As a result of the quotation on Islam used by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in his lecture at Regensburg University on Tuesday September 12th 2006…
As a result of the quotation on Islam used by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in his lecture at Regensburg University on Tuesday September 12th 2006, a variety of responses, exchanges and positions came to the front in the Palestinian Territories in relation to the quote itself and in reaction to the unwarranted attacks on churches in various localities. Palestinian Christians were especially worried that the quotation on Islam by His Holiness, while in a context of an academic discourse, could be misunderstood and attributed to the Pope himself. This is indeed what happened especially when the media did not differentiate, as His Holiness did, between the quotation and his own position.
In a statement issued by the reputable Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza, a strong condemnation was made of the attacks on the Palestinian Churches. The Centre counted 6 churches that have been attacked in Gaza City (1); Nablus (3); Tulkarm (1) and Tubas (1). The Negotiations Support Unit of the PLO Negotiations Department adds a fourth church in Nablus thus bringing the total of churches attacked to 7. While these attacks may have become sensational material to be used to advance political agendas particularly in some Western capitals, the reality on the ground says that those who attacked the churches are peripheral and marginal groups as demonstrated by the massive condemnation of the attacks that poured forth from the top of the body politic to Moslem religious institutions and personalities, starting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories who unequivocally stressed that these attacks go counter to the spirit and teachings of Islam and are contrary to the traditions of openness and oneness that characterize our Palestinian people, Moslems and Christians alike.
In Nablus, members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and hundreds of Moslems from the city and surrounding areas, including political and municipal figures and civil society leaders, congregated in the Churches till the late evening hours on Sunday September 17th to express their solidarity with the Christian community of Nablus and to send a clear message to the perpetrators of the attacks that they are there to protect the churches and to fend for their Christian brothers and sisters. This gesture by the Moslem citizens of Nablus was highly appreciated by the Palestinian Church leaders who were present at the scene, His Beatitude Roman Catholic Patriarch Michel Sabbah and their Graces Anglican Bishop Riah Abu Al Asal and Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan.
In Tubas, north of the West Bank, the attempt to burn the church was noticed by passers-by who immediately took action that resulted in the quick escape of the unknown perpetrator. Following the attempt, Iqab Daraghmah, the mayor of Tubas, himself a Moslem, led a group of Tubas citizens on a solidarity visit to the church and the small Christian community and promised to do all in his power to apprehend the perpetrator of the attack. While in Nablus, the spokesperson for the Palestinian police, Colonel Adnan Dmeiri, characterized the attacks as irresponsible and reprehensible acts and announced that the police has started an investigation into the matter in order to present the perpetrators to justice.
The President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, ordered the security agencies to provide protection to the Churches and to do all in their power to apprehend the perpetrators. Mr. Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister condemned on Sunday, September 17th, the attacks on the churches stating that .the attacks against our Christian brothers are totally unacceptable,. as quoted by Agence France Press.
On Saturday, September 23rd, Franciscan Father Ibrahim Faltas, the Roman Catholic Parish Priest of Jerusalem, headed a delegation of more than 30 Christian dignitaries, including the Palestinian Legislative Council Christian members of Jerusalem, Dr. Emile Jarjoui and Dr. Bernard Sabella, on a visit of congratulations to the new Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, Sheik Muhammad Hussein on the occasion of his recent appointment to this important religious post by Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the National Authority. Reverend Faltas offered congratulations and expressed thanks for the clear position taken by the Mufti following the attacks on the churches. The Mufti, on his turn, emphasized that Islam is a tolerant and just religion and that Palestinian Christians should not fear at all since the tradition of Islam, as exemplified by Caliph Omar Ibn Al Khattab who received the keys of Jerusalem from Patriarch Sophronious in 638 and who accorded Christians protection for their churches, properties and crosses, in the name of Islam still stands. Besides, the Mufti emphasized also that we are all one people, irrespective of religious background. Father Faltas thanked the Mufti and congratulated him on the occasion of the Holy Month of Ramadan and announced that the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land would invite the Mufti and the Moslem community of Jerusalem to a Break – Fast dinner during the month of Ramadan.
The reactions across the religious, political, civil society and among average Palestinians to the attacks on the churches merit positive examination since they reaffirm that Palestinian Christians and Moslems are together. We need to reemphasize that the struggle ahead is one of ensuring that an end to Israeli occupation will take place, that a viable and physically contiguous Palestinian state will come into being and that the issues of poverty, inequality, unemployment and security chaos are the real issues that need to be addressed. The road ahead calls for our stand together in order to achieve our goals of peace, justice and stability to our people and to our future generations.