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Home arrow Blog arrow May 2009 arrow May 15, 2009

May 15, 2009
May 15, 2009: On Politics, Popes and Reasons to still HOPE  UPDATED May 21 @ end
Beneath a brutal history of centuries of doctrinal polemics, Crusader massacres, forced exiles of Jews and a Church that did not recognize the State of Israel until 1993, simmers the effects of forty-two years of military occupation and the negation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Holy Land by the Jewish State.

While surface relations between the Vatican and Israel appear better than ever, the "lingering Jewish bitterness over the Vatican's posture during the Holocaust, the uncertain legal status of church property in Israel, and outstanding concerns about Christian religious sites in the Holy Land continue to be diplomatic sticking points.

"In 1965, the Second Vatican Council adopted the "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions," called Nostra Aetate (in our time). The declaration addresses the church's relationship with all non-Catholics and, in particular, affirms the deep connection between Christianity and Judaism, rejecting anti-Semitism "any time and by anyone." [1]

According to Webster's a Semite is "a member of any of the peoples speaking a Semitic language, including Hebrews and Arabs."

Although the Vatican supported the 1947 UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which partitioned Palestine, it refrained from recognizing the State of Israel for another forty-five years.

"Some experts say the main reason the Vatican did not recognize Israel was over fears of the backlash it would create for Christians in Arab countries in light of the Palestine issue…Others argue the church's desire for greater control of Jerusalem stifled diplomacy…In December 1993, the Vatican and Israel signed a diplomatic treaty; they exchanged ambassadors a few months later. The Vatican-Israel agreement normalized relations between the two nations, furthered a Jewish-Catholic dialogue already under way, and helped establish a path for regularizing the church's legal status in Israel…Overall, the Vatican's relationship with Israel is based on international law, not theology [and] Property remains an issue…The church has extensive properties in Israel." [Ibid]

On May 14, 2009, Jonathan Cook, reported for The National that, "The Vatican desperately needs exemption from Israeli taxes levied on the Church’s extensive land holdings. Unpaid property taxes are reported to amount to US $70 million." [2]

"Before he arrived in the region, the Pope declared that he was coming as a “pilgrim of peace”, with his staff accentuating that his role would be spiritual rather than political. In truth, however, Pope Benedict’s visit was mired in politics the moment he agreed, at the invitation of Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, to step into this conflict-torn region." [Ibid]

In 1964, Paul VI, spent twelve hours in the Holy Land before the Vatican had established diplomatic relations with Israel and held a Mass in Nazareth in which he never named Israel nor did he formally meet with any Israeli officials.

In 2000, Pope John Paul II went with Yasser Arafat to the 100% Muslim populated Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem and cited UN resolutions against Israel and also described the “degrading conditions” under which Palestinians lived.

Pope Benedict XVI met with the parents of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and two parents of the 10,756 Palestinians who are currently imprisoned by Israel.

 

On May 12, 2009, while standing near to The Wall in the 100% Muslim populated Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Pope Benedict cited the Israeli-built barrier as a "stark reminder of the deadlocked Middle East conflict" as he declared it "necessary to remove the walls that we build around our hearts, the barriers that we set up against our neighbors." [3]

The Pope did not walk through the concrete and steel Terminal that all Palestinians must go through to enter Jerusalem from the sister city of Bethlehem. The pontiff's limousine was instead waved through the 26-foot-high steel gate between the barrier's concrete slabs. Next to the 50-foot high observation tower on the Jerusalem side of the wall, the Israeli Minister of Tourism draped the Orwellian greeting, "PEACE BE WITH YOU" while festooned on the Bethlehem side is graffiti such as "Bridges, Not Walls."

Israel persists to claim that The Wall is a "security barrier" but offers no explanation to cover why it stretches for hundreds of miles upon Palestinian owned property preventing the indigenous people access to their land, jobs, families and holy sites.

Pope Benedict did note how The Wall, "intrudes into [Palestinian] territories, separating neighbors and dividing families." [Ibid]

During his 10-hour stay in the West Bank and under the shadow of The Wall at Aida Camp, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about resisting the urge for revenge as he urged young people in particular to "have the courage to resist any temptation to resort to acts of violence or terrorism…Even if walls can easily be built, we know they don't last forever. They can be demolished…First of all, however, it is necessary to remove the walls that we build around our hearts…In a world where more and more borders are being opened up it is tragic to see walls still being erected…It is understandable that Palestinians feel frustrated…their legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian state, remain unfilled…How earnestly we pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built." [4]

 

In reply, Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev spun, "We did not want to build a security barrier. We were forced to by the continuous infiltration of suicide bombers entering our country and murdering our people. We wish the reality were different."

