While lamenting that the situation in the Holy Land is troubling and its Christians are being tested, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem said that if we trust in the name of the Lord—and Him only—those suffering can be helped. During this interview, His Beatitude Fouad Twal said that the Psalms remind us that we can have hope.
“As the Psalm 27 writer says,” he recalled, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.’ And Psalm 146: ‘Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.’”
Turning to the situation in the Holy Land, the Patriarch said there is a military strategy. This “attrition warfare,” he said, involves “belligerent attempts to win a war by wearing down the enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and material.” Usually, he said, the side with the greatest resources wins the war.
“This is what I see has happened here in the Holy Land. Sixty plus years of ‘grinding down’the occupied peoples.”
Launching an appeal, Patriarch Twal urged: “I ask that people pray like never before that the hard hearts of leaders will become hearts that seek the good of the wearied occupied Palestinian people.”
The celebrations of Holy Week and Easter, he noted, are a ‘stark reminder’ of the difficulties that Christians face in the Holy Land.
While for the most part, he said, the world is familiar with the disagreements resulting from conflict between Muslims and Jews, less often remembered are the Christians of Israel and Palestine. “This is not surprising, given that Christians make up such a small percentage of both countries. The vast majority of Christians are ethnic Arabs.”
As a result, the Patriarch explained that many Christians in the Holy Land find themselves more closely aligned with Muslim Palestinians than Jewish Israelis. He noted that the grievances of Muslim Palestinians are therefore often shared by Christian Palestinians.
“One frequently cited difficulty involves access to holy sites.” He explained that Palestinians living in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem hold different residency cards, and they cannot move from one to the other without special permits.
“As a result, it can be virtually impossible for a Christian in Bethlehem to travel to Jerusalem to worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” he said. “That’s true during Easter even if a permit is granted, since Easter coincides with the Jewish festival of Pesach, during which time a security lockdown is imposed.”
“Of course,” he said, “the major disagreement is the Israeli West Bank Wall/Barrier and the numerous problems it has generated.”
At best, he said, the wall effectively separates Palestinian territory from Israeli territory, making travel between the two difficult. The separating of families, Christian and Muslim, by the wall and Israeli policy, has devastating effects. Residency policies also can have a devastating impact on families, he noted.
Reportedly, there are approximately 200 Christian families in the area living apart today, their members split between the West Bank and Jerusalem.
“Such projects, like the wall, are fueling growing anti-Israeli sentiment among the Palestinian people and undermining peace efforts,” he said. “Arab Christians are also suffering in both Israel and Palestine because of their minority status.”
“The truth is that Christians face hardships on both sides of the divide,” he said, “and often for similar reasons.”
Other difficulties, he said, include Christians who have lost land to the construction of Israel’s security barrier or to the expansion of Jewish settlements. In 2012, for instance, 3,000 acres were reportedly confiscated from 59 Christian families in Beit Jala to continue expansion of the Gilo settlement and the separation wall.
“Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have work to do in terms of protecting religious minorities,” Patriarch Twal stressed, “above all Christians.”
“Weary, we may be,” the Patriarch highlighted, “but not without hope.”