some cases, run against the internal “moral nature” of human beings, this with regard to normalizing things like transgenderism and gay marriage. But what I especially found intriguing are his comments about the persecution of Christians in Russia during the Soviet era, and of how that compares with attacks upon Christianity and the Christian faith in a number of Western countries today. What he perhaps hints at, though falls short of explicitly saying, is that there are a number of similarities, particularly in terms of who, or what group of people, have been behind it. As he puts it:

It seems as if political correctness is meant to limit Christians’ freedom to practice their faith. For example, why should we use ‘X-mas’ instead of ‘Christmas’? The answer we got to this question is that we shouldn’t hurt the feelings of non-Christians. So we asked Muslims if they were offended by the word ‘Christmas’, and they said “no.” We asked if they were offended by decorated Christmas trees in the streets, and they said “no.” So if Muslims are okay with that, whose feelings are we hurting here?

Yesterday was Patriarch Kirill’s 70th birthday. He is a Christian leader of enormous stature. Sadly, we don’t have anyone in the West who comes even close.]

RT

In an exclusive interview with RT, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, shared his ideas on the difficult situations of Christians in the Middle East, the US presidential election, and European multiculturalism.

RT: Your Holiness, first of all, let me congratulate you on your upcoming birthday. Thank you for taking the time to discuss these important –even global ­–issues with us. Let us talk about Christian affairs outside of Russia – specifically, about the Middle East and Northern Africa. As everyone knows, the dramatic events associated with the armed conflicts raging in the Middle East, especially in Syria, pose a threat not only to government leaders, individuals, secular regimes, etc., but to the Christian faith itself.Several months ago, you had a historic meeting with Pope Francis, during which you called upon the international community to stop the extermination and expulsion of Christians from these regions. Do you believe that enough is being done to stop this? Have you noticed any improvement since the time you made that statement? Or do you believe the situation has deteriorated?

Patriarch Kirill: I have on many occasions been forced to raise my voice – on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church – in defense of those whom I would call the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. Of all the minorities in the region, it is Christians who have been suffering the most. The statistics show an appalling dynamic: there used to be 1.5 million Christians in Iraq – now there is less than 150,000. There used to be half-a-million Christians in Syria, and now they have vanished without a trace, whether they were killed or fled the country. But the Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity, and of Christian culture. Which is why killing Christians or driving them out of the region isn’t just a crime against religion and against human rights and freedoms: it is a civilizational disaster. Because once Christian communities vanish from those countries, life there will change in every respect. Prior to the current crisis, the governments in those countries, including secular governments, had to reckon with the presence of Christians and devise their policies in a way that would ensure some kind of sectarian balance. Now there’s no need to maintain a balance. And who knows what may happen to the remaining Christian population in those countries.

So you could say our meeting with the Pope was centered on our shared concerns regarding the situation in the Middle East. We were genuinely concerned, and we were both convinced that decisive action must be taken to save the Christians in those countries. Not only Christians, of course – it is important to end bloodshed as such, and I want to make it clear that we care for all those who are suffering. But while Islamic communities are not about to go extinct in those countries, Christians actually are.

So our joint declaration included a statement to this effect. Unfortunately, the subsequent developments have not brought about a political solution for this issue, although we now coordinate our Middle East efforts more extensively with the Pope. We know that the expulsion of Christians continues in those countries, among other things, and that civilians in general suffer because of what’s going on in Syria and Iraq.

It is perfectly clear that, if the nations currently engaged in the interventions in Syria and Iraq are truly committed to eradicating terrorism, and if that stated objective is their only true goal and there’s no hidden agenda, then it shouldn’t be a problem for us to join efforts and work together. After all, what is ISIS [Islamic State, formerly ISIL]? We once defeated the Nazi powers through collective efforts, and they had half of Europe enslaved. So it seems to me it should be fairly easy to do away with ISIS, and thereby resolve the refugee crisis and all the other disasters and tragedies that are rooted in this conflict. But we are not seeing that happen. So all that is left to us as Christians is to pray and, of course, work together with everyone, so that all the nations involved realize that collaboration is instrumental. We keep hearing that the coalition has its own approach, and Russia has a different stance. Well, now is the time when we can’t have two conflicting positions any longer; we need to align ourselves with each other.

That’s why I was glad to hear what US President-elect Mr. Trump said in this regard. He clearly underlined the necessity to tackle Islamist radicalism and terrorism. Hopefully that’s the objective we will move towards, in terms of Russia-US relations as well. Terrorism poses a real threat for the entire world, including Russia, the Middle East, Western Europe, and the US, which was hit hard in the early 21st century. It’s high time we pool ideas, join forces and co-operate to solve this problem that many countries and peoples are facing.

RT: We’ll get back to Western politicians in a minute, but let’s talk about Donald Trump. You said you hoped that his administration would be able to make progress with this problem. However, quite a few people believe Donald Trump is a bigot. He’s a controversial figure in the US and the world, let’s put it that way. So do you believe that once he assumes office that US-Russia relations will get better and we’ll be able move forward and resolve the situation in the Middle East, like you said? 

PK: Based on what Mr. Trump said in the course of the election campaign, we can see that he does have the intention to establish a dialogue with Russia, including first and foremost when it comes to combating terrorism. That’s good; it opens up new opportunities for cooperation, which is what I hope we’re going to have in Russia-US relations in order to tackle this. I can’t really say anything about Mr. Trump beyond that. I don’t know him personally, and I don’t know much about his life, so I can only judge based on his statements, which were in stark contrast to other politicians’ stances. There was no hope in what others were saying, while Mr. Trump’s words give us hope. It’s very important for leaders of key global powers to instill hope for a better future with their policies.

RT: About that contrast between Trump’s statements and other Western leaders’ statements. Many say that Trump doesn’t hesitate to openly speak his mind and call a spade a spade. You’ve spoken on many occasions about the persecution of Christians in this region, but Western politicians shy away from the subject. The reason could be that they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or maybe it’s because of the Muslim communities in their countries or political correctness in general. Why do you think it’s not a widely discussed issue in the West? There is political correctness in Russia, too – take the legislation concerning insulting religious feelings – but to what extent do you think it prevents Western politicians from speaking about this freely?