 

Reality was better expressed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when he denounced the Israeli occupation and called the barrier what it is, an "apartheid wall" during the Pope's red carpet welcome to Bethlehem. [Ibid]

 

 

With an audience of 10,000 tightly packed into Manger Square and directly in front of the Church of the Nativity, Benedict urged Palestinians to keep alive the "flame of hope [for a] sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders."

 

Israel has yet to define its borders and any current map of Israel Palestine illuminates how difficult a task it will be to create a contiguous viable Palestinian state.

Israel refused to allow the Pope to visit Gaza, where 1.5 million people [less than 2,5000 are Christians] remain captive in the largest open air prison the world has ever known, but hope arrived for the captives on May 13, 2009, during a special audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Presidential Palace in Bethlehem.

"HOPE has two children. The first is ANGER at the way things are. The second is COURAGE to DO SOMETHING about it."-St. Augustine

With a contingent of Christians from Gaza in attendance, a prophetic voice from Jerusalem,  Nora Carmi addressed the Pope, from which I excerpt:

We, the indigenous faithful Christians of Jerusalem, join our voices to those of our Palestinian Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters in the West Bank and Gaza.

Your pilgrimage for peace comes at a very critical moment in the history of the Palestinian people. For this reason, religious institutions and members of the civil society have communicated to Your Holiness, their concerns and aspirations prior to your arrival in the country.

We, “the little flock” of Jerusalem would have loved to celebrate with joy your presence among us, but as your experience in Jerusalem in the past few days has proved, we are not free and our rights are denied.

Sad to say, there are only about 9000 Christians of various denominations left but they form an integral part of the rich fabric of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, the city of peace anxiously awaiting a just peace for all…the ramifications of the 42-year old military occupation of this city significant to all faiths. Christians and Muslims suffer the same violations of human and national rights because Jerusalem is under occupation.

As the Vatican has recognized: “the part of the city militarily occupied in 1967 and annexed and declared the capital of the State of Israel, IS OCCUPIED TERRITORY (as recorded and confirmed by the United Nations) As such, all Israeli measures which exceed the power of a belligerent occupant under international law are therefore null and void”.

This courageous stand of the Vatican should be upheld and prayerfully acted upon in order to end the illegal monopolization and the unilateral judaization of Jerusalem, strangulated by settlements, divided by road blocks and checkpoints.

Families are separated because of the wall; residents lose their residency rights; married couples are denied family reunification and homes are demolished! Young people who raise their voices against injustice are thrown into prison and the sanctity of life is desecrated. The beautiful mosaic of Jerusalem is shattered under oppression and injustice.

How can your flock be spiritually empowered and guided when faced with the violation of their rights to worship, to move, to learn, and to return home?

How can your flock remain steadfast and continue resisting non-violently?

How can we secure jobs and housings for the young people so that they will not lose hope and emigrate?

How can we encourage our children in exile to risk coming back to their country and contribute to maintaining the uniqueness of the Christian presence without being denied entry?

Your pilgrimage to the sites made holy by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, not only constitutes a rich spiritual experience, but, is made especially meaningful through the sharing of the sufferings of the people who also make this land holy. We count on Your Holiness, to proclaim anew to the world the teachings of our Savior “to bring good news to the poor…release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of God’s favor.”(Luke 4; 18-19)

Your Holiness, you come as a peacemaker to promote tolerance and reconciliation. We urge you to continue following in the courageous footsteps of our Savior, Jesus Christ, in daring to raise a prophetic voice and to state clearly that:

• Jerusalem must remain an open city to all faiths and be the shared capital of the two states.
• The occupation has to end.
• Israel has to abide by International Law, implement UN resolutions and be held accountable for all violations especially the most recent brutal onslaught on Gaza.

Two thousand years ago, from the Mt. of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city, under occupation and torn apart by violence and dissent. “You do not know the things that make for peace!” That cry resonates in Jerusalem to-day, still under occupation and shattered by the absence of tolerance, respect and love…Only then can Christians, Muslims and Jews live in freedom and in harmony in the promising land for all. [End Nora Carmi]

It has been said strangers can be angels and prophets walk among us and we all stand at a great crossroads in time.

"Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" - Amos 5:24

"From Moses to Jeremiah and Isaiah, the Prophets taught...that the Jewish claim on the land of Israel was totally contingent on the moral and spiritual life of the Jews who lived there, and that the land would, as the Torah tells us, 'vomit you out' if people did not live according to the highest moral vision of Torah. Over and over again, the Torah repeated its most frequently stated mitzvah [command]: "When you enter your land, do not oppress the stranger; the other, the one who is an outsider of your society, the powerless one and then not only 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself' but also 'you shall love the other.'" [6]


"What does God require? He has told you o'man! Be just, be merciful, and walk humbly with your Lord." -Micah 6:8

http://www.cfr.org/publication/19344/vaticanisrael_relations.html?breadcrumb=%2F

http://www.jkcook.net/Articles2/0389.htm#Top

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/mideastemail/la-fg-pope-bethlehem14-2009may14,0,7031742.story

