Friday, November 8, 2013

Church Under Attack In Holy Land

Christian clergy examine Church property destroyed
by Jerusalem Municipality
The municipality of Jerusalem has launched an attack on Arab held property in the “Old City” of Jerusalem including property held by the Roman Catholic Church.  According to reports, this past Monday bulldozers came and razed a house owned by the Latin Patriarchate and inhabited by an Arab Catholic family.  Patriarch Fuad Tawwal, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Jerusalem, came to inspect the ruins of the house and told journalists: "This act is against the law, against justice and against humanity, against any ideology upon which peace can be built and increases segregation and hate."  The Israeli government spokesperson claimed that the house had been built illegally without proper permits but Archbishop Tawwal pointed out that, in fact, the house had been built prior to the 1967 invasion of the Old City when control of the area passed from Jordan to Israel.  Archbishop Tawwal said that both the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipal officials knew that the house belonged to the Church and that this demolition was an attack on the Church and its property. 
Many Americans are very naïve as to the complexities of the Palestinian situation.  Before the 1948 creation of the State of Israel, when the Holy Land was in the British Protectorate of Palestine—and even before that when it was part of the Ottoman Empire—the Palestinian population was approximately evenly divided between Christians and Muslims.  The Christians were Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, or Roman Catholic.  (The Melkite Church is a Byzantine Rite Church in Union with the Holy See.)  Christians tended to be merchants and professional people living in the cities and towns; Muslims tended to be more farmers living in the rural areas.  After 1948 the State of Israel made living conditions very difficult for the Palestinian population, giving them disproportionately low representation in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), as well as funneling government money for urban development, schools, recreational areas, and hospitals to the Jewish settlements and mostly ignoring the Palestinians.  Former President Jimmy Carter compared the treatment of Palestinians in Israel to the situation of Africans in South Africa under apartheid.  One could not even call the Palestinians “second-class” citizens as they were excluded from the tremendous economic development the Israelis have been able to achieve.  Water was cut off from their lands to irrigate the orchards and fields of Israeli farmers; schools were ramshackle affairs without books or the basic educational needs, children had no place to play or exercise but in the streets. 
The Israelis were Jews who had in the late nineteenth century begun to migrate back to Palestine from the Russian, Austrian, and German empires where they often suffered discrimination at best and too often bloody pogroms aiming for their elimination.  The horrors of the Nazi Holocaust convinced the world that the Jews needed a “homeland” where they could be secure from further attempts to wipe them out and in the years after the Second World War, the British protectorate of Palestine was flooded with Jewish refugees who came as settlers.  They had to fight a dual war to establish their homeland—a war against the British for independence and a war against the Palestinian peoples for control of the land.  
The Palestinian people, while called “Arabs,” are not the descendent of the Arab invaders who conquered the Holy Land from the Byzantine Empire in the seventh century, but are descendants of the ancient Syrian, Canaanite, Phoenician, Greek and Roman people who inhabited the land from antiquity.  At the time of the Islamic conquest, these people were Christian and a significant number of the population, approximately half, remained Christian until the mid-twentieth century.  As their life deteriorated under Israeli government, many opted to emigrate to the United States, to Canada, Australia and other nations.  It was easier for the urban population—mostly Christian—to sell homes and shops and to leave than it was for those who livelihood was on the land—mostly Muslim.  Today less than 10% of the Palestinian people who remain are Christians, but the Church is still a significant presence in the Holy Land as Christians—and Catholics in particular—support hospitals, schools, and even a University in the Palestinian territories. 
Political pressure on the Israeli government from religious extremists in the ultra-Orthodox factions of society has caused the government to continue to harass the Palestinian people in hopes of forcing them to leave Israel.  The ultra-Orthodox want the land entirely for Jews and believe that this is God’s destiny for this ancient land which God “gave” their ancestors.  The Catholic Church (along with the Orthodox) is very concerned about the future of an Israel without the historic presence of its Christian peoples.  There is fear for the survival of the shrines connected with the life of Our Lord, but there is also a concern for the people themselves to maintain their culture and faith in this hostile environment.  For political reasons in our own country, the United States, news about the plight of Palestinians, and in particular Palestinian Christians, is often embargoed.  If American Christians knew the truth about the injustices foisted on the Palestinians and the infringement on the religious freedom of Christians in the Holy Land, the political pressure on our government to review its Israel policy would be to Israel’s grave disadvantage. 

I would suggest you might look to the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation ( for more information about the plight of Palestinian Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox. 


1 comment:

  1. A few years back I invited Mr. Rateb Y. Rabie the President of HCEF to speak at the church I attend. He made an impassioned presentation describing the difficulties Palestinian Christian's face daily. I would recommend contacting him to make a presentation at your place of worship or other facility.

    My grandparent on my father's side came from Lebanon. They were Maronite Catholics. When they left Lebanon the county was 70% Christian, now it is around 30%. I wish the United States Government showed as much concern for the Christian minorities in the Middle East as they do for Israelis. It would be to Israel's benefit to have a stable northern neighbor in Lebanon.

    I thank you for sharing your knowledge on the Eastern Catholic churches and their rites. So many Roman Catholics are clueless about this part of the church. I had an argument with one 'Traditional Latin Mass' supporter about Arab Catholics workshiping the same God as Roman Catholics however they refer to Him as Allah. To this man it was incomprehensible that God and Allah were the same God. We went back and forth until he became so smug I walked away.

    Keep up the good work.