PK: Of course, it’s in the way. It seems as if political correctness is meant to limit Christians’ freedom to practice their faith. For example, why should we use ‘X-mas’ instead of ‘Christmas’? The answer we got to this question is that we shouldn’t hurt the feelings of non-Christians. So we asked Muslims if they were offended by the word ‘Christmas’, and they said “no.” We asked if they were offended by decorated Christmas trees in the streets, and they said “no.” So if Muslims are okay with that, whose feelings are we hurting here? It’s likely it’s no one’s. In fact. Europe is a continent whose culture and even political culture is rooted in the tenets of Christianity. We are told that Europe was also influenced by Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, and that’s true, but, in terms of scale, this influence can in no way compare to the importance that Christian moral values, and the laws based on them, held for many centuries. So if Europe is now cutting itself off from its roots, it raises the question of whether this is motivated by political correctness or something else. That’s the question we, the people who lived through religious persecution in the USSR, ask. Back then it was also supposedly done in the name of human rights and liberties and a better tomorrow. But it was only the believers who the state had pressured up until perestroika. The capitalists, the bourgeoisie, the rich land owners – Soviet leaders stopped fighting them all and even the Soviet economy half-resembled a market economy, not to mention the New Economic Policy of the 1920s, but they fought the Church to the very end. There is no understanding why that was. So we’re very wary when, under the guise of political correctness and universal rights and liberties, we glimpse signs of discrimination against the people who want to be open about their Christian convictions.

RT: Why is it so hard to achieve peace and harmony between Christians and Muslims in Western Europe? Some say the reason behind this is what we call a clash of civilizations. Considering the recent migrant crisis and the problem of terrorism, do you think these cultures can co-exist peacefully, in the long term? Or should we face the truth and admit – like many politicians such as Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage do – that the policy of multiculturalism has failed?

PK: Multiculturalism has no future, because it implies different cultures mixing, different cultures and religions poured together and shaken vigorously to create a kind of cocktail. That would be impossible because of deep-rooted traditions. If multiculturalism implies weakening people’s connection to their religion and traditions, it automatically makes them victims of discrimination and forces them to be defensive; so this very approach contains a dangerous source of division, and I mean the fundamental division of the brother-against-brother kind.

There are other ways. Russia is a multiethnic country, but the idea of multiculturalism has never been promoted, not even back in the USSR. It was declared that we would have a new national identity as Soviet people, but everyone knew that Turkmens would stay Turkmens, Tajiks would stay Tajiks, Uzbeks would stay Uzbeks, Russians would stay Russians, and Jews would stay Jews.

This approach, which allows people to express their ethnic and religious identity freely, has especially flourished recently, in modern Russia. We’re not talking about any mixture or cocktail – we say that every person should stay who they are. But we all live in the same country, so all of us must observe the law and be nice to each other. And policies regarding this have to be aimed, not at erasing the lines between cultures and religions and making one cocktail out of it, but at ensuring support, rights and liberties are given to all – to each their own – so that a person of any faith can feel at home in their country, not among strangers. Implementing this model in the West could have paved the way for peaceful co-existence, but I fear that it might be too late now. It should have been done before Europe had to deal with this huge influx of migrants who represent different cultural and religious views, and who are opposed to the culture of the countries they’ve ended up in. A great deal of people have this internal resistance to Western values, and one of the reasons is this radical – I would even say aggressive – secularization. A religious person feels deeply uncomfortable living in an aggressively-secular society, same as we in the USSR felt uncomfortable living in an aggressively-atheistic society. When the aggression disappears, people start feeling affinity towards the society and country they’re living in.

RT: I’d like to hear your opinion on the current state of social institutions that the Church has traditionally upheld, such as marriage and family. Today, many of the historically Christian countries in the West are legalizing same-sex marriage. Some of them have even appointed special envoys for LGBT rights. Many in the West see it as progress and liken it to the situation with interracial marriages in the US, which used to be frowned upon and now are a part of life. So, many believe this is a step forward. What do you think of this trend?

PK: I’m deeply wary of it. What’s happening in the Western countries is that, for the first time in human history, legislation is at odds with the moral nature of human beings. What’s good and evil? Sin and righteousness? These could be defined in both religious terms and non-religious terms. If you take a good character from English, American, or Russian fiction, you will see that all of them possess the same qualities. Why? We have different cultures and different political systems, but for all of us good is good, and evil is evil, and everyone understands who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are. So how do we distinguish? With our heart, with our moral nature. This moral nature, created by God, served as a foundation for the legislation which is designed. Laws defined moral values in legal terms, telling us what’s good and what’s bad. We know that stealing is bad and helping people is good, and laws define what stealing is and what the suitable punishment for it is.

Now, for the first time in human history, the law allows something that doesn’t correspond to our moral nature. The law contradicts it. It’s not the same thing, of course, but we could compare this to an extent to the apartheid in Africa or Nazi laws – when the law went against inherent moral values, people rebelled. They knew it wasn’t right; it was artificial; it was part of some ideology and not in sync with their moral nature. So the Church can never approve of this. We say that the Church can never redefine good and evil, sin and righteousness, but we don’t condemn people who have different sexual preferences. It’s on their conscience and it’s their business, but they shouldn’t be discriminated against or punished, as used to be common practice in some states. However, under no circumstances should this be accepted as a social norm no different from the social norm that stems from our moral nature, meaning marriage between a man and wife who create a family and have children. That’s why we believe this new trend poses a significant threat for the existence of the human race. The Church has to address this and say it’s a bad thing, but we’ve seen that authorities in some countries have been trying to silence clergymen. One Protestant pastor went to jail for calling same-sex marriage a sin in his sermon. Again, this is very reminiscent of what was happening under Soviet totalitarianism. In the countries that declare their commitment to freedom of speech, you can get punished for expressing your opinion. That’s a dangerous trend, and I hope it will peter out and the natural order of things will prevail. I don’t even want to think about what might happen to us otherwise. Our prayers and our work are so that humanity lives on and follows the principles dictated by our moral nature.

