a.. Results of the 12th Grade Exam -Tawjihi, b.. Permit of our Pastor in Amman , c.. Memorial Service of Faisal Husseni, d.. Youth Retreat, e.. Reflections and an Appeal

By Bishop Munib A. Younan
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and Palestine
http://www.holylandlutherans.org

July 2001

a. Results of the 12th Grade Exam -Tawjihi
b. Permit of our Pastor in Amman
c. Memorial Service of Faisal Husseni
d. Youth Retreat
e. Reflections and an Appeal

Results of the 12th Grade Exam

One hundred of our students sat for the Palestinian twelfth grade governmental exam called Tawjihi. They are from our three Lutheran high schools at Talitha Kumi, Beit Sahour, and Ramallah. As a bishop, I feel thankful to God that 97 out of a hundred received passing marks and 28 got marks higher than 90 out of 100. This gives us a boost that our schools are giving a high quality education. We are grateful to the Lord for their results but we are also thankful to all of you who are assisting the students at our schools. We are proud of our headmasters and teachers.

We have written earlier concerning the difficulties for our students this year. The difficulty in concentrating on studies with nightly shellings especially in Beit Jala. The difficulty even in reaching schools with many barriers and roadblocks placed on the main roads. The difficulty caused by worry over completing tuition payments at a time when our people are living on an average of $2.00 a day. We say to all of you, your work did not go in vain. Personally, if I may show that I am a proud father, I am also grateful to God that my son Andrea received a 90.4% score.

We are also pleased with the graduation of 30 graduates from the Lutheran World Federation Vocational Training Center. The students completed a two-year technical training program, which will make them competitive in the job market and able to contribute to the Palestinian economy. Next year the center will graduate the first group of women completing their two-year program. The women are training in telecommunications and electronic skills, and may enroll in any of the programs available to the men. Nearly all of this year’s graduates have already been offered jobs in their chosen field.

Permit of our Pastor in Amman

One month ago, our pastor in Amman, pastor Samer Azar was not permitted to re-enter Jordan for ten days. The reason is that the Jordanian authorities launched a new law not allowing West Bank Residents to stay in Jordan for more than one month at a time. I was obliged to go to Jordan and meet my contacts with the Ministry of Interior and the Officials in the Palace as well as the Grand Judge of the Islamic Court, who is in fact the Minister of Religion. Our argument was based on historic status quo agreements, which allow Christian clergy unrestrained deployment without any hindrances. They can obtain a special permit. We are thankful that the Jordanian officials were cooperative and heeded to our plea. I hope this matter will be over soon, otherwise, there will be a crisis concerning the pasturing of our congregation in Amman.

Memorial Service of Faisal Husseini

On July 17, 2001, the Husseini family and Orient House invited us to the memorial service held after forty days of the death of the late Faisal Husseni, the former holder of the Jerusalem portfolio. Professor Fred Strickert from Wartburg College, Iowa and myself left at 17:45 hours to Orient House to represent the Lutheran Church. The church car was stopped near the American Colony Hotel and made to wait for ten minutes until the Israeli security allowed the car to pass. After parking the car, the security at one of the entrances forbade us to enter by claiming, “There are problems.” I said, “We are not going to problems but to pay our condolences.” “No, it is forbidden, please, go from the other entrance”, the border police said. As we complied, the officer there told me, “It is forbidden to enter”. I naively said, “Why, who ordered?” “Our captains”, he said. They allow only the diplomatic corps and the press but no one else. I said, “I cannot understand, that the minimum basic human right is to pay condolences to the bereaved. There is no state in the world that forbids the clergy to pay condolences except you. To pay condolences is not political but merely a religious act.” He insisted no entry to us. Then Prof. Strickert attempted to show a U.S. Religious Press card. The officer did not recognize it. My VIP status card from the State of Israel also was not recognized. Both of us stressed the necessity of our entrance and continued to appeal.

