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Message from the Bishop of Jerusalem

Posted on: April 24, 2002 12:20 PM
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Dear Friends,

Salaam and grace in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and blessed greetings from Jerusalem,

I want to thank you all for your continued support, your messages, and all your thoughts and prayers at this time. As we continue our ministry in this land, we continue to witness the attack on the entire people in Palestine, and the impact of it all on our work and our ministry of reconciliation. I am sending this letter on my return from Nazareth to Jerusalem. I left Nazareth early this morning to be able to attend the Heads of Churches Meeting in Jerusalem at 10:00am. There were 14 checkpoints on the Jordan Valley way and I was stopped at several of them. At the 4th checkpoint a soldier said, "You do not look happy," to which I replied, "Only abnormal people would look happy in this abnormal situation." The drive was scary with hardly any movement, except for settlers, who looked at me with suspicion, not to mention also the many army vehicles with many soldiers carrying death in their hands and inflicting terror upon us all. The scene and the experience reminded me of the song that the Revd Garth Hewitt wrote:

"What's this war against the Children?
Against Women, too?
What does it make to your soul, soldier?
Power only makes you weak!!
You have become what the gun has made you.
You are the terror on the street".

Antonela Notari, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, stated in an article in the Guardian on 17 April 2002 that "it is the responsibility of those fighting a war to look after the well being of civilians." Israel has failed on this count on a massive scale in the West Bank as a whole. Nineteen days of curfew and siege have deprived two million Palestinians of access to medical care, food and drinking water. Israeli tanks trundled over water mains and cars, and ploughed through electricity and telephone wires, depriving most neighbourhoods of basic services. The bodies had been left to rot in homes and streets for days, and the wounded to bleed to death, because the Israeli army banned ambulances from entering the battle zones. The army regularly seized male civilians of all ages from their homes and used them as human shields.

This gives a good overview of the dire humanitarian needs of the communities at this time. Many families of our Churches have lost their professions as a result of the destruction of their shops, offices or clinics. They all have to start from scratch, and they are people who had nothing to do with any armed activity. The story of the camp in Jenin will become a paradigm for Palestinian struggle and survival and the basis on which they will continue to voice their history and their right of their own state. Amnesty International reports about Jenin states that it is "one of the worst scenes of devastation they have ever witnessed. It is almost impossible to conceive that what was once a town is now a lunar landscape. Who knows? Who cares? This may be the beginning of a Palestinian Holocaust." It added that "if this was an earthquake the international community would be asked for and would give urgent help. It is shocking that the authorities have not asked for help and that the international community is not offering it. Let this be the wake up call that help is needed now to save what life there is left."

We have been receiving many letters of support that do not only speak of the thoughts and prayers of many but also of the need for action. It is the wake up call for all of us. It is incumbent upon us all to rise and voice the need for justice, for those who have no hope. A poignant statement from Dante says:

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."

This comes to compliment what Edmund Burke also says:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".

There is an urgent need to work to influence public opinion and to provide the atmosphere that might influence the decisions that are being made. Many are writing to their MPs and others are seeking to force their governments to pressure their decisions, to see a different reality, and work for justice in the Middle East. The media does not always provide the picture that reflects the reality as well as the sufferings of many in this land.

Keep up your prayers, for they are very important. We may at times feel helpless, and we do. But we offer all our helplessness to God in prayer, always hoping to meet him in the future, not only in the past, as he appears to us risen from the dead, proclaiming peace among his disciples, and all his followers, but also showing his wounded hands and side and manifesting forth that there can be, and there is another way for the world, other than that of power and retaliation.

May God bless you all, and know that this comes with my prayers and best wishes

In Christ

+Riah Abu El-Assal