RT: Speaking of Protestants… During your meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, you expressed your concerns over the Church of England’s recent liberalization, namely its decision to ordain women and its rather modernist stance on marriage and morality. But how can you make Christian values appeal to modern-day youth that keeps turning away from the Church, especially in the West. How can we bring them back?

PK: I don’t think that the tendency of young people rejecting Christian values is a natural process. It is the result of their minds being influenced in a certain way, and we are not talking just about youth here. Just look at what’s out there – movies, television, literature. There is a clear ideological paradigm aimed at dismantling religious and moral values. And it is not always a direct confrontation. They just paint this happy, full life – without God and without the moral obligation to weigh your actions listening to the voice of conscience. It means that God is being purposefully forced out of a person’s life. It is not just some accidental trend. But it’s actually turning out this way. We know that history can unfold in different directions. When evil in this world reaches a certain point, it begins to prevail. In those cases good appears to lose. Today Christians are a minority. The values we preach are either dismissed or ignored. Why? Because we encourage people to move upwards, walk uphill, while popular culture asks people to go in the opposite direction, move down. If a person is guided by his instincts, if civilization is built on this foundation, then of course the majority will follow this road, because it is so much easier, it doesn’t require effort or work. People want this easy life. But the Bible says that “narrow is the way that leads to life.” And this narrow way to salvation requires bravery. But if this way disappears, humanity will fall into a pit. Jesus did not convince everybody with His preaching. In fact, His earthly life ended on the Cross where He was crucified. Of course, He then rose from the dead… But some might see Him as a failure. If you don’t believe in Christ’s resurrection, then the end of His life doesn’t seem very impressive – he was executed. The same with all the apostles, except for St. John. They were all executed. So basically they seemed like a bunch of losers, they lost everything. But the message of Christ and His apostles has survived for 2,000 years – it keeps inspiring people. It has often inspired artists and writers who created their works despite this external pressure. But what’s more important is that Christ enters the hearts of many people. We see how people in Russia are starting to believe, this phenomenon is truly historic. The Church is being restored, young people are being converted. When people choose this narrow way, it will most definitely lead them to the stars. It is the road to heaven, to the very top. It is always difficult but it is the way of salvation.

RT: Your Holiness, thank you very much!

Christian Zionist Teens Ask, ‘What’s the Big Deal About Israel?’

You’ve heard of the daytime soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” We could maybe call this “The Young and the Gullible.” As I’ve said on a number of occasions, Christian Zionists do not worship Jesus, they worship Jews. And this sentiment comes through very clear in this video.

These young supporters of Israel offer us a lot of selective quoting of Bible verses (almost two to one in favor of the Old Testament), but of course that’s how the game is played. In justifying support for Israel, the teachings of Jesus invariably must be downplayed, for there is no way to reconcile such teachings as “love your enemies” or “blessed are the peacemakers” with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

And what of Jesus’ remarks on the Pharisees?

 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven,” he says in Matthew 5:20.

This comment leaves open the shocking possibility that Jews just might be capable of doing something unrighteous every now and then, and of course that has to be omitted from Christian Zionist discourse as well. Instead, we hear one of the teenage girls assert that, “As Christians, we need to stand in solidarity with Israel.”

Actually, she’s got it wrong. As Christians, we need to stand with our fellow Christians living under occupation in Palestine. These are the people who need our love and support–they and their Muslim neighbors who for 68 years now have seen their homes destroyed, their olive trees chopped down, and whose daily lives are a frustrating and nightmarish tangle of walls and checkpoints.

Below is an article I wrote back in January of this year. I reproduce it here in the off-chance that a Christian Zionist or two just might read it and draw some lessons from it. I’m not holding my breath, of course.

***

Vandals Strike Jerusalem Church on Eve of Christian Zionist Conference in L.A.

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“Death to Christians, enemies of Israel,” reads graffiti painted on the wall of the Dormition Abbey

Timing, as they say, is everything…

On Sunday morning before dawn vandals attacked the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, leaving a hodgepodge of vile as well as threatening graffiti scattered on its walls. The attack comes on the eve of a conference in L.A.–a conference organized, ironically, to teach evangelical Christians in America “the facts about the assault on Christian support for Israel.”

Yes, you read that right–not the facts about the assault on “Christians in Israel,” but on “Christian support for Israel.”

Organized by the pro-Israel CAMERA organization, the event takes place Monday, January 18, in Los Angeles, and one of its speakers is Laurie Cardoza-Moore, founder and president of an organization called Proclaiming Justice to the Nations. As part of her work with PJTN, Cardoza-Moore hosts a weekly TV show called “Focus on Israel,”and currently she is in the midst of a drive to get states to adopt resolutions condemning the BDS movement. The PJTN website refers to BDS as “an anti-Semitic movement” aimed not only at Israel but “ultimately the Jewish people.”

"May his name and memory be erased, bastard," reads graffiti scrawled upon the church.

“May his name and memory be erased, bastard,” reads graffiti scrawled upon the church.

Cardoza-Moore obviously has a deep reverence for the Jewish people, so I really have to wonder–I really do–what she would think about the attack upon the Dormition Abbey and especially about some of the graffiti messages scrawled by the vandals:

“Death to Christians, enemies of Israel.”

“The revenge is coming very soon.”

“Send Christians to hell.”

“Idols will be extirpated.”

“The revenge of the children of Israel is on its way.”

“May his name and memory be erased, the bastard.”

That last one, perhaps the vilest of all, is a reference to Jesus. The Talmud portrays the Virgin Mary as a whore and depicts Jesus as the bastard offspring from her alleged union with a Roman soldier, and the part about erasing his “name and memory” is from a Judaic curse known as yimakh shemo, which I discussed in a post put up yesterday.

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Father Nikodemus Schnabel, spokesperson of the Dormition Abbey, points towards anti-Christian graffiti written in Hebrew.