After twenty minutes, the Armenian Patriarchate Representative, Archbishop Aris Shirvinian arrived with his car and joined the debate with them. One of the soldiers tried to be lenient to allow us to pass but the officer came forward and said, “Didn’t I tell you, half an hour ago that it is forbidden.” Archbishop Shirvinian insisted that we must enter and said, “You did not invite us and therefore should not forbid us from entering. Now both of us will enter.” The officer with many soldiers formed a human chainlike barrier that was inches from our faces and even brushing up against us. Archbishop said, “We will enter”. I said, “Do not dare to use any violence against us.” The officer was yelling, “Well, we have been kind to you.” Someone standing by said, “Isn’t yelling at a Church leader disrespectful and violent?”

This tension continued until the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Spanish Consul General, the European Consul Generals and the USA Deputy Consul General arrived. I told them the situation. They were so livid that they started calling to make contact by cell phone. Furthermore, they insisted that they would not enter the memorial service without the Lutheran Bishop and the Armenian Archbishop. After another half-hour standoff, one of the police generals finally announced that we could enter but not Prof. Strickert. Then we waited until the Arab Israeli Knesset members said that the Mufti of Jerusalem was forbidden to enter. Then with shouting debates and arguments, more Israeli forces gathered as if we were in a battlefield. After a long time, entry was secured for the Mufti. We exchanged kisses and held the hands of the two bishops, the Arab Knesset members entering triumphantly to observe this traditional memorial service.

I, myself ask, “Why should we be harassed in this way?” If we the religious leaders, who are people of peace, are treated in this way, how are the grassroots treated? Why should we go through such an ordeal? After one and a half hours of arguments and hard feelings, one enters to a memorial service where only less than 1/10th of the invited are present? Where is the confidence building? This does not bring peace nor justice, but creates hard feelings and even animosity. Israeli security should learn that sovereignty is not by force and power, but only by justice and confidence building.

Youth Retreat

As we were planning to have our annual retreat, we found out that we cannot meet in the West Bank nor in Israel proper, due to the closures and permits. The only place where we could meet would be in Amman, Jordan. It is strange but that is the reality. As we were planning, even that option did not hold as the bridge crossing was forbidden to the West Bank I.D. holders. What to do? This is part of our every day suffering.

Reflections and an Appeal

Some may ask me, “How do you look at the situation?” I would like to reflect the general feeling of the people. Although the senior Israeli ministers are giving a declaration that no military strikes will take place, the people feel different from the everyday practice. They are afraid of a heavy military strike or that the Israeli Military will occupy Palestinian Authority areas. Everyday, we are witnessing assassinations or shellings. It seems there are continuous low-intensity attacks aimed to strike directly to the heart of Palestinians, which creates a great deal of pain and fear. Sheikh Najeeb Jaabari called me last week asking for material and medical aid. He told me that the settlers were occupying some houses in Hebron and the Israeli Army was negotiating that they may leave. Then the settlers burnt the house they occupied and left. Today, a group that calls itself “Safety on the Road”, an unknown movement of settlers, killed 3 Palestinians, including a 3-month old baby. We are afraid of revenge and counter revenge. We are afraid of a massacre. We are also repeating the question raised by the Israeli Channel 1 News: “Why are the perpetrators of the crime not being held by the authorities?”

We ask you to take responsibility for what is happening in our country and not just participate as spectators. We must act deliberately to stop the massacres and a potential genocide. We must act holding the hope that implementing the international legitimacy is the path to a just peace and reconciliation. As a church leader in Jerusalem, I call upon the living conscience in Israelis and Palestinians and good will of politicians and religious leaders to assume their prophetic role. Please, do not allow hatred, animosity, and revenge and counter revenge to deepen. Please think of our future generations. They deserve just peace, each in their own state. Are you ready to join us in working for this goal?

May God bless you all.

+ Bishop Munib A. Younan
The Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem