Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
No Such Thing as Justice in the Holy Land,
Palestinian Church Leaders Tell the Irish
By Stuart Littlewood
Redress, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, December 15, 2010
"We need only one thing, to be protected by the
world against the crimes of
views a recent tour of the Republic of Ireland by a delegation of Church
leaders from Palestine during which they described in meetings with Irish
politicians the situation in their homeland under Israeli military
occupation and the plight of the dwindling Christian community there.
We are not here as politicians, they said. We come as representatives of
the various churches in Jerusalem.
But the trio from the Holy Land
showed they were more than a match for Western politicians who fancy they
know all about the Middle East.
Archbishop Theodosius Hanna (Greek
Orthodox Church), Monsignor Manuel Musallam (Latin Catholic) and Mr
Constantine Dabbagh (Executive Director of the Middle East Council of
Churches) are courageous human rights defenders and spiritual leaders from
Palestine. They have just completed a tour of Ireland to raise awareness of
the situation in their homeland under Israeli military occupation and the
plight of the dwindling Christian community there.
"We need only one
thing, to be protected by the world against the crimes of Israel," was their
The week-long visit was arranged by
SADAKA, the Ireland Palestine Alliance, and part funded by Trócaire, the
overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and Christian
Outside the Irish Parliament.
Left to Right: Alan Lonergan (SADAKA), Constantine Dabbagh,
Fr Manuel Musallam, John Ging, Archbishop Theodosius Hanna
After delivering a special Christmas greeting from the Holy Land to the
president and the people of Ireland, the Palestinian church leaders were
able to establish a mutual understanding with President Mary McAleese that
peace is more than an absence of violence – “the only lasting peace is a
During their visit the churchmen described the Israeli occupation as the
“crucifixion of the nation of Palestine”, and made a plea to all of
Ireland’s leaders to “act and intervene, or nothing will change”.
They met with other Irish government ministers and the Joint Oireachtas
Committee on Foreign Affairs, whom they briefed on the reality of life in
the Holy Land, where the Israeli occupation denies even freedom of religion.
A transcript of the meeting can be found at
Archbishop Hanna began by reminding the committee:
Palestine is the place from where Christianity comes. Jerusalem,
Bethlehem and the Holy Land in general are very important for
Christians… Everything that has happened to the Palestinians between
1948 and today has happened to all Palestinians, including Christian
What we are after is freedom and dignity just as
freedom and dignity have been bestowed on so many nations in the world.
We want that too. When we speak about peace, we also speak about justice
because it is impossible to have peace without justice. Peace is part of
justice. Unfortunately, in the Holy Land there is no such thing as
He explained that in Gaza 1.5 million live in an open air prison.
"Christian or Muslim, we all are Palestinians and we all experience the
He said Jerusalem also was under siege. A Canadian could visit
the city but Monsignor Musallam, who lives 20 minutes away in Birzeit,
cannot. "What happens to him happens to all Palestinians in the West Bank. I
was very happy to see Mr Dabbagh [who lives in Gaza] over here because I
cannot see him in Palestine. I had to come to Ireland to see him."
The archbishop spoke briefly about the
Palestine Document, the Christian Palestinians’ message to
the world requesting the international community to stand by the Palestinian
people who have faced oppression, displacement and apartheid for more than
six decades. The suffering continues while the international community
silently looks on. It asks Christians all over the world to stand against
injustice and apartheid and to work for a just peace in the Holy Land.
The document declares that the military occupation of Palestine “is a
sin against God and humanity, and that any theology that legitimizes the
occupation is far from Christian teachings”.
“We are not terrorists. We have not occupied Israel. Peace is possible
if justice is possible.”
Fr Manuel Musallam told the committee:
I was in Gaza during the war [Operation Cast Lead] and suffered with
my people for 22 days. I saw with my own eyes a phosphoric bomb in the
school yard. I saw people injured by these phosphoric bombs, although
these bombs are forbidden. These crimes against us were ignored by all
the people of the world. No-one was courageous enough until now to say
“No” to Israel or “No” to America or to say “Stop killing” and “Stop
What happened in Gaza was not a war. A war is a clash between
soldiers, aircraft and weapons. We were victims, just victims. They
destroyed Gaza. I was there and saw with my own eyes what happened. We
in Gaza were treated like animals... We are not terrorists. We have not
We do not want to die to liberate Palestine. We
want to live to build Palestine... We are asking the world to give the
Palestinian people their rights. The question is whether peace is
possible. Despite all the difficulties, the crimes and the war, we as
Palestinians say peace is possible if justice is possible.
Fr Manuel believes a religious war is brewing in the Middle East. "This
war will not stop at the Middle East," he warned. "It will also happen
At some point a state should be recognized, he says.