A statement released by the Dormition Abbey, as reported by YNet News, includes the following:

The inscriptions are not only against Jesus the Messiah, but also call to slaughter the Christians and send them to hell! How long will these acts of vandalism continue?

This is the area of our convent, which until today is not monitored by police cameras, although this has been promised to us in the summer of 2013 by the Israeli security authorities after the cars of the monastery were badly damaged and several hate graffiti were discovered.

You can also read reports about the attack in the Jerusalem Post, Ma’an News, and RT.

Israeli officials, including Benjamin Netanyahu, have rushed to condemn the assault on the church, but the incident comes just one week after an attack upon a Christian cemetery west of Jerusalem in which dozens of crosses were destroyed. Moreover, this isn’t even the first time that this particular church has been hit. In February of last year arsonists set fire to parts of the Dormition Abbey and spray painted the words “Jesus is the son of a whore” and “redemption of Zion”…while in 2013 several cars at the abbey, as the statement above alludes, were also vandalized.

The Jerusalem Post, in its report on this latest attack, includes a quote from Ayman Odeh, an Arab member of the Israeli Knessett.

“In Jerusalem members of the clergy have been harassed for years, but lately this phenomenon has become worse, more common and more violent,” said Odeh, who went on and described the present Israeli government as “leading the hatred and approving, with a wink, the continuation of the hate crimes against the Arab minority in the state.”

Christian Zionists are fond of portraying Israel as a place where Christians are welcomed and protected and where freedom of religion is regarded as sacrosanct, but actually this is a very misleading picture, and that is probably putting it mildly.

During the week before Christmas, Jewish settler leader Benzi Gopstein published an op-ed piece on a Hebrew website in which he referred to Christians as “blood sucking vampires.” Gopstein is head of Israel’s Lehava organization, a movement which strictly opposes Jewish assimilation and intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews. I published two articles on Gopstein’s anti-Christian tirade, see hereand here, and I also put up a post on him last summer, here, after he called for churches to be banned in Israel. In his pre-Christmas rant, Gopstein expressed contempt for the Christian holiday of Christmas, and he also issued a clarion call to his fellow Israeli Jews: “Let us remove the vampires before they once again drink our blood!”

Gopstein, by the way, isn’t the only Israeli who hates Christmas. A couple of years ago, Shimon Gapso, the mayor of Upper Nazareth, issued a ban on Christmas trees. “Upper Nazareth is a Jewish town and all its symbols are Jewish,” the mayor said. “As long as I hold office no non-Jewish symbol will be presented in the city.”

How much of all of this anti-Christian sentiment in Israel is Cardoza-Moore aware of? Hard to say. My guess is that were she presented with this information she would either block it completely out of her mind or try to rationalize it in some way. That’s human nature, I guess. Avoid cognitive dissonance at all cost.

According to the PJTN website, Cardoza-Moore “has devoted her life to educate Christians about their Biblical responsibility to stand with their Jewish brethren and the State of Israel,” and the organization seems preoccupied, to the point of obsession, with the subject of anti-Semitism. There are videos on anti-Semitismas well as a page on Leveraging Our Assets Against Anti-Semitism, and then there is the Mission Statement which proclaims:

We challenge those who engage in anti-Semitic and unbiblical teachings with the hope of educating them on their responsibilities as Christians to uphold the protection and welfare of our Jewish brethren. We are Christians educating and calling this generation to protect and defend God’s Chosen People and the land of Israel.

Perhaps interestingly, there is nothing mentioned about Jesus in the Mission Statement. Not much mention of him on this video either:

Repeated airstrikes on civilians, home demolitions, building walls that hem people in and separate farmers from their lands–the gospels aren’t exactly full of stories of Jesus advocating these things. But of course, the Old Testament wouldtake a much more friendly view of it all. If Cardoza-Moore feels so strongly it is her life mission to “protect and defend God’s Chosen People and the land of Israel,” I can’t for the life of me figure out why she doesn’t simply convert to Judaism.

Christmas Celebrated in Terror-Ravaged Syria

Christmas trees, carols, church services, and the resilience of the human heart

Due to corporate media’s misrepresentation of Syria, some may be surprised to know that Syrians—suffering terribly under nearly five years of the foreign war on their country—are also celebrating Christmas from Damascus to Homs to Aleppo. Glittering displays, street Santas, choirs singing carols and people singing Jingle Bells, and tacky, exuberant Christmas parades are not unique to the West.

However, most Syrians I have met who are celebrating any religion’s holy day do so with heavy hearts—the loss of loved ones to NATO’s terrorists dampens festive spirits. But they also celebrate with a determination not to be cowed into submission or nonexistence, and not to allow their children to forget traditions.

Re-visiting Syria last week, I spoke with many Syrians about Christmas preparations and the situation in Syria.  I visited a number of churches in Damascus and Homs. Although the unholy war on Syria persists, some of the areas ravaged by the NATO/Zionists/Gulf’s death squads but secured by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) are coming back to life.

Homs: Celebrations After So Much Sorrow 

Rather than home to a “revolution” Homs was home to an infiltration of the most sadistic terrorists, who over their unwanted two plus year-stay not only killed, maimed and stole from Homs residents, but also targeted, and in many cases destroyed, Christian heritage and relics, including many churches in the Old City.

When I visited in June 2014, after the terrorists had been extracted from most of Homs, the destruction and vandalism I saw were immense. Even back then, as soon as the terrorists were gone, Old City residents were already returning in trickles to begin the cleanup and think about re-building their lives.

Now, a year-and-a-half later, while immense reconstruction remains, there was a significant improvement. I saw new shops opened, and saw homes, stores, streets, and churches decorated in the spirit of Christmas.

Christmas lights dangled over Old City lanes and in church courtyards. A friend from Homs later sent me photos of the streets lit up at night, and of the once-burned St. Mary’s Church (Um al-Zinnar) now repaired and decorated, and filled with worshippers, a youth choir and band.

At the Old City’s Jesuit Church, new portraits of Dutch priest, Father Frans van der Lugt, assassinated in April 2014 by the West’s “moderate” terrorists. The church also had a simple Christmas tree and home-made nativity scene, the grotto walls of which were made of crumpled brown paper.

