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Home arrow Blog arrow February 2008 arrow February 23, 2008

February 23, 2008
WAWA Blog February 23, 2008: "NOT from Jerusalem" and "Targeting Christians in Gaza"

Dear Friends,


            Both attached to and imbedded in this message is my latest letter related to my perceptions of the situation in Palestine and Israel. As most of you know this “Not From Jerusalem” series of messages, written from my home in Virginia, is a continuation of the “From Jerusalem” series of letters I sent during my four years in Jerusalem’s Old City as Pastor of the English-speaking Congregation of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.

Russ Siler, retired pastor of the
ELCA/Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
 

Not from Jerusalem # 7

15 February 2008

                You have no idea how much I want to believe in the possibilities for peace in the Holy Land. I have walked, talked, played, worked, eaten, and lived with the people there. I have come to love the harsh, arid, occupied land [without, of course, loving the occupation].  Lasting peace with justice is my constant prayer. But as the words I read in the popular media form ideas and images in my imagining, I can run, but I cannot hide from the truths that also come to mind. Both Israel and the United States have, in recent months, made unequivocal statements supporting a future Palestinian state, living in interdependence with its closest neighbor Israel—each state’s security and prosperity dependent on the other’s liberty and safety. If only actions reflected the vision. Further, what you and I and the rest of the American people read, hear, and see in the news give the distinct impression that it is only a Palestinian penchant for violence that paralyzes the peace parade. Let me assure you, as I have many times in the past, that I deplore the use of violence by both sides. It accomplishes nothing but the guarantee of more violent acts, perpetuating the spiral of violence which draws everyone in its path toward destruction. At the same time it is vital that the world has a clearer understanding of what is fanning the flames of fear and hatred in the land. Let me illustrate.

                In an article this month in the Washington Post the reporter stated that “in recent months” Israel had virtually closed the border crossing points between Gaza and Israel. The clear rationale in the story is the barrage of homemade Khassam rockets raining down on parts of southern Israel, including the village of Sderot. What is missing from the story is the fact that the closings intensified immediately after Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January 2006. The stranglehold was actually put in place in August 2005 after the much-heralded “disengagement” from Gaza by Israel. Disengagement was the term used by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to refer to Israel’s actions vis-à-vis Gaza, that part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories bounded by Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea, but not contiguous to East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel’s actions were to (1) remove the 7,000 Israelis in illegal settlements, (2) withdraw to just outside the border the thousands of Israeli troops who had made these settlements possible, and (3) strengthen the virtually impenetrable barrier which makes Gaza a prison for the 1.4 million Palestinians who live there. Please understand this: There was no end to the occupation in Gaza. Israel still controls completely, and often brutally, air, land, and sea spaces encircling Gaza. It controls the passage of goods—food, medical supplies, essential water filters, fuel—into the people there, allowing through only enough to avoid starvation and widespread death. In addition it controls the exports of the Gazans, mainly agricultural products they have long sold in Israel and elsewhere. Literally thousands of tons of produce have rotted by the gates when they were not allowed through. Fishermen were prohibited from plying their trade more than one mile from shore. By any definition of international law Israel still occupies Gaza and is responsible for the human needs of the people there. The “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza which so many sources have reported is the result of a series of carefully calculated political decisions.

                If we are to understand the significance of the homemade rockets, we must know the circumstances under which they occur. It is never enough to hear and consider just one perspective on any situation, much less so one in which the stakes are so dramatically high.

                And there is more.

