Palestinian Christians struggle for freedom in ‘holy land’
This posting has these items:
1) OpenDemocracy: Contempt and humiliation greet the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land;
2) Pope Francis, insert in above;
3) Catholic News Agency: a Jerusalem Patriarch condemns monastery vandalism;
4) Graffiti at Deir Rafat, insert in above;
5) ACOHL: Persecution of Christians in the Middle East , communiqué from Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land, April 2014;
6) ACOHL: Declaration of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land communiqué September 2013;
Graffiti sprayed on the walls of the Marian shrine at Deir Rafat. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need. Settlers spray-painted anti-Christian slurs on the monastery walls. Some graffiti disparaged Christ and Mary, including “Our Lady Queen of Palestine” and “Jesus is an ape and Mary is a cow.” The graffiti also included anti-American phrases such as “America is Nazi Germany” and “price to pay (for the) peace agreement.” Police are investigating the incident, which also left all vehicles parked on the property damaged. See 2nd item below.
Contempt and humiliation greet the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land
Just weeks before Pope Francis’ first official visit to the Holy Land, a number of Christian holy sites in Israel and Palestine have been targeted in ‘price tag’ attacks by the radical Israeli settler movement. These attacks have been increasing since 2008.
By Quinn Coffey, Open Democracy
April 13, 2014
Just weeks before Pope Francis’ first official visit to the Holy Land a number of Christian holy sites in Israel and Palestine have been targeted in ‘price tag’ attacks by the radical Israeli settler movement. The most recent attack occurred at the Our Lady at Deir Rafat Monastery located on the site of the depopulated former Arab village of the same name, north-west of the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh. The graffiti, sprayed in Hebrew on the outer walls of the Monastery, read ‘Jesus is an ape and Mary is a cow’, to which the Latin (Catholic) Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, responded, ‘I don’t believe this is a proper way to receive the Holy Father here next month.’ However, this is only the latest in what the UN High Commission reported was a 150% increase in ‘price tag’ attacks since 2008, with over 788 registered attacks from 2012-2013.
Although the majority of these attacks have occurred in the West Bank, Christians in Jerusalem and throughout Israeli have also come under attack. As a series of 2012 Haaretz articles pointed out, Christian clergy who dress in ‘priestly garb’ are frequently spat on as they walk through Jerusalem’s Old City; as one priest commented ‘it’s almost impossible to pass through Jaffa Gate without this happening’. In fact, these anti-Christian attacks have become so frequent that in 2012 the Catholic leadership of Palestine issued a statement entitled, Declaration of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, in which they urged the Israeli authorities to address the ‘teaching of contempt’ in Israeli schools. Suggesting that, ‘the time has come for the authorities to act and to put an end to this senseless violence and to ensure a “teaching of respect” in schools for all those who call this land home.’
However, the Deir Rafat attack also highlights the contempt that the settler movement and radical right hold for the peace process. Other areas of the Monastery at Deir Rafat were tagged with the slogans, ‘America is Nazi Germany’ and ‘the price to pay for the peace agreement’, which suggests that the settler movement in some way associates attacks on Christian sites with revenge against America or the international community. But the attack on a Catholic shrine just weeks before the visit of Pope Francis, could also be interpreted as a protest against the historically pro-Palestinian stance of the Vatican.
Since the 1960s the Vatican has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian right to self-determination and the equal rights of all faiths in Jerusalem. Counter to the settler movement’s raison d’être, which seeks the Judaisation of Jerusalem and biblical Israel, the Vatican has continually petitioned for the equal rights of all faiths in the city; such that no race, religion or nationality should be made to feel subordinate or alienated from any other. In fact the status of Jerusalem has been central to the Vatican’s diplomatic policy towards Israel and the wider Middle East since 1948. As Pope John Paul II commented, ‘I am convinced that the failure to find an adequate solution to the question of Jerusalem, and the resigned postponement of the problem, only compromise further the longed-for peaceful and just settlement of the crisis of the whole Middle East.’
The Roman Catholic Church would “promote friendship and respect between men and women of different religions,” the pope said, a day after his formal inauguration in St Peter’s Square.
“We can do a lot for the good of people who are poor, who are weak, who suffer… and to promote reconciliation and peace,” Francis told them.
Representatives of Orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Islam were among those present at the meeting. From The Telegraph, March 2013.
Latin America’s first pontiff said they should be united against “one of the most dangerous pitfalls of our time – reducing human beings to what they produce and what they consume.”