Two well-known restaurants, which suffered differing degrees of destruction, have been re-opened. Beit al-Agha, greatly-damaged by the terrorists, is now coming back to life, although repairs are still needed. Al-Bustan restaurant, which was completely ravaged, is fully re-built and open to customers. Photos from al-Hamidiya Community Facebook page show a packed restaurantduring Christmas, and dancing at night. The page shows celebrations in the different churches and streets of old Homs.

In Saha al-Majaa, an Old City square, I saw six locals adding finishing touches to the Christmas tree they’d crafted using scavenged and bought materials. In a nearby room, full-size nativity scene figures, made of sponge and cloth and other basic materials were stored until the display went up. Neighbourhood residents had chipped in for fabric, bought from Tartous.

indexVolunteers who chipped in to build a Christmas Tree and Nativity Scene in Old Homs.

“Come, tomorrow at 5 pm and you’ll see the finished display,” I was invited, but didn’t have the chance to get back. However, photos on social media show their creative efforts have paid off: in this square where despair was once deep, hope is flourishing anew.

Damascus Celebrates

Two kilometres from the front line with the extremist and terrorist groups, the people of Damascus Celebrates Christmas.

— Fady, a Damascus resident.

Homs-based Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop George Abu Zakhem was in Damascus for a day. I met him at the Mariamite Church in the centre of the Old City. He spoke of the situation for Orthodox Christians in Homs and Damascus nowadays, noting that of the 150,000 Orthodox in Homs, 20,000 have become internally displaced, fleeing to Tartous, Lattakia, Damascus, and elsewhere. “Nobody wants to leave, but they are obliged, because it’s very hard now.” On the other hand, Homs has also absorbed Syrians from other areas. “We have about 18 families in Homs who came to us from Aleppo. Many others went to Tartous or Lattakia.”

Bishop Abu Zakhem also spoke of efforts to bring back Christmas celebrations to Homs.

In order to change the atmosphere, we tried to do something, especially for the younger generation. We had a program in Homs for 20 days before Christmas… every couple of days we had an event for children.

Ziad, the friendly driver of the shared taxi I had taken from Beirut to Damascus, was from Jebal al-Sheikh, and as we traversed Syrian countryside toward the capital, he spoke of the early attacks: “They kidnapped our priest and even after we paid $15,000 ransom, they killed him and sent his body back to us.”

He and others in his village took up arms to defend themselves. “I have two kids. Nusra came to us. I got a gun,” he said (something I’ve heard from many a Syrian, including the priest of St. Thekla convent in Ma’loula, himself taking up arms to defend the village against Jehbat al-Nusra and other terrorists). As Bishop Abu Zakhm said, “We have the right to stay here, to defend ourselves. We are rooted here.”

One day in Damascus another driver talked about the mortar terrorism which is particularly heavy on Bab Touma (Thomas Gate, in the Old City). “They’re trying to drive the Christians out of Syria. They target Bab Touma because it is a Christian area.” He took out a photo of his son, martyred in terrorist mortars a year ago. For him the terrorism is working. He wants to leave.

Nonetheless, in Bab Touma and throughout the Old City, there were decorations and a vibrancy defying terrorists’ attempts to stifle life. Strings of simple white lights adorned streets and alleys. Carols wafted out of churches which were dressed in Christmas ribbons.

Walking towards Bab Touma one evening, the lilt of carols being sung drew me into the simply adorned St. George’s Cathedral (Syriac Orthodox), full of worshipers, brimming with light and with the faith of Syrians who refuse to die and insist on celebrating life.

indexSt. George’s Cathedral in the old city of Damascus.

Deep in the twisting lanes of the Old City, on the last Thursday before Christmas, a popular restaurant was packed with friends, lovers, and families, meeting before their own family celebrations at Christmas. The friend who took me said that in spite of the huge rise in cost of living over the years (thanks to both the war on Syria and the criminal sanctions), this restaurant has kept its prices relatively affordable.

Martyr’s Tree and Mortars

Many of the National Defence Forces (NDF) men and women soldiers I met at Bab Touma, Bab Sharqi (East Gate) are Christian, and like elsewhere in Syria they’ve become soldiers to defend their families, country, and their heritage.

Near Bab Sharqi, I chatted one afternoon with one of the NDF soldiers, Fouad. “We live and die here. But aside from death, there’s no other way we’re leaving here.” Sadly many of Fouad’s NDF friends who felt the same way have indeed been killed, some while fighting terrorists, others by the mortars which terrorists rain down on Damascus routinely. Not far from Bab Sharqi, at the Syriac Catholic Church, a Christmas tree dressed with blinking lights was also adorned with photos of martyred soldiers from the area.

indexMartyrs’ Tree: paying respect to martyred soldiers from the East Gate neighbourhood of Damascus.

The dome of the St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church beside us at Bab Sharqi was punctured with shrapnel. Fouad told me that the Armenian school behind the church has been struck by mortars many a time. Incidents include the killing of six elementary children in November 2013 when terrorist mortars struck both church and school, and the killing of the church Deacon’s own son, along with three other children and a school bus driver, when terrorists mortared the bus.  (For more on mortars, see my earlier article: “The Terrorism we Support in Syria: A First-Hand Account of the Use of Mortars Against Civilians”)

indexHand-made nativity scene near East Gate, Old Damascus.

As we talked, Fouad mentioned that he and a friend had made the simple nativity scene in front of the church. A tire staircase covered with rough brown cloth led to a platform hosting the nativity scene, backed by the same crumpled brown paper “rock wall” Syrians have crafted for the scene. Friends in the area contributed to it, the decorations on surrounding trees, and the gifts they will give out to around 300 children in the area.

It was the third year they’ve done this, Fouad said, the incentive largely being to distract children from the stress of living under mortars, and to keep the traditions of Christmas alive, “so that they don’t forget what is Christmas.”

