Fr Johnny Abu Khalil, Parish Priest of Nablus in Palestine, spoke at the Parish of Enfield on Wednesday, 30 November. He was invited to come to the UK by Pax Christi to do a speaking tour telling his story.
He explained why Christians are leaving the Holy Land – settlements; check-points; security wall, and Israeli policy etc. He also described the personal intimidation he experienced getting his group of 50 people to visit Jerusalem at Easter time.
He sdescribed the land-grabbing; starting in 1948; then after the six days war of 1967; the Intifada of 1995 etc, all a clear policy to exclude all non-Jews from the new state of Israel. This is an open policy, a policy condemned by most international governments with the great exception of the USA! There’s the problem! The amount of land now owned by Palestinians in what was their own country has been greatly reduced. All the Resolutions, Agreements, Statements have been ignored by the state of Israel!
Fr Johnny said, yes, by all means have security. But there is no place for intimidation; humiliation and the delaying tactics, so that workers etc, could be delayed 1-6 hours at one of the few crossings of the ‘separation wall’. He explained that the Wall divides communities; links with neighbouring towns; access to one’s land etc., all an orchestrated plan to punish the local people, mainly Palestinians, it is known as “collective punishment”; but all in the name of security.
Fr Johnny spoke of the desire of all Christians to be in Bethlehem and Jerusalem at Easter and Christmas. People have to have permits to travel. Some 250 of his parishioners wished to go to Jerusalem last Easter. They were granted 50 passes to go to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday to join thousands of pilgrims, who were processing from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem at 2.30pm. They set out by coach, (which had to come from Jerusalem to Nabulus). All seemed well until they reached Jerusalem - two hours late - at 4.30!!
On arrival, Fr.Johnny was absolutely furious and started screaming and shouting (even at the Patriarch) … so much so, that TV cameras and reporters all came to interview him, to see what was going on. He was able to tell his story in public of the intimidation, delay and humiliation – all in the name of security! When asked ‘what security? No answer!
In the question and answer time, when asked, “What can we do? Fr Johnny mentioned a number of considerations:
He asked for our prayers, support and interest, he spoke of the possibility of twinning with people, towns and parishes in Palestine. We need to be vocal, because silence gives the impression of abandonment. If we have concern, then we need to speak out. He was very forthright in explaining the sad plight of Christians, Muslims, and Palestinians in the present state of Israel. The story has to be told and without prejudice!
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