It is expected that Pope Francis will renew efforts for the peaceful solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as he travels throughout the Middle East. However, the status of Jerusalem is perhaps farther from resolution than ever, and, with Easter celebrations set to begin in Jerusalem this weekend, Palestinian Christians, who face the continual threat and intimidation of ‘price tag attacks’, also face difficulties in travel to holy sites in Jerusalem and Nazareth.
Palestinian Christian pilgrimage
For those living in the West Bank and Gaza, pilgrimage to holy sites in Israel is extremely difficult. As a Christian in the Palestinian village of Taybeh related, ‘My husband and I stopped going to Jerusalem for the holidays because it is a terrible thing to fight and argue to get into the church after you have been issued a permit that you are frequently not allowed to use.’ The permit process itself involves a lengthy application, filled out in Hebrew (a language that many Palestinians do not read or write) and frequent trips back and forth to the District Coordinating Offices, where the applications are filed.
Permits will typically allow entry for one day or, if the applicant is lucky, several days. However these permits are frequently denied, and those that are granted quickly expire – forcing most Christians to reapply for each visit. If a permit is granted, the Christian pilgrims (and all other Palestinians) face nearly unimaginable levels of humiliation as they make their way to holy sites. As one Christian Palestinian related, ‘Trying these days to enter Jerusalem on special holy days is like being treating like animals…you go via cage-like areas with cameras and show your identification…it’s really awful’. Apart from the daily humiliations of life under occupation, the joyous and spiritual occasion of pilgrimage has become a source of stress rather than relief for the Palestinian Christians.
This makes the staggering demographic decline of the Palestinian Christian community understandable, if not tragic. Faced with the difficulties of pilgrimage, Palestinian Christians seek refuge in their local churches and communities. However, the now frequent ‘price tag’ attacks have made local parishes targets as well. Whilst the radical Israeli settler movement represents but a small fraction of Israeli public opinion, complacency towards these attacks, and towards the unequal treatment of Palestinians, both in Israel and in the Occupied Territories, highlights the failure of the Israeli authorities to properly address a situation in which minority groups are made to feel afraid, agitated and discriminated against.
According to a 2013 investigation by Ynet, of the 788 reported ‘price tag’ cases from 2012-2013, only 276 arrests have been made. Of these arrests only 154 have been brought up on charges. Perhaps the most striking aspect of these attacks is how little they are reported in the international media. However, just as racism and religious discrimination have become almost universally unacceptable in the international community, so too should the international community urge all states – rogue or not – to prosecute its citizens for carrying out such hate crimes. States of emergency, military occupation, terrorism, existential threats, etc. are no excuse for ‘turning a blind eye’.
Below is an incomplete list of anti-Christian ‘price tag’ attacks from 2012-2014 and translations of the Hebrew graffiti. (There were dozens more)
September 2012: Cistercian (Trappist) Monastery in Latrun tagged with the words, ‘Jesus is a monkey’, and set on fire.
October 2012: St George Romanian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem tagged with the words, ‘Jesus is a bastard’, with significant damage to the front door and rubbish placed around the entrance.
February 2012: Narkis Street Baptist Congregation in Jerusalem tagged with the words, ‘Jesus is dead’, ‘Death to Christianity’, ‘Mary was a prostitute’.
May 2013: Dormition Abbey on Mt Zion (tagged twice in a few months) with the words, ‘Jesus, son of a bitch, price tag’; ‘Jesus is a monkey’.
August 2013: Beit Jamal Monastery near Beit Shemesh tagged with the words, ‘Death to Gentiles’, ‘revenge’.
September 2013: Smashed Christian gravestones near King David’s Tomb in Jerusalem.
March 2014: Deir Rafat Monastery tagged with the words, ‘Jesus is an ape and Mary is a cow’, ‘America is Nazi Germany’ and ‘Price to pay for the peace agreement’.
April 2014: Attack on the Christian majority village of Jish. Cars smashed and tagged with the words, ‘Only goys [non-Jews] can be driven out of our land’.
By Catholic News Agency, EWTN News
April 03, 2014
JERUSALEM–Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem has lamented the recent anti-Christian vandalism of a Catholic monastery and shrine near Jerusalem as “madness.”
The patriarch, visiting the monastery April 1, said that other Christians, like the monastery’s nuns, “will continue to pray for these sick minds, so that the Lord takes away their ignorance and their narrowness of mind.”
“However, we must not be silent and we will do everything to ensure that justice is done and that these vandals and fanatics are prosecuted,” he said, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s website.
The vandals struck Deir Rafat Monastery and Marian shrine near Beit Shemesh, a city to the west of Jerusalem. They committed the vandalism sometime before Monday evening March 31.
They scrawled anti-Christian slurs on the monastery walls, written in Hebrew. Some graffiti disparaged Christ and Mary, including “Our Lady Queen of Palestine” and “Jesus is an ape and Mary is a cow.”