I asked him if he had a message for people outside of Syria. His reply:

The problem is that those outside of Syria will not believe unless they come and see with their eyes. We can talk all we want but people won’t believe us. But when they come here and see we are Muslims, Christians, Jews… all religions, and no one asks what your faith is. My good friend is Muslim; he sometimes comes with me to church, and I go with him to mosque.

Volunteerism and Unity

Further along in the Old City, walking towards the Melkite (Greek) Catholic Patriarchate, also known as the Zeitoun Church, I spotted a few men and women wearing vests with a logo reading (in Arabic) Saaed Association, also walking church-wards. The Director, Essam Habel, explained that they are a volunteer group and among their various campaigns they were now decorating a Christmas tree in the church square and baking Christmas treats, helped by around 1,200 mostly student volunteers from a special needs school.

As I saw during Orthodox Easter celebrations in April 2014, Muslims join their Christian friends in observing celebrations, whether in restaurants, churches or their own homes, and in the case of Christmas, many put up their own Christmas trees. And every time this issue comes up with friends in Syria, they speak of how they’ve always shared holidays, how they have inter-faith marriages, how they are Syrian before they are any particular faith.

The highest Muslim official in Syria, Grand Mufti Dr. Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun (filmed leading mass in 2013) regularly attends Christian events, has a Christian advisor, and publically speaks on unity and against sectarianism. Mufti Hassoun usually describes himself as Mufti of Syria, not of Muslims in particular.

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban Political advisor to the Syrian President, told me last week:

I’m a Muslim but I have a Christmas tree in my house, and I always have, since my daughters were born. Now my daughters are in their thirties and their children want Christmas trees. Many of those in Bab Touma (Thomas Gate) celebrating Christmas are Muslims. We go to churches, we celebrate Christmas, because our friends are Christians, we are all living together. Society is not divided along sectarian or ethnic lines.

Elsewhere in Syria

While I didn’t get back to Ma’loula this time, as I sat in a home not far from Bab Touma in Damascus, talking with my hosts about the situation in Syria, hearing about their close calls with terrorists’ mortars, I was offered a glass of hand-made wine from Ma’loula. Even now, traditions live on.

Syrian news sites and social media also show Christmas celebrations in Lattakia, Safita (Tartous province)—with a 22 metre high Christmas tree—and Aleppo.

And even now, as Syrians endure more Western-supported terrorism and struggle under criminal sanctions but insist on celebrating, Christian and Muslim friends alike send me Christmas wishes, direct from Syria. The Christmas and daily wish of so many I have spoken with in Syria is for peace to return, for an end to this foreign war on their country.

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian freelance journalist and activist who has lived in and written from the Gaza Strip, Syria, and Lebanon. Read other articles by Eva, or visit Eva’s website.

Captured Daesh Fighter Reveals Turkey’s Connection To ISIS, Predicts New 9/11

isis-american-made-weapons

By Brandon Turbeville

It appears that the week of Christmas in 2015 is quite the low moment for Turkey’s public relations department. In addition to be revealed as one of the top purchasers of ISIS oil by many in the alternative media, the Russian government, and a number of other sources, Erdogan’s own son has been pointed out as one of the principal smugglers and the Turkish President’s own daughter as the Florence Nightingale of the caliphate. If that wasn’t bad enough, an independent report by aNorwegian oil consulting firm also confirmed that much of the ISIS oil was being shipped directly to Turkey. A Turkish party member even revealed that the terrorists who committed the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta most likely received their chemical weapons from Turkey and committed the atrocity with foreknowledge and assistance from Turkish intelligence.

Yet the hits to the Turkish government’s public relations just keep on coming, the latest of which involves statements coming from an ISIS member who was recently captured by Kurdish troops in Syria, who has revealed that not only is Turkey a primary buyer of ISIS oil but that ISIS fighters were being trained both in and by Turkey itself to be deployed into Syria. The captured fighter also revealed that the ISIS fighters on the ground do not take the American airstrikes seriously, viewing them as nothing more than show.

Mahmut Ghazi Tatar, the member of Daesh captured by the Syrian Kurds, gave an interview to Sputnik Turkiye about his experiences in joining the terrorist organization. Tatar, who is 24 years old, allegedly joined Daesh after being influenced by a friend who was already a member. Tatar joined Daesh along with 27 other Turks.

Tatar relates his path from Turkey to Syria by stating:

After crossing border we were moved to a training camp 5 km from the border. We received military training and attended religious classes. Before the start of training, each of us was asked whether we want to be martyrs. I refused. This question is asked of all new recruits. Those who agree, within 6 months receive special religious training. Since I refused, my education and training lasted 70 days. We learned by the Turkish books. During the training, a few people from Turkey came to check on us. They did not have beards and they were not members of Daesh.

After they received training, the 28 men were moved to Tal Abyad, where they were kept secret and allowed no contact with their families. Tatar states that his group received warning that the Kurds had learned of their whereabouts and had planned to storm the house in which they were staying. Thus, Tatar fled from Tal Abyad along with 12 other members. The men made it to a nearby village but were captured after Tatar attempted to make a run for it.

Speaking about the oil being sold by ISIS to supposedly “unknown” and shadowy entities in the Middle East, Tatar stated what many in the alternative media have known for some time – that the principal purchaser of ISIS oil was in fact Turkey, a NATO country.

Tatar states,

The oil tankers that were sent every day to Turkey had crude oil, fuel oil and gasoline. The main source of income for Daesh is oil trade and oil inventories will last them a long time.

Abu Talha [Daesh commander] also said that the group earns a lot of money in trade with Turkey. He also said that the oil is sold through the mediation of a number of businessmen and merchants, but did not give names. Daesh also receives many products from Turkey and other Arab countries.

Tatar stated that neither he nor his comrades attached “particular importance to the US bombings. They believed that it was done as a pretense.”

Tatar mentioned that, at one point, a member of his group asked their commander, Abu Talha, why Daesh did not attack Israel. Talha’s response was “First we need to break down a small wall and then destroy the large one.”

