Palestinian Christians find hope in Pope Francis’ visit

C. Holtan Pope Francis by the Wall in Bethlehem 250514

Pope Francis waves as he makes his way past the separation wall and to Manger Square in Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/C. Holtan.

by EAPPI team

From 24 to 26 May, Pope Francis made a 3-day tour to the Holy Land, making stops in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.  In Jerusalem, the Pope’s visit was clouded when Israeli security forces used violence against Palestinian Christians marching toward the passage road of the Pope to welcome him.  Yet, a peaceful and celebratory visit to Bethlehem and Pope Francis’ acknowledgement of the difficult reality of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict left many Palestinian Christians with a feeling of hope.

Bethlehem: Pope Francis makes iconic stop at separation wall and calls for peace based on justice

In Bethlehem, Pope Francis made an unexpected stop, stepping down from his vehicle where he rested his forehead against the separation wall, which cuts off Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and said a silent prayer. On the wall in the background, someone had sprayed a graffiti message: “Pope we need someone to speak about justice.” Photos from this stop have now become iconic across the media. Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, commended the Pope for being willing to acknowledge the reality of the situation in Palestine.

The Pope steps down from his vehicle to say a prayer at the separation wall in Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/E. Mutschler.

The Pope steps down from his vehicle to say a prayer at the separation wall in Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/E. Mutschler.

“I think that leaders like Pope Francis, when they visit, should not just meet officials, but should see the reality. The reality is that there is a wall that separates Palestinians and Israelis, Palestinians and Palestinians, and Palestinians from their land. Pope Francis, I believe, prayed that this wall would no longer exist and I say this prayer with him!” Bishop Younan commented in an interview.

From his stop at the separation wall, Pope Francis made his way to attend a mass in Manger Square outside the Nativity Church. In his address the over 8,000 Christians gathered, he commented:

“I want to emphasize my sincere conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation that is becoming increasingly unacceptable.”

He affirmed that everyone will benefit from “the need to intensify efforts and measures to facilitate a stable peace based on justice, recognition of the rights of each individual and mutual confidence.” Interestingly, the nativity mural behind the Pope’s seat depicted baby Jesus lying under a keffiyeh style cloth.

The Pope spoke at the Mass in Bethlehem in front of a mural of the baby Jesus under a cloth styled like a Keffiyeh, a traditional Middle Eastern headscarf. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

The Pope spoke at the Mass in Bethlehem in front of a mural of the baby Jesus under a cloth styled like a Keffiyeh, a traditional Middle Eastern headscarf. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

Bishop Younan reflected on the feeling of hope Palestinians felt after the Pope visited Bethlehem:

“The Mass gave the Palestinian people – both Christians and Muslims – a feeling of hope. To see that the President, the Prime Minister, the Ministers, Heads of Churches, all of these people attending, with locals, with people from Galilee, with people from all over the world – over 10,000 people in Manger Square – raised the moral of the Palestinian people. While the Palestinian people are under occupation, we need a leader to show that the world is listening and hearing us and I believe that Pope Francis showed this to our people. There is a leader who is listening to us and meeting with us.”

Jerusalem: Palestinian Christians arrested an faced excessive force when welcoming the Pope

In Jerusalem, the experience of Palestinian Christians was not a peaceful celebration as it was for those in Bethlehem. At least 3 Palestinian Christians who joined a procession to welcome Pope Francis during his visit to Jerusalem were arrested for a brief period by Israeli security forces when the Pope arrived on Sunday. Others were injured due to use of physical force by Israeli police.

A young woman holds a woman who was injured by Israeli security forces. Photos EAPPI/A. Macarimbang.

A young woman holds a woman who was injured by Israeli security forces. Photos EAPPI/A. Macarimbang.

Israeli security forces ordered several changes to the planned route, resulting in confusion, overcrowding, and tension.  EAPPI human rights monitors reported that Israeli police began to use metal barriers to push the crowd back. Two men who became upset were beaten and arrested by Israeli police.  Another girl was injured when she was crushed in the pushing back of the crowd.

