Viewpoint: Time for some uncomfortable conversations about the Holy Land


Wall surrounding Bethlehem

Wall surrounding Bethlehem

By: Stuart Littlewood

A month ago, after reading a desperate cry for help from the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP) addressed to the World Council of Churches, I emailed eight churches in my locality asking whether that heart-rending appeal had trickled down to them at parish level.

If not, I hoped to find out where the break in communications occurred, as this wasn't the first time churches in the Holy Land had sought support from Western Christendom. Previous appeals were largely ignored and left to civil society for action.

Now, say the Palestinians, the situation is "beyond urgent". So had the NCCOP's latest plea actually arrived on the desks of parish priests in my neighbourhood? And if so, how were grass-roots Christians responding?

I included a link to the actual crisis document - www.article1collective.org/2017/06/open-letter-from-christian-palestinians-to-the-world-council-of-churches-and-the-ecumenical-movement/ which should have made every churchman sit up, and a gentle reminder that their faith and their job of work are rooted in the Holy Land.

So what are the chances, I wonder, of seeing concerted action from Western churches before it's too late? And what part can local parishes play?

The key point was this: it's beyond urgent. So are our spiritual leaders, those upstanding 'men of the cloth', mobilizing their troops?

Only one of the eight replied — the local Catholic vicar-general — who dismissed the subject in two sentences. So there you have it. If this local bunch are representative of the Christian community in the UK, they don't give a four-X for their brothers and sisters in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. And they are utterly indifferent to the fact that the place where Christianity was born is being stolen from under their noses.

If that's a wrong interpretation, and Christians in the West do actually wish to help, the issue is straightforward enough. Churches in Palestine are asking churches here to call things as they are: to recognize Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law and the UN report which says so.

They are concerned that States and churches are still dealing with Israel on a business-as-usual basis, as if the situation were normal, and ignoring the criminal reality of military occupation.

Churches came together in opposition to apartheid in South Africa and helped end it. Why haven't they done the same in Palestine?

Christianity sometimes has great trouble telling right from wrong and doing something about it. The Holy Land is a case in point. Evil reigns there. Christianity across the world cowers. What would Christ say to that?

I know what Michel Sabbah says. He is a former Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, a courageous man of the front line and one of the great heroes of the struggle:

"The current situation is hopeless. In reality, there are no signs of hope at all for the Palestinian people. In spite of that, we hope.We hope because we are Christians, and God is present.We hope because we believe in the fundamental goodness of the human being, Israeli and Palestinian. Human goodness will prevail at the end upon the human power of evil.We hope because Palestinians are persevering in claiming their rights.

It is a source of hope that we never gave up....We hope because among Israelis, there are people who are trying to work with Palestinians for what is right. And there are an increasing number of movements for peace, strong in will....If we had no hope we would not live. Hope is life, and history gives us hope. What is right will prevail."

Michel Sabbah
Catholic Patriarch Emeritus

Littlewood is a regular writer on Middle Eastern affairs and author of the book Radio Free Palestine. Read his full article here: http://dissidentvoice.org/2017/08/christians-can-forget-shallow-diplomacy-in-the-religious-war-on-churches-in-the-holy-land/

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