Geneva (ENI) -- A Palestinian church leader has accused Israel of practising "ethnic cleansing" against Palestinians and has called for solidarity from Christians and churches around the world.
Archimandrite Theodosios Hanna, of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told a public briefing on October 19 at the Geneva headquarters of the World Council of Churches (WCC) that Palestinian Christians "are suffering, because they are Palestinians and they want to stay in their homeland..."
Fr. Theodosios was representing Patriarch Diodoros, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, as part of a Palestinian ecumenical delegation invited by the WCC to Geneva where the United Nations Commission on Human Rights was meeting to consider the Middle East crisis.
The delegation also included Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, and Dr. Marwan Bishara, a Nazareth journalist who is a research fellow at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. (The delegation was accompanied by Georges Tsetsis, a member of the WCC's central and executive committees, and former representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the WCC's headquarters.) Three other Palestinian Christians who were invited were unable to come to Geneva because of the Israeli military's closure of Palestinian territories.
Speaking through an interpreter, Archimandrite Theodosios said: "Israel is practising ethnic cleansing against the Arabs -- Muslim and Christian. Everyone thinks that there is a conflict between Arabs and Israelis. It is not a conflict between Arabs and Israelis, but an occupation by Israel."
Calling on churches worldwide to hold special prayers for the Palestinian people, he continued: "We are asking all the churches in the World Council of Churches to make visible the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people and to support the Palestinian people in the struggle for a just peace that guarantees all their rights... Palestinian people should be enjoying... independence in their own state, the capital of which is Jerusalem."
In a written statement to the human rights commission, the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs said that events following the "provocative visit [of the Israeli opposition leader, Ariel Sharon] to Al-Haram Al-Sharif have again shown that the consequence of this repeated defiance [by Israel] of international law, of continuing systematic violations of human rights ... has been to incite to violence and to deny peace and security to both peoples."
Interviewed yesterday by ENI, Dr. Bishara warned that the peace process initiated by the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization had run its course. "Forget Oslo. Oslo is dead," he told ENI. "The peace process in the last seven years hasn't delivered the goods for the Palestinians... a better standard of living, access to education, access to health, access to the job market. None of that has improved in the last seven years. In fact, according to World Bank figures and data, unemployment has risen, GDP [Gross Domestic Product] has fallen."
The recent "excessive use of lethal force" -- Israel's response to the riots -- had turned the expression of Palestinian frustration "into a much wider confrontation, engulfing not only Palestinians in the occupied territories, but also Palestinians inside Israel."
The idea of a peace process as a slow, cumulative idea "no longer works," Dr. Bishara told ENI. "It is now essential for the parties to move towards physical, geographic, but, most importantly, legal separation between two sovereign, independent states. This is the only way we can stop the violence."
The declaration of Palestinian statehood, he said, would be "a first step for the strengthening of Palestinian society and to allow Palestine to negotiate with Israel on a list of issues, without being on the other side of an Israeli [gun] barrel."
Dr. Bishara, himself a Roman Catholic, stressed that the conflict is not a religious one between Jews and Muslims, "but a racist and colonial conflict touching Christian communities as well as Muslim communities."
Describing comments from members of the ecumenical delegation, he said: "They made it clear that Israeli bullets did not, do not and will not distinguish between Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims ... Crimes against Palestinians are also crimes against Christians."
EDITORIAL NOTE from Canadian Islamic Council: The historic plight of minority Palestinian Christians caught in the ongoing Middle East crisis is one of the most painful and least-understood by the rest of the world. A highly recommended personal and political account by one prominent religious leader is: I Am A Palestinian Christian, by Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, the West Bank (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1995, 164 pages). Since before the mid-1980s Intifada, his church has initiated social outreach programs and dialogue among Christians, Muslims and Jews.