From 1948 to the present, our state has no borders. It is the only
country state without borders… They refused to discuss borders. They
refused to end the state of war. Europe and America were partners in
this war and all the crimes committed against us, because they set up
Israel in Palestine. People were gathered from more than 20 countries...
What Constantine Dabbagh said to the committee was clear and simple. "We
want to live as Palestinians and for the two-state recognition to be applied
in accordance with UN resolutions. This would mean that the Palestinian
state would have the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, lands which were
occupied in 1967.” He expressed appreciation for the worldwide support for
justice but, he said, it evaporates when it comes to the rights of the
Palestinians and the vetoes which are imposed by the United States and other
The occupation within Gaza has ceased but we are cordoned off and are
living in a big prison... A population of 1.5 million people includes
2,000 Christians but we are part and parcel of this community. We have
no problem with our Muslim compatriots but it is true that the
extremists are growing and I repeat the warning on this point from
Monsignor Musallam. This is as a result of the occupation, the
oppression and humiliation and the poverty. These factors are making
more people side with the extremists and this is what we want to stop.
This will only happen with the support and help of the international
community and the United States in particular.
The Irish government’s “Zionist Tendency”
At question time it emerged that even the Irish government has its
“Zionist Tendency”. Deputy Alan Shatter argued:
I find it
extraordinary that a group such as this should make a presentation to
the committee on the plight confronting Christians on the West Bank and
Gaza and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without any particular
mention or emphasis on the substantial difficulties that fundamentalism
in the Muslim world has created, of the major difficulties in Gaza
created by Hamas and of the significant problems for the Christian
community posed by extremists within Gaza...
It is my
understanding that there have been a number of incidents in Gaza. When I
met President Abbas he detailed many deaths that occurred in Gaza in the
context of the Christian community. Fr Musallam commented on one of the
events, which was an attack and looting on the Latin Catholic church in
Gaza and a nearby school run by nuns in 2007. From my knowledge of
having visited Gaza, pressure has been put on the Christian community.
There has been a series of attempts to impose a fundamentalist Muslim
perspective on the workings in Gaza.
Archbishop Hanna was able to quickly put the deputy in his place.”Deputy
Shatter's speech was full of inaccuracies and non-factual statements,” he
said. “We are not here as politicians; we are men of spirituality and are
talking about peace. At one point, I believed the deputy speaking was the
Israeli ambassador, not an Irish parliamentarian.
added: “I urge the deputy to check his facts. With regard to religious
extremism and segregation, we are absolutely against any kind of religious
fundamentalism, be it Jewish, Muslim or Christian. I and others from the
Christian community and Muslim mosques, and even some Jewish people, work
together against fundamentalism...”
“We do not need cookies from Israel”
The archbishop continued:
The problem in Palestine has nothing
to do with religion – it is not a religious issue. It is not a conflict
of Christians, Muslims and Jewish people. It is a conflict between those
who are the holders of a rightful cause and those who took away that
right by military might. Palestinian people as a whole, including
Christians and Muslims, have said repeatedly that what they want is
peace. We want two states that live together in peace. However, the
reality on the ground is that we are extremely far away from that goal
because Israel does not want peace.
He admitted there may be some Palestinian extremists who use religion in
the wrong way, but he emphasized that the Church and its community stood
against terrorism or violence wherever it comes from. Israel, he pointed
out, has a violent attitude towards the Palestinians as a matter of state
Fr Manuel added that Palestinians are not terrorists.
All we ask of Israel is to respect us and not treat us like animals.
We also ask parliamentarians and governments across the world not to
give us food aid. We do not need cookies from Israel. We do not even
need to trade with Israel. All we need is to be protected. We are
suffering a war that we have endured for more than 60 years.
we have Hamas, then Israel has Sharon, Avigdor Lieberman, Rabbi Ovadia
Yosef and others. We do not agree with any of these fanatic persons on
either side. Does Deputy Shatter expect us as Palestinians to protect
those who occupy us?
“Be assured that Hamas will protect Christians in Gaza” – Haniyeh
"Christianity in the region has been destroyed not by
Muslims but by Israel. Israel destroyed the church of
Palestine and the church of Jerusalem beginning in 1948. It,
not Muslims, has sent Christians in the region into a
Monsignor Manuel Musallam
Fr Manuel continued: "As for the church, Christianity in the region has
been destroyed not by Muslims but by Israel. Israel destroyed the church of
Palestine and the church of Jerusalem beginning in 1948. It, not Muslims,
has sent Christians in the region into a diaspora.”
He told his
listeners how he had seen the Israeli army target the Christian school in
Five Hamas ministers visited the school after it was attacked and
promised they would repair the damage. Someone intended to create havoc
in the area, particularly when Hamas and Fatah were clashing. When I
visited the school, a Hamas minister, a Muslim, picked up the Holy Bible
thrown on the ground, kissed it and put it back on the altar. He said
Muslims were forbidden to do such things to the Bible. Hamas paid more
than 122,000 dollars to repair all the damage caused.
