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Home arrow Blog arrow January 2008 arrow January 19, 2008

January 19, 2008
WAWA Blog January 19, 2008: Restrictions by Israel on Christians Threatening the Future of the Church  



Restrictions by Israel on Christians Threatening the Future of the Church

by Fr. Firas Aridah

The Israeli Ministry of Interior decided to limit the entry of holders of valid visas to "one entry" or "no entry". Initially, this measure was meant to prohibit entry to those coming from "enemy countries". Now however, it includes Jordanians and Egyptians as well, the only two Arab countries who signed a peace agreement with Israel; among those holders of visas being restricted are priests, religious men and women, seminarians and other church personnel.  

What may seem a normal restriction imposes grave consequences:

-         The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which includes Palestine, Israel and Jordan, will be divided, as Jordanian priests and church personnel will not be allowed to move between Jordan and Israel/Palestine. The same applies to the Custody of the Holy Land, the Melkite Church and the religious congregations.

-         Seminarians at the Latin Patriachal Seminary in Beit Jala, most of whom are Jordanians, will not be allowed to visit their families for Christmas, Easter or any other occasion including family emergencies. If they do visit them, they will loose their residence visa. Applying for a new visa while they are outside the country, according to the new Israeli regulations, will take 3-4 months. Jordanians can leave the country, but re-entry is not guaranteed.

-         Jordanians, and other Arab priests, have to stay in the country without leaving it, and when their residence visa expires, they have to leave the country, apply for a new visa before they can go back to their parishes and ministries. The waiting period can be 3-4 months, with no guarantee they will obtain it. The whole work and life of the Church is in jeopardy by this policy.

-         If Israel continue with the new regulations, the consequences will be dire:      

1. by June 2008, the Catholic Church will loose many of its clergy, many of whom are Jordanians;

2. the Seminary, founded in 1852 and which formed all the clergy and bishops of the Latin Patriarchate (256 since 1852), will be closed;

3. and many parishes will be left priestless.    

These new restrictions are added to the already existing ones:

-          We witness long delays and complicated bureaucratic procedures to obtain visas for the personnel the Church needs for its work; the refusal to give or renew visas without any explanation. The freedom of the Church in the matter is stated in the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel in 1993, and never ratified by the Israeli Parliament (the Kenesset).

-         Palestinian priests are not allowed to enter Israel or Jerusalem; they may be given "permits" by the Israeli military authorities, restricting the entry points, the duration of their stay, restricted hours, no use of a car, being subject to humiliating search on checkpoints, and canceling the permits any time or with the frequent closures "of the Territories". This restriction does not allow any normal pastoral work or any participation at the religious ceremonies in the Holy Places or the monthly meetings/spiritual retreats at the Latin Patriarchate.

-         Palestinian Christians, as it is the case of all Palestinians, are not allowed to go to Jerusalem and/or visit the Holy Places. When new restrictions are imposed on the pastors, seminarians and the Church personnel, the life of the Church will be gravely affected.     What is needed now is for Israel to:

-         respect religious freedom;

-         respect the status of the Holy Land as the center of the life of the Church;

-         respect the freedom of the Church to exercise her pastoral work;

-         respect the engagement taken in the "Fundamental Agreement" with the Holy See;

-         allow the Church personnel to move freely, by simply giving them "Multi-entries" on their residence visas.

If the restrictions continue, the future of the Church in the Holy Land is gravely threatened.

God bless you
Yours in Christ Fr. Firas Aridah


In November 2006, I read an article written by Father Manuel, the parish priest at the Latin Church and school in Gaza who wrote:

"Gaza cannot sleep! The people are suffering unbelievably. They are hungry, thirsty, have no electricity or clean water. They are suffering constant bombardments and sonic booms from low flying aircraft. They need food: bread and water. Children and babies are hungry...people have no money to buy food. The price of food has doubled and tripled due to the situation. We cannot drink water from the ground here as it is salty and not hygienic. People must buy water to drink. They have no income, no opportunities to get food and water from outside and no opportunities to secure money inside of Gaza. They have no hope...Without electricity children are afraid. No light at night. No oil or candles...Thirsty children are crying, afraid and desparate...Many children have been violently thrown from their beds at night from the sonic booms. Many arms and legs have been broken. These planes fly low over Gaza and then reach the speed of sound. This shakes the ground and creates shock waves like an earthquake that causes people to be thrown from their bed. I, myself weigh 120 kilos and was almost thrown from my bed due to the shock wave produced by a low flying jet that made a sonic boom...Gaza cannot sleep...the cries of hungry children, the sullen faces of broken men and women who are just sitting in their hungry emptiness with no light, no hope, no love. These actions are War Crimes!"



   
 
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