>http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090513/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_mideast_pope

http://fosna.org/content/sabeels-nora-carmi-delivers-christian-message-pope-benedict-xvi

       6. Rabbi Lerner, TIKKUN Magazine, page 35, Sept./Oct. 2007



May 21, 2009 email from UM Liaison in Israel and Palestine

Dear Friends,

I’ve been out a lot and my computer is going haywire lately (info overload?) so have not been timely about getting you updates about the pope’s visit. I’m sure anyone interested can go to You Tube or just do a Google search. There have been a lot of articles with various analyses about his messages. I was able to be two of the masses; one in Bethlehem where I was in the choir so could not get too many good photos, and one in Nazareth where I had a VIP pass, although those were oversold (4,000 in VIP section alone!) and I ended up sitting on the stone stairs.

I won’t go into the complicated details of the problems of just getting through security to get to these places, even with a VIP pass and a choir pass! Suffice to say it was just insane! In Bethlehem the majority of the tickets for the 5000 seats set up in Manger Square went not to local Christians, but to international tour groups! It was just plain wrong! These people can see the pope anywhere. The people of Bethlehem can not get out of Bethlehem! It was just maddening. In Nazareth it was the opposite. 40,000 tickets were issued to about 2/3 locals and 1/3 tourists and internationals. It was very obvious the difference in the receptions.

In Bethlehem the checkpoint was scheduled to be closed all day so I had to book at room at a local hotel for the night before since I had to be through security by 7:30 for mass at 10:00. We were supposed to be able to get through a special barricade, but no one seemed to have told the police at that barricade so we had to go through the narrow streets and via a checkpoint with the thousands of others. We didn’t get to our 8:00 rehearsal until 9:00!

For the mass in Nazareth the bus was leaving Mar Elias School where I had spent the night at 4:30 in the morning. (Again mass was scheduled for 10:00) No one was allowed to drive up to the “Mt of Precipice” (the “new” site where they take tourists to see where Jesus was supposed to have been pushed off the cliff since the historic location has a convent built on it and is smack in the middle of town) where a special amphitheater had been constructed for the mass. People were expected to park at special locations and be shuttled to the site. I won’t even go into the logistics of just getting to the site since it was so complicated and disorganized. Many people ended up just walking up and down the hill. Since I got there at 5:00 AM and could not get to my car and get out of Nazareth until 3:00 I got toasted in the sun all day, but it was worth it to see so many Palestinian Christians with Israeli citizenship participate in this event. It should give a message to the Israeli government that a “Jewish state” is not only undemocratic, but racist. Inclusivity is the key to peace here (nothing new in that) but it won’t happen any time soon, I’m afraid.

After a very long hot day, I finally got back to my car and headed back to by home in Beit Safafa near Bethlehem. As I was driving up the hill I saw a couple of trucks in front of me and realized they were carrying the “Pope-mobiles” back to the airport. The pope always travels with two, in case one breaks down, in case they need to divert one for security, in case…

Sunday evening I drove back north to see about my visa…again! I showed up at 8:00 on Monday morning to be first in line. That lady behind the desk didn’t even bother to ask my name, she just pulled my file out of her drawer. (I’ve been there almost every Monday for the past 6 weeks!) To make a very, very long story short she finally had me fill out the application and pay the fees, then she told me that it had to be sent to Jerusalem and that it would be about two weeks to get the one year work visa. (This is after being told for the past 6 weeks that the papers were already in Jerusalem!) I had her call Bp Chacour who is my sponsor. She spoke with him in Arabic then passed the phone to me. He told me “There are literally thousands of visa applications for Christians in Jerusalem and you’ll just have to wait and see what happens.” So much for the “two weeks” she had told me.

I was given a “temporary visa” that was for three months beginning the day my old one expired (so that I wouldn’t show up as having been here illegally on the computers later) which gives me until July 17. I already have a flight out on July 7 so that at least allows me to leave without a problem of an expired visa at the airport. However, considering the trend that is taking place for others in similar situations as mine, I may only be given a one week visa upon my return. If I do not get my one year visa before I leave the country they may only give me a week to collect my things and get out and wait for the visa in my own country. People have been waiting sometimes for years. This is not good! It jeopardizes all our work here, all the itineraries I have been working on for VIM teams, seminary groups, community development projects, and all the financial distributions that this office does.

And so, my dear friends, I ask once again to continue to pray that I get the multiple-entry work visa before I leave the country on July 7 or I may be in the US again sooner than expected for a much longer period of time than anticipated. Life is indeed uncertain here.

Janet Lahr Lewis

UM Liaison in Israel and Palestine

   
 
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"HOPE has two children.The first is ANGER at the way things are. The second is COURAGE to DO SOMETHING about it."-St. Augustine

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People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
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If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
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Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
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