I met the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. When he embraced me he
said this, and we believed it. He said: “Go to your family, but be
assured that Hamas will employ weapons against Muslims to protect
Christians in Gaza.” This is the reality. Christians in Palestine are
not suffering persecution, because we are not considered to be a
religious community, but rather the people of Palestine. We have the
same rights and the same obligations.
Islamic fundamentalism ...
came about because of the occupation of Palestine and the different wars
we have suffered. It is a fact that there is fundamentalism in
Palestine, yet if the occupation continues it will explode and destroy
the world, not just us.
He finished by telling them what it’s really like:
We have spoken to Israel for more than 18 years and the result has
been zero. We have signed agreements here and there at various times and
then when there is a change in the government of Israel we have to start
again from the beginning. We ask for our life and to be given back our
Jerusalem, to be given our state and for enough water to drink. We want
to be given more opportunity to reach Jerusalem. I have not seen
Jerusalem since 1990.
He described the nightmarish system of entry and exit permits, which
Israel invariably refused. "We want to see an end to this occupation, and
please do not ask us to protect those who are occupying our territory.
“They shoot at any farmer who tends to his land”
Mr Dabbagh rounded off the churchmen's contribution:
We are not just a community but part and parcel of the whole society.
This does not mean that we have not encountered any difficulties. Such
difficulties come from those extremists who derive their raison
d'être, unfortunately, from the policies of the West. They are even
very dangerous to Hamas, which is giving protection to the Christians,
whenever it is needed.
We hate to see rockets being launched from
Gaza, but committee members should consider the state of Israel with its
arsenal of weapons and the destruction which is being inflicted on Gaza.
I would like them to come to Gaza again and witness the daily incursions
over the border... These daily incursions are led by tanks and
bulldozers. The Israelis keep a buffer zone of between 300 metres and
500 metres along a 45 km strip of the border with Gaza… They shoot at
any farmer who tends to his land.
As regards the two-state solution, he asks what state they want
Palestinians to accept:
Do they want us to have cantons here and there and call them viable?
The state of Palestine next to the state of Israel should be in
compliance with UN resolutions, which means that Israel should evacuate
Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem to give Palestinians the
opportunity to establish our state, in order to have security for Israel
and for us Palestinians as well.
We are suffering from the siege. People cannot travel for medical
treatment, for education, for normal business. I could not get into the
West Bank or Jerusalem to attend meetings or prayers. A number of
Christians in Gaza are given permits to go there at Christmas time and
for the New Year, but many others are deprived. My children are under 35
years and they could not go. Are they not allowed to go to church until
they are 35 and older? This is unfair.
“We are suffering from the siege. People cannot
travel for medical treatment, for education, for normal
business. I could not get into the West Bank or
Jerusalem to attend meetings or prayers.”
Constantine Dabbagh, Executive Director, Middle
East Council of Churches
Muslims are deprived
completely and this creates another struggle between Christians and
Muslims. Muslims see a few hundred of us getting out at Christmas, but
they are not allowed to get out to pray in Jerusalem.
The inhuman conditions imposed by Israel should be stopped but that won’t
happen, he says, “unless the international community brings a just peace,
ends the occupation and allows for the establishment of a Palestinian state
next to the Israeli state in accordance with UN resolutions".
Marie Crawley intervened with a no-nonsense challenge to a suggestion from
another deputy that the international community and the negotiations need to
be approached with balance.
This is not a balanced situation. This is not a conflict of equals.
This is an occupation. We have an occupier and we have an occupied
people. We have an oppressor and we have an oppressed people. We have a
powerful people and we have a powerless people. To approach that
situation with balance is to side with the occupier.
international community does not need to approach the situation with a
sense of balance, but needs to exert pressure on the state of Israel
until such time as it complies with international law and ends the
Earlier, the church leaders met the minister for foreign affairs,
Michael Martin, and stressed the need for Ireland and other Western states
to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law and UN Security
Council resolutions. They urged the Irish government to consider the
preferential trade relations Israel has been allowed enjoy with the EU.
Martin also agreed to raise the issue of Palestinian students being
prevented by Israel from travelling to Europe to participate in the EU’s
Erasmus Programme (a scheme for higher education students to spend part of
their studies in another European country) while encouraging and allowing
Israeli students to do so.
Ging, Director of Operations in Gaza for the United Nations
Relief and Works Agency, happened to be in town and bumped into the Holy
Land trio at the gates of the Irish parliament. Ging was pleasantly surprise
to see familiar Gaza faces in Dublin (see photo).