Tuesday, April 2

MCC Palestine Update #43

MCC Palestine Update #43

In all of our conversations with our Palestinian colleagues and partners this past week, one refrain has been repeatedly sounded: this is the worst time since 1948. The re-invasion of several West Bank cities; the cutting off of water, electricity, and telephones in much of those cities; a tightening of the already repressive siege on every Palestinian town, village, or refugee camp, a siege which prevents access to education, health care, and employment; increased talk of the "transfer" (expulsion and/or genocide) of Palestinians within Israeli political discourse--all add up to a frightening reality.

Israelis, too, of course, are frightened. The series of suicide bombings carried out by various Palestinian militant groups in Netanya, Haifa, and West Jerusalem during this Passover period left scarred and broken bodies, aching souls.

How to begin to think, to work, to act in this situation? As Christians, we must rededicate ourselves to the discipline of prayer. Susan Mark Landis of the Mennonite Church USA has asked us to provide her with daily prayer requests. We will be happy to add you to this daily list; drop us a line if you wish your name to be included. We must also raise our voices about what makes for peace. Sadly, the United States government is proving less interested in pressing towards a just resolution of the conflict than in giving tacit approval to Israeli actions in the occupied territories. Nothing, of course, can justify attacks on civilians, such as suicide bombings. We must also remind our elected officials that such acts do not occur in a vacuum. In the aftermath of the Passover attack in Netanya, the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote in Sunday's edition of Haaretz newspaper reminded his readers of the harsh siege conditions under which Palestinians having been living during their holy days and the killings of civilians which have happened routinely during the past 18 months, including on holy days such as Eid al-Adha. "Never has the blood of so many Israelis been shed in such a brief period and never have the Palestinians been subjected to such harsh conditions of occupation as they are now. So now, of all times, it has to be stated clearly once again: Interwoven with them [the Palestinians] as we are, as long as their holiday is ruined, ours will be, too." The path out of the present nightmare for Israelis is not, as the current Israeli government seems to believe, through an increase in violence, but along the path of justice; for Palestinians, meanwhile, justice, peace and security will only be delayed so long as suicide bombings continue. May peace and justice soon embrace!

Below are three pieces. First, we include the Latin Patriarch's Easter homily as a reminder of our resurrection hope. Second, a short news item concerning the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. Finally, an analysis of different forms of "terrorism" by the Israeli political scientist Lev Grinberg.

1. Easter Message
Michel Sabbah, Patriarch, Jerusalem
31 March 2002

Brothers and Sisters

1. I address you this Easter message on Good Friday to remind ourselves of the intimate link between the two memories. Today, we meditate the unfathomable mystery of God as we hear our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God, crying on the Cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsakenme?" Then he gave up his spirit, in front of a crowd facing the mystery of God with irony. On Easter Sunday we commemorate the manifestation of the same mystery in the glory of the Resurrection. The Lord Jesus Christ, Eternal Word of God, rising from the dead, and triumphing over death, sin and all kind of evil. Christ is risen, yes indeed, he is risen.

2. From the same place which God wanted to sanctify by his presence and his mystery, from the Holy city, form the Calvary and near the empty tomb, place of our glorious salvation, I wish you a holy Easter and ask God to fill you with his grace and blessing, to grant you in your daily life the strength, glory and joy of Resurrection. I address this message particularly to our faithful in the Holy Land, and I ask God Almighty to give us all the power to triumph over all the forces of death which are manifested through the various trials and sufferings which demolish us in these days. For us all, for all the inhabitants of this land, I ask God to grant us a just and definitive peace which put an end to the bloodshed, the demolition of houses, the siege, the humiliations imposed upon the human being by sterile security measures, which produce only more sufferings, more death for all, Palestinians and Israelis alike, and more hatred towards each other.

3. The Holy city, place of the mystery of God, sign of his presence and of his love and his justice among men, is itself today the source of dissent and the cause of bloodshed. Jesus Christ came and brought salvation to everyone. He brought love to everyone. For all he gave a unique commandment in which he summed up all the law and the prophets: love each other. love God and love your neighbour, linking between the love of God and that of God's children. In this difficult commandment, every responsible in human societies, and particularly in our Holy City, could find, if he wished, enough strength to put an end to dissent, sufferings and bloodshed. The way which leads to peace is in itself clear and simple. The way which puts an end to all violence, protects the Israeli and guarantees his security, frees him from fear, anxiety and threatening death at every moment and in every place, gives back to the Palestinian his freedom, land and dignity, puts an end to his sufferings and guarantees his security and tranquility, this way consists of removing a military fact which weighs upon the land since 1967: the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
Therefore, instead of reacting against force by a greater one, the Israeli leaders should react with a new force, the strength of the spirit and the moral courage which invites them to put an end to the bandage imposed upon the land which they occupy. This would be a security measure, a wise and efficient one which will produce the desired security that all military actions failed to produce, so far. This measure will regenerate a new life in this Holy Land, and will allow all its inhabitants to participate in its holiness. So all together they will build a new land and a new human being will emerge.

4 We mourn and pray for all the victims. All are dear and precious in the eyes of God, as well as to the heart of every mother, father, relative and friend. We present them all before the eyes of the Almighty, ask him to accept them all in his mercy and to have compassion upon us all. We ask him to open the eyes and the hearts of those who have in their hands the key of peace and the ability of ending the occupation which only demolishes peace day after day and makes it always farther.