Tatar described most ISIS recruits as coming from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Yemen, Qatar, Lebanon, and Egypt and that they entered Syria from the Turkish border, a very easy thing to do. European and American fighters, according to Tatar, follow the same route.
Tatar also forebodingly stated that, “The commanders told us that they were going to commit a terrorist act that would exceed the scale of the September 11 attacks on the US.”

While Tatar revealed nothing that was not already widely known amongst geopolitical researchers, his information does confirm what many have been saying all along regarding the purchase of ISIS oil – that NATO and Turkey in particular is the largestconsumer of this oil and, thus, is contributing to the financial support of ISIS (among several other methods of funding). Tatar also confirms the nature of the American airstrikes against Daesh – the lack of actual bombing of terrorist targets – and the fact that Turkish assistance is essential to the funneling of terrorists into Syria.

Brandon Turbeville – article archive here – is the author of six books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies, Five Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 andvolume 2, The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria, and The Difference it Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President. Turbeville has published over 500 articles dealing on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s podcast Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV. He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

Merry Christmas

May this new year bring us all peace and tranquillity instead of Zio-con wars and other unnecessary global disasters!

Merry Christmas From Palestine

 


River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian   

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

Christmas and Jews (3 videos)

RUSSIA’S HUMBLE CHRISTMAS LIST

christmas-in-russia-e0k39moc

DECEMBER 25, 2014

by Peter Lavelle, Russia Insider

This year the list is modest, even downright humble. The following should be considered as bare bones basics.

As you will see Russia is merely asking the west to live up to its lofty self-proclaimed ideals and values:

  • A US president who knew what s/he was talking about when making remarks focused on Russia.
  • An end to expectations Russia will participate in a bailout of Ukraine while western sanctions remain in force.
  • The west should stop talking about democracy when it can’t tell the difference between a real expression of self-determination (Crimea’s vote to return to Russia) and Ukraine’s recent sham parliamentary election.
  • A west that finally stops overthrowing democratically elected governments (like in Ukraine) what comes later is always worse.
  • Washington and its allies should be careful what they wish for: Forced regime change in Moscow could actually end up with the end of the EU and chaos in much of the American global empire.
  • A west that recognizes the value of a Russian life is on par with that of an American and European.
  • A west which recognizes that all countries have the right to defend and protect national interests.
  • The United States should finally stop talking about its “values” to the entire world after the publication of the Senate’s torture report.
  • Ask Victoria Nuland to visit Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries when she has the urge to pass out “democracy cookies.”
  • Washington should firmly distance itself from and condemn Ukrainian fascists and extremist ideologies.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

Christmas in Palestine

No joy to the world in Palestine. No peace and good will. No most wonderful time of the year.
Not this year. Or previous ones for decades. Or future ones without top-to-bottom fundamental change. What’s nowhere in sight.
Militarized occupation harshness continues. Gaza remains besieged. Collective punishment is official Israeli policy. So is state terror.
Israel denies millions of Palestinians fundamental rights everyone deserves. Ruthlessness defines its agenda.
Thousands of Palestinian political prisoners languish in its gulag. Guilty of wanting to live free. Separated from loved ones.
On December 23, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) decorated a Manger Square Christmas tree with leftover Israeli terror remnants.
Including tear gas canisters. Stun grenades. Missile fragments. Photos of martyred or injured children along with them. Delivering a clear message.
Saying Palestinians suffer year-round. Including during what Christians call the most joyous time of year. PSCC member Mazen Al-Azzeh said tree decorations are dedicated to dozens of Palestinian martyrs.
Killed by Israeli forces. Including PA Minister Ziad Abu Ein. Its committee against Israel’s Separation Wall and settlements head. Murdered by Israeli soldiers.
 
Beaten to death. With rifle butts and helmets. From tear gas inhalation. While leading a peaceful demonstration.
Planting olive trees on Palestinian land. Threatened by Israeli confiscation. In Turmus’ayya village. Near Ramallah.
Popular struggle activist Abdullah Abu Rahma said Abu Ein wanted a symbolic Christmas tree display. In Bethlehem’s Hall of Nativity.
Decorated with remnants of weapons Israel uses to kill Palestinians. Manger Square’s exhibit complied with his wish.
Honoring him. Other non-violently resisters. Around 2,200 Palestinians Israel killed last summer.
In Gaza. Mostly noncombatant men, women, children, the elderly and infirm. Willfully targeted. Killed in cold blood. Unaccountably.
Al-Azzeh called the tree symbolic of popular struggle. On the occasion of Jesus Christ’s birth. Challenging occupation harshness. Israeli apartheid.
Sending a message. Saying others may celebrate. Palestine remains occupied. Brutalized by Israeli harshness. Debunking propaganda portraying Israel as a peace-loving democratic state.
PSCC coordinator Jamal Jum’a said the season’s message  reminds people everywhere about Palestinian suffering.
Deprived of what they rightfully deserve. Isolated on their own. Sitting ducks for Israeli ruthlessness.
Bil’in village resistance coordinator, Salah Khawaja, called Manger Square’s decorative display symbolic of daily Israeli violence.
 
