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Holy Land crisis discussed

MORE THAN 100 church leaders gathered on Monday in central London to discuss the crisis facing the Christian community in Israel and Palestine. Held at All Hallows on the Wall conference, “The Disappearance of the Holy Land”, was the fruit of co-operation between nine Chris­tian and Jewish organisations, including the Amos Trust, which was hosting the event.

The conference was a follow-up to the JustPeace60 declaration, which was launched earlier this year, when about 150 Christian bishops, clerics, theolo­gians, and authors committed them­selves on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary to “a courageous settle­ment whose details will honour both people’s shared love for the land, and protect the individual and collective rights of Jews and Pales­tinians” (News, 11 April). Those attending heard from two main speakers: Sami Awad, a Chris­tian Palestinian from Bethlehem, and Jeff Halper, a Jewish-Israeli professor and activist. Mr Awad runs the Holy Land Trust, an organisation that focuses on non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation, and on devel­op­ing leaders within Palestinian society. Mr Awad spoke on the value of the Christian presence in the Holy Land; a value that he summarised in “three little words we often wish Jesus hadn’t said — ‘love your enemies’”. He also placed the history of Chris­tian emigration in context, from Ottoman times through the mass expulsions of 1948 to the current econ­omic situ­ation. He also criticised the idea that Chris­­tian Palestinians were being “persecuted” by their Muslim neigh­bours, saying that Palestinian society as a whole was fragmenting as a result of the instability and authority vacu­um created by the Israeli occupation, and a lack of credible Palestinian leadership. Jeff Halper, the director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), spoke of what he called Israel’s “matrix of control” in the Occupied Territories, describing the situation as something “between occupation, apartheid, and ware­housing”. Mr Halper, who leads joint teams of Israelis, Palestinians, and people from around the world in rebuilding homes demol­ished by the Israeli military, also stressed the widely held belief of Israelis of an “exclusive” claim to the land. The founder of the Amos Trust, the Revd Garth Hewitt, introduced and concluded the day, ending with questions focus­ing on British churches and what they can do to support the Palestinian Chris­tian community. Mr Hewitt also launched the Trust’s new DVD, Beth­lehem: Hidden from view, which is part of a campaign to raise the issue of Christian Palestinians at Christmas time.

Published in Church Times.

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