A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November/December 1996, page 47
Christianity in the Middle East
Ecumenical Peace Service and March Held in Jerusalem
by Rev. L. Humphrey Walz
The Christian community in Jerusalem represented by patriarchs, bishops, clergy, and lay people, both indigenous and international, came together in an unprecedented ecumenical service of prayer and peace march on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 29, 1996.
Approximately 1,500 people (some estimates are much higher) gathered at St. Anne’s Church near Lion’s Gate, inside the Old City of Jerusalem. The program included prayers, Bible readings, and hymns led by representatives from all the Christian churches in Jerusalem. With the exception of a few prayers said by some international clergy (French, German, English, Portuguese, Swahili and Malayalam), the service was conducted in Arabic. Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah presided. The sermon was delivered by Archimandrite Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem on behalf of the patriarchs, bishops, clergy and people of Jerusalem and the whole of the Christian community in the land. It was a strong and clear statement expressing the faith and position of the whole Palestinian Christian community vis-a-vis the political situation in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories.
After the service, the worshippers, with candles in hand, took part in a silent peace march from St. Anne’s to the Chapel of the Flagellation. The march ended with a final prayer at the entrance to the chapel, exactly opposite the door of the recently opened tunnel which sparked off September’s tragic incidents.
The people returned quietly, daring to hope they might have nudged the government toward honoring its agreements.
A number of Palestinian Christian and Muslim ministers and Legislative Council members were among the participants in the prayers and the peace march, including Faisal Husseini, Hanan Ashrawi and the minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs, Hassan Tahboob. (Ask any Muslim about Waqf charities.)
Jerusalem Christian Schools Want Travel Permits for Staff
In September, when children went back to classes for the new academic year in Jerusalem’s private Christian schools, many of their teachers were absent. Father Halim Noujaim, chairman of the Ecumenical Christian Schools in Jerusalem, has reported to Ecumenical News International that the closure of the occupied West Bank has made it impossible for 150 teachers and essential staff of Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic schools to reach their jobs.
“Our educational programs and plans are in disarray. The problem has gone from bad to worse and our children’s education remains at a virtual standstill,” says Noujaim, who had met earlier with Prime Minister Netanyahu and pled that “young people who can’t come to school become bored, restless and tense. Left to themselves, deprived of guidance and association with role models, they easily fall prey to unsavory elements in the streets.”
“Our children’s education remains at a virtual standstill.”
He told the prime minister that the school administrators were “mindful that access to education and the encouragement of positive attitudes are significant factors in our common pursuit of peace and justice for the people of this land,” and expressed the hope that “together we may forestall frustration and violence and work for the peace and security of Jerusalem.”
The schools, most of which serve Muslim as well as Christian youths, are known throughout the region for their high academic standards. Many of the teachers come from nearby, traditionally Christian Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and Ramallah. They provide multilingual education for both Palestinian and expatriate children. Earlier attempts by Christian schools in Jerusalem to ensure the return of staff were unsuccessful. In April the heads of Christian churches discussed the problem with leading government officials who had promised to find a solution. A letter last month to the prime minister from the Latin, Greek Orthodox and Armenian patriarchs and Lutheran, Anglican and Coptic leaders has not been acknowledged, says Ecumenical News International correspondent Martin Bailey.
Royalty Undergirds Efforts to Save Mt. Sinai Treasures
For more than 15 centuries, the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery on the barren slopes of Egypt’s Mount Sinai have been collecting, copying and illuminating manuscripts related to the Christian faith. One result today is its library’s accumulation of almost 5,000 handwritten books and scrolls, second only in number, volume and importance to the Vatican Library’s collection. Most of them date from before the invention of movable type.