“The pre-planned route allowed us to process from New Gate to Jaffa Gate,” explained Yusef Daher, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre. “During the time before the Pope arrived at 6 pm, Israeli authorities rerouted the procession to Mamilla Mall. Then back to the traffic lights near Jaffa Gate. This continued. As soon as we arrived at one destination, they rerouted us back to another. Eventually, the procession was cornered in the streets.”

When the procession arrived to Jaffa gate after the first rerouting, Israeli police did not allow any Palestinian Christians to enter Jaffa gate.  They formed a chain to block the people from entering, which caused stress and anger among those waiting to greet the Pope.

“Even when the situation calmed down, many Christians were disappointed that they were not able to welcome the Pope,” described EAPPI human rights monitors.

Many Jerusalem Christians expressed their wish to welcome the Pope with the same freedom as Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem:

“They are not treating us like humans,” expressed one woman who was a part of the Jerusalem procession. “You can see we are peaceful people. We are holding our prayers in our hearts. We want to pray and welcome the pope that’s all!”

EAPPI’s Local Programme Coordinator commented: “I noticed a stark contrast between police actions toward the Christians at Jaffa Gate and police action two days later when thousands of Israelis gathered in Sheikh Jarrah for Jerusalem Day.  Even though the latter group was much larger and they were loudly singing and celebrating, Israeli security forces did not attempt to hold back the crowd. On the contrary, they seemed to protect the marchers as several police vehicles followed the procession around the Palestinian neighbourhood at 3 o’clock in the night.”

Pope Francis offers hope and challenges all to move beyond their entrenched positions

Jerusalem Christians immediately wrote an open letter to the Pope describing their situation. The Pope received the message before he left the country and during a service at the Garden of Gethsemane responded with the addition of these lines to his original text:

“I wish to extend my heartfelt greetings to all Christians in Jerusalem: I would like to assure them that I remember them affectionately and that I pray for them, being well aware of the difficulties they experience in this city. I urge them to be courageous witnesses of the passion of the Lord but also of his resurrection, with joy and hope.”

EAPPI’s Local Programme  Coordinator reiterated this message of hope: “I am amazed by the way the Pope identified with each faith community and political counterpart on its own terms but also gently challenged all beyond entrenched positions. His meditation at Yad Vashem was a case in point. Without taking anything away from the horror and atrocity of the Holocaust, his “Adam, where are you?” both embraced and went beyond the victims of that particular tragedy to include all who suffer atrocities, and all who commit them today.”

EAPPI around the world: Canada

EAPPI is a world-wide network.  Our EAPPI national coordination offices in 26 countries work hard to recruit EAPPI human rights monitors and coordinate their advocacy when they return home.  Today, we continue our series in which we get to hear from these dedicated supporters of EAPPI all over the world.

Today, the Presbyterian Church of Canada, one of our sending churches for EAs in Canada, shares why they participate in EAPPI.

A group of EAs from Canada join Palm Sunday celebrations in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI.

A group of EAs from Canada join Palm Sunday celebrations in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI.

How did you get involved with EAPPI?

The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) sent its first Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) to volunteer with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) in 2007, in response to the call from Heads of Churches in Jerusalem to stand in solidarity with the churches and people in Palestine.  To date, 6 volunteers from the PCC have served as EAs.

What’s your favorite thing about EAPPI?

EAs work in international teams providing witness and accompaniment.  As one of our EAs described:

“It felt as though the whole world met and worked together.”

The ecumenical nature of the program encourages unity of purpose.  In the field, EAs establish that human connection with local communities while working together for peace with Palestinians, Israelis and other organizations in the area.  Over the years, the EAPPI has been able to build its capacity especially in the production of advocacy resources for use by EAs for increased awareness.