5 Some religious leaders, Jews, Christians and Moslems, after the Alexandria meeting in January of this year, started meeting in order to reflect together on the tragedy of this land, with the hope of reach one common vision, so that they may hear together the words of the Psalmist: "I am listening. What is God's message? God's message is peace for his people, for his faithful, if only they renounce their folly. Faithful love and loyalty join together. Saving Justice and Peace embrace." (Ps 84, 9.11). Hopefully, they will reach a common position which will manifest the justice and love of God in this regard. God does not help a brother against his brother, but gives his grace to every one in order to triumph over the inner evil so as to enable him to practice justice for himself and for his brother. In this way the salvation of God will become nearer to us as says the Psalmist: "His saving help is near for those who fear him, his glory will dwell in our land." (Ps 84,10).

6. Brothers and sisters, as we celebrate the glorious Resurrection of the Lord, I invite you to remain patient and firm in the trial. I urge you to see in the Resurrection of the Lord the source of a permanent hope and strength to build together justice and peace: "so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glorious power, we too should begin a new life”. (Rom 6:4). May the Resurrection of the Lord be a resurrection to all the inhabitants of our land, for a new life and a new love based on justice and reconciliation. Christ is risen, yes indeed he is risen.

+Michel Sabbah, Patriarch, Jerusalem

2. Urgent News Release: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan
BISHOP DR. MUNIB A. YOUNAN of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (ELCJ).
2 April 2002

The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, the pastor¹s home and the church¹s International Center in Bethlehem have been hit by shelling from Israeli tanks and soldiers today, April 2, 2002, at about 9:00 am, Palestinian time. Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor of the church, reports that the Israeli tanks entered the Old City of Bethlehem at 3:30 am today. Tanks were also positioned in a circle around the Old City. The shelling began at 6:30 am. The heaviest gunfire and fighting is taking place now in the Old City, from Manger Square to the Christmas Church compound.

Rev. Raheb reports that tanks have destroyed the first floor entrance to his home and also have destroyed the garage doors. The family is living on the second level of the building and fears that they will be invaded. The tanks and soldiers are stationed immediately outside the church and parsonage. At 10:10 the electricity was lost in the church and parsonage.

Also, Rev. Raheb reports that they have heard much glass breaking, both in the church and in the offices. Although they cannot go to see the damage yet, it seems that at least some of the 110 year old stained glass windows have been destroyed.

The parsonage has tanks on both side of it, so the tank fire is deafening and shakes all the buildings. Rev. Raheb has been making telephone calls to members of the congregation, one-fourth of whom live in the Old City. To date no one has been injured, but all are terrified of the fighting and invasion.

According to the Fourth Geneva Conventions, places of worship and churches should never be assaulted.

3. Israel’s State Terrorism
Lev Grinberg *

What is the difference between State terrorism and individual terrorist acts? If we understand this difference we'll understand also the evilness of the US policies in the Middle East and the forthcoming disasters. When Yassir Arafat was put under siege in his offices and kept hostage by the Israeli occupation forces, he was constantly pressed into condemning terror and combatting terrorism. Israel's State terrorism is defined by US officials as "self-defense", while individual suicide bombers are called terrorists.

The only 'small' difference is that Israeli aggression is the direct responsibility of Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, Shimon Peres and Shaul Mofaz, while the individual terrorist acts are done by individuals in despair, usually against Arafat's will. One hour after Arafat declared his support of a cease fire and wished the Jews a Happy Passover feast, a suicide bomber exploded himself in an hotel in Netanya, killing 22 innocent Jews celebrating Passover.Arafat was blamed as responsible for this act, and the present IDF offensive has been justified through this accusation.

At the same time, Sharon's responsibility for Israeli war crimes is being completely ignored. Who should be arrested for the targeted killing of almost 100 Palestinians? Who will be sent to jail for the killing of more than 120 Palestinian paramedics? Who will be sentenced for the killing of more than 1,200 Palestinians and for the collective punishment of more than 3,000,000 civilians during the last 18 months?

And who will face the International Tribunal for the illegal settlement of occupied Palestinian Lands, and the disobedience of UN decisions for more than 35 years?

Suicide bombs killing innocent citizens must be unequivocally condemned; they are immoral acts, and their perpetrators should be sent to jail. But they cannot be compared to State terrorism carried out by the Israeli Government. The former are individual acts of despair of a people that sees no future, vastly ignored by an unfair and distorted international public opinion. The latter are cold and "rational" decisions of a State and a military apparatus of occupation, well equipped, financed and backed by the only superpower in the world.

Yet in the public debate, State terrorism and individual suicide bombs are not even considered as comparable cases of terrorism. The State terror and war crimes perpetrated by the Israeli Government are legitimized as "self-defense", while Arafat, even under siege, is demanded to arrest "terrorists."

I want to ask: Who will arrest Sharon, the person directly responsible for the orders to kill Palestinians? When is he going to be defined a terrorist too? How long will the world ignore the Palestinian cry that all they want is freedom and independence? When will it stop neglecting the fact that the goal of the Israeli Government is not security, but the continued occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people?

As Israelis in the opposition, we are fighting against our government, but the international support that Sharon receives is constantly jeopardizing our struggle. The whole international public opinion must be reverted, and the UN must deploy intervention forces in order to stop the bloodshed and the imminent deterioration. Israelis and Palestinians desperately need the awakening of the international community's public opinion and a reversal in the global attitude. These are needed both in order to save our lives (literally), and preserve our hope in a better future.

* Dr. Lev Grinberg is a political sociologist, and Director of the Humphrey Institute for Social Research at Ben Gurion University

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