Police are investigating the incident, which also left all vehicles parked on the property damaged.
The graffiti included anti-American phrases such as “America is Nazi Germany” and “price to pay (for the) peace agreement.” The latter phrase possibly refers to peace negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concerning the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Kerry had demanded the release of Palestinian detainees.
Patriarch Twal noted that the monastery’s nuns “devote themselves to fast and pray day and night for peace.” He voiced regret “that the imminent visit of Pope Francis, a man of peace, is marred in this way.”
“Such acts are bad for us Christians, but also for Israel.I don’t believe this is a proper way to receive the Holy Father here next month. But they are also bad for those who do such things.”
He said that in light of such acts, it is necessary in Israel “to institute a new kind of education imbued with greater openness and respect towards others.”
“In this Holy Land we do not need these actions. Especially these actions against a monastery where we have sisters just praying for peace. They are not involved in any politics so this really is a bad sign and we regret it very much.”
Patriarch Twal told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the sisters in the monastery pray for peace, and are “completely apolitical,” adding that “I came here to encourage the sisters to have no fear. I will also ask them to pray for the perpetrators.”
The monastery is home to 12 nuns of the Sisters of Bethlehem, a contemplative community. The shrine is served by three Servite priests.
People walk past Hebrew graffiti that reads, “America equals Nazi Germany,” at the Deir Rafat convent, central Israel, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. Radical Israeli settlers, mostly teenagers and young men, have been carrying out acts of vandalism in recent years to protest what they perceive as the Israeli government’s pro-Palestinian policies and in retaliation for Palestinian attacks.
The vandals have targeted mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases in these so-called “price tag” assaults. The attacks have been widely and vocally condemned by Israeli leaders across the political spectrum. The vandals are widely despised by the vast majority of Israelis. So far police have had little success in stopping them. From Mail Online, April 1st, 2014. Photo by Sebastian Scheiner / AP.
Similar vandalism attacks have been attributed to Israeli extremists who support settlements in Palestinian territory. In 2013, more than 20 Christian sites of the Latin Patriarchate were attacked by vandals.
In September 2012, vandals set fire to the door of the Abbey of Latroun after spray painting blasphemous phrases in Hebrew. In October 2012, vandals attacked the Convent of St. Francis on Mt. Zion, located near the Cenacle complex traditionally regarded as the location of the Last Supper.
In addition to churches, the vandals have targeted mosques, Israeli peace groups, and Israeli military bases, the Associated Press reports.
The attacks have drawn widespread condemnation from Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
The Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land and the Justice and Peace Committee issued a statement about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
Are Christians being persecuted in the Middle East?
Persecution! In many parts of the Western world, this word is people’s lips. It is said that Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East today! However, what is really happening? How should we speak in truth and integrity as Christians and as Church about the suffering and violence that are going on in the region?
There is no doubt that the recent upheavals in the Middle East, initially called the Arab Spring, have opened the way for extremist groups and forces that, in the name of a political interpretation of Islam, are wreaking havoc in many countries, particularly in Iraq, Egypt and Syria. There is no doubt that many of these extremists consider Christians as infidels, as enemies, as agents of hostile foreign powers or simply as an easy target for extortion.
However, in the name of truth, we must point out that Christians are not the only victims of this violence and savagery. Secular Muslims, all those defined as “heretic”, “schismatic” or simply “non-conformist” are being attacked and murdered in the prevailing chaos. In areas where Sunni extremists dominate, Shiites are being slaughtered. In areas where Shiite extremists dominate, Sunnis are being killed. Yes, the Christians are at times targeted precisely because they are Christians, having a different set of beliefs and unprotected. However they fall victim alongside many others who are suffering and dying in these times of death and destruction. They are driven from their homes alongside many others and together they become refugees, in total destitution.
These uprisings began because the peoples of the Middle East dreamed of a new age of dignity, democracy, freedom and social justice. Dictatorial regimes, which had guaranteed “law and order”, but at the terrible price of military and police repression, fell. With them, the order they had imposed crumbled. Christians had lived in relative security under these dictatorial regimes. They feared that, if this strong authority disappeared, chaos and extremist groups would take over, seizing power and bringing about violence and persecution. Therefore some Christians tended to defend these regimes. Instead, loyalty to their faith and concern for the good of their country, should perhaps have led them to speak out much earlier, telling the truth and calling for necessary reforms, in view of more justice and respect of human rights, standing alongside both many courageous Christians and Muslims who did speak out.