                Uri Avnery is an Israeli “peacenik.” Once an Israeli soldier, later a member of the Knesset [Israel’s Parliament], now the head of Gush Shalom [Peace Bloc] founded by Avnery and his wife in 1993. It is his contention that the rockets fired on the village of Sderot provide the necessary provocation for Israel to continue its oppression of this segment of the Palestinian people and of Hamas. As proof he reveals the fact that Hamas several months ago offered a truce to Israel. In return for a complete cessation of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, Israel would end its military incursions into Gaza, stop its policy of targeted assassinations in Gaza, and end the blockade. Hamas repeated the offer last month. The problem is that for such a truce to take effect the two sides would need to talk. That Israel refuses to do. In fact both Israel and the United States are adamant in their refusal to have one word of conversation with those whom the Palestinian people elected to represent them. It was hoped that the Palestinian people would turn on Hamas and drive them from power. As so often happens, the opposite occurred: the people of Gaza—indeed all the Palestinian people—place the blame for their present suffering squarely on the shoulders of the Israeli leaders and on the shoulders of the government of the United States, who could intervene to ease the suffering but who refuses.

                There is now an offer from Hamas on the table which goes far beyond that truce. They have offered a hudna, a ceasefire in which they pledge to end armed resistance in exchange for an end to the Israeli occupation. We all need to put aside our determined postures of who is to blame and who is the most violent. The world needs to open the dialogue, yes, talk with those who are sworn enemies. The alternative is simply more pain, more injustice, more fear, more death. If for no other reason, the children of Israel and the children of Palestine deserve to inherit life and hope from their parents—not fear and death.

 

Russell O. Siler, Retired



 

 
http://www.palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=13507


 

Targeting Christians in Gaza

20 Feb 2008

 

By Ahmed Yousef

 

The bombing of the YMCA library in Gaza is the latest in a series of attacks on Christian or Western institutions since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January 2006. The perpetrators of this latest crime have yet to be identified.

 

Whoever is responsible we can be sure that their prime motive is to undermine the credibility of the Hamas government. These actions are designed not only to project an image of lawlessness that tarnishes the government's achievements in creating a sense of law and order in Gaza but also to question its commitment to protect the rights of all our citizens regardless of their religious beliefs.

 

Muslims and Christians in Gaza have always enjoyed a good neighborly relationship. A good example of this is the fact that over 80% of the pupils at local Christian run school are Muslims. We have suffered together for the past sixty years. As Palestinians, We are united in our resistance to Israeli occupation.

 

Since last June, Hamas and Christian leaders have met on several occasions to express their solidarity. Given our united history, it seems clear that the perpetrators of these despicable crimes are driven more by political motives than religious conviction. Their intention can only be to create an atmosphere of distrust and to destabilize the brotherly relationship that we have enjoyed over the centuries.

 

Reactions to the attack on the library confirm this opinion. Issa Saba, the secretary general of the YMCA in Gaza, dismissed the claim that this was a religiously motivated crime. He linked it with other criminal acts intended to create a state of insecurity and chaos. He called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

 

Many prominent members of the Muslim Scholars' Association, declared the attack to be unacceptable, and an obvious attempt to undermine the historical ties between Muslims and Christians in Palestine.

 

Christians account for 2.5% of the total population of Palestine. They mount to a significantly higher percentage if one considers Palestinian Christians in diaspora.

 

Three thousand six hundred live in Gaza where they run five schools, a hospital and medical centre. There are four active Christian associations, a large library and rehabilitation centre. They are active in distributing charitable aid to the poor regardless of their religious affiliation. In addition, they organize their own social community activities. Since coming to power, Hamas has respected their independence and has never attempted to interfere with their activities.

 

Visiting Christian delegations have always been received and welcomed by the Prime Minister, Ismael Hanniya, as a mark of solidarity and respect.

 

Hamas remains committed to maintaining those good relationships. We unequivocally condemn acts of violence against Christians and are determined that the perpetrators be brought to justice. We will not allow them to undermine the fabric of our society.

 

It is clear to us that those responsible for destroying a building that was used by all Palestinians wanted to demonize Hamas in the eyes of the outside world by depicting the movement as an intolerant strain of Islam. They will not succeed in their attempts to create such divisions. Hamas will remain steadfast to our traditional values and continue to protect the rights of all Palestinians regardless of their beliefs.

 

(Photo: Palestinian Christian children stand outside the Latin Church in Gaza City; Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

- Dr. Ahmed Yousef is the senior political adviser to the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Gaza. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com



 

 
   
 
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