Produced with devotion and with many safeguards for accuracy, they are, among other things, basic to establishing the original text of the Bible. To preserve and amplify this collection, the British Royal family, in consultation with Dr. George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, and with enthusiastic cooperation from the monastery’s Abbot Damianos, has established the St. Catherine Foundation. It has enlisted Camberwell College of Arts in south London to help with a conservation program for which Father Nilus, one of the monks, has taken technical training, and 19 others are being prepared. Since Sinai desert heat can seriously damage books and papers, a priority for the foundation is the creation of environmentally controlled storage and archive systems.
The site of St. Catherine’s Monastery is venerated by Christians, Muslims and Jews as the place where Moses had the vision of the burning bush and later received the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19-24). The Prophet Muhammad provided the monastery with a letter of protection, copies of which can still be seen at St. Catherine’s.
“Peace to the City” Ponders Beirut
International peace has been a goal of the World Council of Churches ever since its creation. Interchurch programming on urban violence, however, generally has been left up to local and regional church councils and their secular colleagues. The Sept. 12-20 meeting of the WCC’s Central Committee in Geneva, however, decided to launch a joint initiative to encourage churches, under the heading of “Peace to the City,” to “visibly demonstrate the destructive force of violence” and foster “significant initiatives for building peace and justice.” To this end it is working on the selection of seven widely separated cities for study.
Rio de Janeiro and Johannesburg have since been targeted. Beirut is at present the most likely choice for the Middle East. Belfast, Manila, Chicago, Mostar and Port-au-Prince are among others being considered. Those selected will receive a series of team visits in the next two years. Their representatives will meet at the next WCC Assembly in Zimbabwe in 1998 to “help member churches reflect on how the WCC might facilitate their work on overcoming violence in the period after the assembly.”
Margot Kassmann, a German member of the Central Committee, told a Sept. 19 press conference in Geneva that this initiative is part of the WCC’s program to overcome violence, which she views as having “the potential of becoming the most important social-ethical enterprise of the WCC. In a time when violence is disrupting human relationships, when societies are torn apart by violence and civil conflict, and violence is seen as a legitimate way of settling disputes within or between states, the churches have to say a clear ”˜no’.”
“Cities,” she added, “can be symbols of the urgency to act. We do not want to describe violence, but to show that something can be done about it. We want to encourage churches to act, to cross barriers, to make new alliances and to rebuild broken communities.”
The program is also intended to examine situations where churches or religious groups contributed to the causes of violence, she said.
Church Leaders Differ on Iraq Sanctions
The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has criticized economic sanctions against Iraq for “the additional suffering they often inflict on affected populations,” and called on all nations to “respect the territorial integrity of Iraq.”
The committee also expressed appreciation for a statement issued on Sept. 13 by 21 leaders of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC), who “strongly urge the U.S. government to pursue a course of military restraint and multilateral diplomacy.” While stating that “we have no sympathy for the policies of the government in Iraq,” the NCC leaders urged the U.S. government to operate in concert with U.N. Security Council resolutions and “to reject any urgings to trust only in muscle and might.”
Some committee members, however, felt that sanctions could be a significant means of nonviolent action. Citing results in South Africa, they asserted that sanctions should not only be seen in a negative light.
Memories of Rabbi Elmer Berger
The tribute to the late Rabbi Elmer Berger on page 25 of this issue will stir grateful memories among many Christians whose perspectives on Biblical and modern religious teachings and political stances were stimulated by his critical analyses, penetrating judgments and their practical implications. Church leaders who differed as widely as liberal Protestant President Henry “Pit” Van Dusen of Union Theological Seminary and Socialist politician Norman Thomas were of one mind in their appreciation of his integrity, candor, and thorough scholarship and courage in the face of Zionist character assassination and mishandling of Scripture passages out of context.
In interfaith relations, whether in lectures, dialogues or conversation, he listened carefully and responded appreciatively or impatiently as the instance might require.
In the overall picture of Judaism in America, he embodied as much as anyone could possibly have done the convictions on which American Reform Judaism was founded. As phrased most succinctly in the 1841 declaration of the Charleston, SC, synagogue, “This country is our Palestine; this city is our Jerusalem; this house of God is our Temple.”