July 24, 2014- His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, met with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and Counselor to the President John Podesta, this morning to discuss the situation of the Christians in the Holy Land, specifically in the context of the crisis in Gaza. Father Michael McDonagh, International Advisor to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Sir Rateb Y. Rabie, KCHS President/CEO of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) accompanied His Beatitude to the White House.
HCEF organized His Beatitude's U.S.A. visit in order to meet with civic, religious and political leaders and advocate for peace and justice, helping them improve upon policies formerly based on distorted facts.
The frank and open discussion began with a timely focus on the desperate situation in Gaza, where the excessive force exerted by Israel traumatizes families, both Christian and Muslim. As his Beatitude declared with forthright clarity, "There is no winner in this war on Gaza. There is only loss, pain and death in at the end of this road." The Patriarch explained that Operation Defensive Edge has been a blunder by Israel, lasting over 20 days so far, with hundreds of Palestinians dead–the vast-majority of whom were civilians–thousands wounded and tens of thousands displaced. Israel has lost about 30 soldiers in the campaign as well. Far from pacifying Gaza, this assault will leave mourning, despair and hatred there, not peace. The only solution is to reach an agreement whereby Palestinian rights are recognized, and peace is built on justice.
His Beatitude also addressed the residential policies in Jerusalem, which aim to empty the city of its original Palestinian residents, both Christian and Muslim. The first wounds inflicted by this policy are the divisions of families. Current policies do not permit Palestinians living in Jerusalem to bring spouses from the West Bank/Occupied Palestinian Territories to live with them. Forcing Palestinians of Jerusalem to live separately from their spouses or begin their married lives outside of Jerusalem, giving up their ancestral homes and their residency status. Mr. McDonough indicated that the White House is committed to engaging constructively on these issues, by addressing family reunification in Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian Territories. Finally, His Beatitude explained to the policy-makers the tenuous status of the Church in Israel and Palestine, where historic church properties are under imminent threat of confiscation to construct the Israeli security wall. Most notably, these policies slated the Salesian Monastery of Cremisan in the Bethlehem area for demolition, to make way for the wall. Recognizing the clear threat to the Church and the injustice of such land confiscation wherever, and to whomsoever it is committed, Mr. McDonough assured the Patriarch of his support in advocating for a more just policy.
Following the meeting Sir Rateb Y. Rabie said, "We are very honored by this meeting and more importantly pleased by the discussion we were able to have. The United States has long played a very powerful role in this part of the world, and the opportunity to meet the Chief of Staff, who is the closest advisor to President Obama, and discuss the situation from the perspective of Palestinians is an enormous step on the path to better policies, and ultimately to a just and lasting peace."
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