The meeting held between Patriarch Sabbah, Bishop Riah Abu El-Asal and Bishop Munib Yunan with the Islamic leadership headed by the spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, was a constructive step within the context of internal dialogue among Palestinians
The meeting held between Patriarch Sabbah, Bishop Riah Abu El-Asal and Bishop Munib Yunan with the Islamic leadership headed by the spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, was a constructive step within the context of internal dialogue among Palestinians. The voice of the local church should be heard with regard to the current developments in the region and in specific to the local church’s vision on the future arrangements of the Holy Land. In return, the Islamic movement is expected to endorse and recognize in practical terms the role of local Christianity in the national struggle towards liberty and independence. It is no longer acceptable for the Imams to marginalize or ignore this important element of the equation. After all, the local Christianity was spread in the Holy Land prior to Islam and flourished during that period. In the beginning of the last century, Palestinian and Arab Christians were inspired by the norms of nationalism, patriotism, liberty and independence after being influenced by the Western civilization. In fact, the Christian clubs and associations in Palestine became the starting point of resisting the Jewish immigration, which was settling at the expense of the indigenous people, and mobilized the grassroots against the British colonization.
Moreover, and during the modern revolutionary movement, the Christian personalities were pillars in the establishment and formulization of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s strategies and policies. Despite the sharp decline in the number of Palestinian Christians following the Israeli military occupation and its barbaric and oppressive policies and measures especially during the current Intifada, the living stones have contributed in all aspects of Palestinian life including resisting the occupation. Also, resentment and frustration have reached levels where Palestinians consider any method to oust the occupation as legitimate, thus bypassing in certain positions the peaceful and forgiving philosophy of Christianity in dealing with the conflicts.
Actually the Christian young generation is looking into a more active role to play to strengthen their identity and contribute towards building a Palestinian society based on pluralism, democracy and transparency. Coming to this point does not negate the fact that the overwhelming number of Palestinians belong to the monotheistic religion of Islam, thus the Palestinian constitution should consider the official religion of the future Palestinian state as Islam, but must in parallel, protect the rights of others, so that harmony in Palestinian society would be strengthened and Christians would not feel as second class citizens in their homeland.
Lately, I have participated in many round table meetings with various Palestinian Christian new guards. The common ground between them can be summarized by the necessity of the local Christians to intensify their role in the national struggle in the hope to influence the course of events towards a just and peaceful coexistence between the two people and the three monotheistic religions as a final target, while lobbying for their political status and their active representation within the PLO structure. Actually, one of the main issues discussed thoroughly is the Christian immigration from Palestine with all the destructive consequences it holds in dissolving the mosaic status quo of the Holy Land to the point that the stones of the churches would be left in few years without its living stones unless serious steps are taken by the Palestinian leadership and the spiritual leadership as well.
At this point, I allow myself to appeal to all concerned circles and mainly to church leaders to seriously tackle the issue, thus adopt an open-door policy and initiate a serious dialogue with their congregations who feel alienated. Of course, the dialogue with the Islamic movement is essential, but also the affairs of their own congregations are equally important such as listening to the Protestant church congregation’s different complaints. Someone who needs to talk to any member of the Orthodox Church discovers quickly the deep rift between the community and the Patriarchate, someone who talks to any Evangelical member discovers the difficulty he faces to meet with the heads as the latter are most of the time abroad. Someone who passes by the Armenian Quarter finds out the community’s resentment for the Patriarchate’s refusal to rent at a reasonable price, the many vacant apartments inside the convent to newly married couples. Someone just needs to visit a few houses in the Christian Quarter of the Old City to discover the socio-economic problems of the families and their poor living conditions, while rumors are circulated that the church lands are confiscated at times and sold at others.
Finally, someone does not need to see the penetration of the so-called suspicious Christian groups in the minds and hearts of the indigenous local Christianity as well as the increasingly negative influence of the Christian Zionists groups in the USA and Europe to realize the tremendous responsibility lying on the shoulders of the local church in specific, and on the Middle East churches in general. Such responsibilities would not lead to fruitful results without a strong coordination among the heads of churches from one side, and a real support from their congregations and the majority of the Palestinian society from another, in the aim of meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow guided by the inspiration of the Holy Bible.
Issa Kassissieh is the Orient House International Office Director