We fully understand the fears and sufferings of our brothers and sisters in Christ, when by violence they lose members of their families and are driven out of their homes. They have the right to count on our solidarity and prayers. In certain circumstances their only consolation and hope is to be found in Jesus’ words: “Happy are those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10). However, the repetition of the word “persecution” in some circles (usually referring only to what Christians suffer at the hands of criminals claiming to be Muslims) plays into the hands of extremists, at home and abroad, whose aim is to sow prejudice and hatred, setting peoples and religions against one another.
Christians and Muslims need to stand together against the new forces of extremism and destruction. All Christians and many Muslims are threatened by these forces that seek to create a society devoid of Christians and where only very few Muslims will be at home. All those who seek dignity, democracy, freedom and prosperity are under attack. We must stand together and speak out in truth and freedom.
All of us, Christians and Muslims, must also be aware that the outside world will not make any real move to protect us. International and local political powers seek their own interests. We, alone, can build a common future together. We have to adapt ourselves to our realities, even realities of death, and must learn together how to emerge from persecution and destruction into a new dignified life in our own countries.
Together, we must seek out all those who dream as we do of a society in which Muslims and Christians and Jews are equal citizens, living side by side, building together a society in which new generations can live and prosper.
Finally, we pray for all, for those who join their efforts to ours, and for those who are harming us now or even killing us. We pray that God may allow them to see the goodness He has put in the heart of each one. May God transform every human being from the depth of his or her heart, enabling them to love every human being as God does, He who is the Creator and Lover of all. Our only protection is in our Lord and like Him we offer our lives for those who persecute us as well as for those who, with us, stand in defense of love, truth and dignity.
ACOHL : Why are Christians again the target? In a declaration, the Assembly of Catholics Ordinaries of the Holy Land, after anti-Christian Grafitti in Latrun is asking : ” What is going on in Israeli society today that permits Christians to be scapegoat and targeted by these acts of violence? “
Communiqué, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
September 04, 2012
Declaration of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land
Why are Christians again the target?
The Christian community awoke this morning, Tuesday, September 4, 2012, to discover with horror that once again it is the target of forces of hatred within Israeli society. In the early hours of the morning, the door of the Cistercian (Trappist) monastery in Latroun was burned and anti-Christian graffiti was sprayed on the walls.
The monks of Latroun have dedicated their lives to prayer and hard work. The monastery is visited by hundreds of Jewish Israelis each week and they are received with love and warmth by the monks. A number of the monks have learned Hebrew and promote mutual understanding and reconciliation between Jews and Christians, according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Sadly, what happened in Latroun is only another in a long series of attacks against Christians and their places of worship. What is going on in Israeli society today that permits Christians to be scapegoat and targeted by these acts of violence? Those who sprayed their hateful slogans, expressed their anger at the dismantlement of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But why do they vent this anger against Christians and Christian places of worship? What kind of “teaching of contempt” for Christians is being communicated in their schools and in their homes? And why are the culprits not found and brought to justice?
This morning, the Christians in Israel are asking many questions as they grieve and seek consolation and assurances. The time has come for the authorities to act to put an end to this senseless violence and to ensure a “teaching of respect” in schools for all those who call this land home.
Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
+ Fouad TWA, Patriarch of Jerusalem for Latins, President, A.C.O.H.L.
+ Giorgio LINGUA, Apostolic Nuncio for Jordan
Rt Rev. Waldemar S. SOMMERTAG, Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature for Israel
+ Michel SABBAH, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Emeritus
+ Elias CHACOUR, Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Akka, Vice president, A.C.O.H.L.
+ Yaser Al-AYYASH, Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Petra and Philadelphia (Amman)
+ Mussa El-HAGE, Maronite Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land, Maronite Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem
+ Joseph SOUEIF, Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus
+ Boutros MOUALLEM, Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Akka Emeritus
+ Gregoire Pierre MELKI, Syrian Catholic Exarch of Jerusalem
+ Joseph Jules ZEREY, Melkite Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem
+ Maroun LAHHAM, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan
+ Giacinto-Boulos MARCUZZO, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel
+ William SHOMALI, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine
+ Kamal-Hanna BATHISH, Latin Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus
+ Selim SAYEGH, Latin Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus
Msgr. Joseph KELEKIAN, Armenian Catholic Exarch of Jerusalem
Very Rev. Pierbattista PIZZABALLA, O.F.M., Custos of the Holy Land
Rev. David NEUHAUS, S.J., Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew speaking Vicariate
Rev. Evencio HERRERA DIAZ, O.F.M., Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Cyprus
Rev. Raymond MOUSSALLI, Patriarchal Vicar in Jordan for Chaldeans
Rev. Pietro FELET, scj Secretary general