Telling Holy Land visitors there’s no peace. No joy. No freedom under occupation. Not this year. Or any since 1967. Or until Palestinian liberation.
Human rights activist Farid al-Atrash said “(t)he world has to move to save the Palestinian people and hold the occupation accountable for its crimes against unarmed people in Palestine.”
Separately, Israeli soldiers attacked Santa. Palestinians dressed as Santa Claus. Marching toward a checkpoint.
Connecting Jerusalem’s Old City with East Jerusalem. Carrying signs saying: “Jesus came with a message of Peace,
Freedom and Justice.” “We want Christmas without occupation.”
On December 23, USA Today headlined “Violence dampens Holy Land tourism during Christmas.”
Saying Bethlehem “is praying for another Christmas miracle.Months of violence near this cradle of Christianity has dampened visits by holiday pilgrims, and there are few signs tourism will rebound anytime soon.”
Shopkeeper Louis Michel said “people have been scared away. We’ve never experienced such a sustained drought of pilgrims.”
“I haven’t been able to sell what I already have. It’s difficult for me, but also for the many families here who rely on the income from the local factories.”
“Business is way down, 90% down, since the Gaza war,” said Eli Kouz. A shopkeeper in the Old City’s Christian Quarter. “The only people walking down this street are locals, not pilgrims,” he said.
Israel commemorated holiday season like every day of the year. On Christmas eve, attacking Gaza border areas. In Khuzaa and al-Qarara. East of Khan Younis.
Killing Taysir al-Smeiri. Injuring two others. Hamas said its southern Gaza reconnaissance unit head was killed.
Israel claimed Palestinian sniper fire. Whether true or false doesn’t matter. Israel responds with artillery an aerial attacks.
Grave breaches of international law. On December 17, the HIgh Contracting Parties convened in Bern, Switzerland.
Discussing conditions in Occupied Palestine. Despite US/Israeli pressure to dissuade world nations from attending.
A 10-point declaration followed. By consensus. Highlighting applicable international humanitarian law.
Related to Occupied Palestine. Reaffirming the obligation of all parties to uphold fundamental rule of law principles.
Including Israel’s responsibility as an occupying power. Expressing deep concern over Gaza’s continuing blockade.
Israel’s occupation was supposed to be temporary. It’s ongoing nearly half a century. With no end in sight.
In blatant disregard for Fourth Geneva principles. Other relevant international law. Prohibiting what continues daily in Occupied Palestine.
Virtually every civil and human rights violation imaginable. Including state terror. Collective punishment. Land expropriation. Bulldozed homes.
Resource theft. Ethnic cleansing. Settlement construction on stolen Palestinian land. Cold-blooded murder. Mass arrests. Political imprisonments. Torture. Wars at Israel’s discretion.
Bern’s declaration has no legal authority. Israel ignores rule of law principles anyway. Operating extrajudicially. Throughout its sordid history.
The whole world knows about Israeli viciousness. Lawlessness. Contempt for Palestinian rights. Bern’s declaration highlighted it.
The horror of occupied life. Including blatant Israeli civil and human rights violations. Virtually every high crime imaginable.
Ongoing without end. Affirming its pariah state status. Even on Holy Land Christmas eve.
Invading Hebron and al-Arroub refugee camp. Terrorizing residents. Attacking them. Including children.
Kidnapping three Nablus Palestinians. Two others in Jenin. Injuring many others in the process.
IDF dogs mauled a child. Before soldiers kidnapped him. Homes were ransacked. Causing extensive damage.
On Tuesday, nine other West Bank Palestinians were kidnapped. Israel attacks their communities multiple times daily.
Even on Christmas eve. Christmas day makes no difference. Rogue states operate this way.
Rule of law principles don’t matter. Or human lives and welfare. Or moral decency.
By a country brazenly calling itself a democracy. A sham by any standard. Affording rights solely to Jews.
Treating Palestinians the way Hitler treated Jews. Its own Arab citizens like fifth column threats.
Wanting Palestinians ghettoized on worthless scrub land. Or ethnically cleansed so they’ll be gone. Or mass-murdered to assure it.
Even during Holy Land Christmas commemorations. Palestinians are fair game year-round. Against Israel’s nuclear-armed killing machine, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.
It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

Report: Christmas war on Israel

Rehmat

santaandjesus[1]On December 23, 2014, Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor group released its latest report which claims that Christian groups in Palestine and the West use Christmas session to demonize the state of Israel. The organization was founded in 2001 by a racist Israeli Zionist Jew Dr. Gerald M. Steinberg.

At the height of the holiday season, NGOs (non-government organizations), well-known charities, and church groups once again are exploiting Christmas to conduct political warfare against Israel,” said the report.

In 2014, groups such as Pax Christi, Sabeel, Amos Trust, Holy Land Trust, Israel Committee Against Home Demolition, Adalah-NY, Wi’iam, and Bethlehem Bible College are using religious themes to advance immoral anti-Israel campaigns, such as BDS. In some instances, the rhetoric used reflects antisemitic theology and sentiments such as comparing Israel to 1st century Romans, portraying Israel as inherently oppressive, and referring to the “tribal god” of Judaism,” added the report.

Without arguing with some professional Zionist propagandist how most Jews feel about Jesus, Saint Mary, Christianity and the Christmas event, I would rather leave it to Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, who in an article entitled, OnBeing a Jew at Christmas.

It was, and still is, no picnic explaining to your children that Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. They stare at you in disbelief. Everyone keeps Christmas, they plead. It is the topic of every television program, the display in every store window. The Radio City Music Hall features its annual Christmas spectacle and the Metropolitan Museum of Art displays Christmas artifacts. What do you mean, We don’t celebrate Christmas? Does that make us the Grinch? maybe Scrooge?,” wrote Hoffman.

I now understand my own Christmas dilemma. Christmas has been secularized, “capitalized,” and mythologized. As most people keep it, and certainly as popular culture presents it, it is the myth of the America we all pretend we inhabit: a place where Penguins are foiled, Annies are adopted, and even the poorest among us celebrate the wealth that comes from good old-fashioned hard work and industry. Not to observe Christmas is to blow the whistle on the myth, to expose such naked realities as a trickle-down economy where nothing trickles down, in a country rife with social ills and economic deprivation,” said Hoffman.

Professor George Wesley Buchanan, a United Methodist minister,  in an article published in August 2011, blasted Israeli myth of Al-Aqsa Mosque being built on top of the so-called “Temple Mount”.

Innocent Evangelical Christians in America, under the guidance of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and John Hagee, have not been informed of the facts about Temple Mount, they have thought there was some biblical or religious reason why it was necessary to destroy Islam’s third most sacred building in the world, together with the al-Aqsa mosque. It is my hope that, once Christians learn of this mistake, they will stop following Mars and Phineas (Num 25; Ps 106:30-31) and work as zealously for peace, following the teachings of Abraham, the 8th century prophets (Mica 6:8), Jesus, and Paul, as they once worked to promote war in the Middle East. This would make a tremendous difference to Jerusalem – and to the world,” said Buchanan.

Before I end this post, I like to wish all my Christian readers a Merry Christmas.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

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