What beliefs motivated you to get involved with EAPPI or the Palestinian/Israeli conflict?

The PCC’s fundamental belief is that all human beings are created equal in the image of God and that an injustice to one is an injustice to all.

After the 2nd Intifada, the PCC and other churches realized that if peace was to be achieved, the church had to exercise its prophetic voice, be an active participant in the search for a just peace and reconciliation and put a human face to the suffering in the West Bank.

“The Church believes that it is the right as much as duty of an occupied people to struggle against injustice in order to gain freedom, although it also believes that non-violent means of struggle remain stronger and far more efficient.”  ~WCC Central Committee 2001, Potsdam

Why do you support EAPPI as opposed to other organizations working in Israel/Palestine?

A Canadian EA listens as a farmer describes the destruction of his olive trees by Israeli settlers. Photo EAPPI/J. Fraser.

A Canadian EA listens as a farmer describes the destruction of his olive trees by Israeli settlers. Photo EAPPI/J. Fraser.

In its operations, the EAPPI emphasizes impartiality and cooperation in its recognition that there are both Palestinian and Israeli communities committed to justice, peace, and respect for human rights and that the marginalization of any of them will hinder its work.

As an organization and partner, the EAPPI has made great strides in achieving its objectives of ensuring an international presence in the occupied territories with cooperation from the countries that send EAs to the West Bank.

EAs monitor checkpoints many days per week to observe and gather data on incidences that threaten peace.  It is this constant presence and accompaniment that distinguishes the EAPPI from other organizations.  The EAPPI presents an incredible opportunity to EAs to monitor human rights abuses at the grassroots level.

EAs listen to many local stories from communities with an open mind; actively participate in their everyday routine like sharing meals while empathizing with their daily struggles.

What do you think needs to be done to end the occupation and achieve peace in Israel and Palestine?

More governments should show commitment to peace in Palestine & Israel through deliberate engagement with both Palestinians and Israelis in all aspects of their lives so that global collective actions may influence policies that reflect equality, tolerance, self-expression and co-existence.

In a sermon on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the EAPPI in November 2012, His Grace Bishop Dr. Munib Younan expressed his hope that one day both Palestinians and Israelis will recognize each others’ humanity and interdependence in order to achieve a just peace.

Why should a Canadian be involved with EAPPI or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

The PCC believes strongly that there can be no peace without justice.  The concept of protective presence is based upon the idea that an international person has more of ‘voice’ than the average Palestinian and that this ‘voice’ can help deter or minimize instances of human rights abuses.  Canadians can use their ‘voices’ and presence to accompany Palestinian brothers and sisters.  The message of just peace is more effective when it is based on eyewitness accounts and every little bit counts.

Thank you to Margaret Zondo, Program Administrator for International Ministries of The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) and EAPPI Coordinator within this denomination, as well as Jeanie, Jake, and Magan, former EAs, for contributing to this article!

Do you want to know what EAPPI is doing around the world? Read more from Australia and the UK & Ireland.

How can you understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict without seeing it for yourself?

EAPPI’s interactive booth in Korea brings the realities of life under occupation to life

EAPPI staff, former EAs and local partners attended the World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th General Assembly in Busan, Korea from October 30 to November 8.  The booth, featured a photo exhibit and short films of EAPPI’s work and the situation in Palestine.

A banner of the separation wall hung over the entrance to EAPPI's booth at the WCC 10th General Assembly. Photo EAPPI.

A banner of the separation wall hung over the entrance to EAPPI’s booth at the WCC 10th General Assembly. Photo EAPPI.

The separation wall in Korea

Participants had to show their IDs before entering through the separation wall. Photo EAPPI.

Participants had to show their IDs before entering through the separation wall. Photo EAPPI.

Before entering, however, participants had to go through a façade designed as the separation wall, where participants could write message of peace and add their own graffiti.  A soldier (a former EAPPI observer) guarded the entrance, asking to check participant’s ID’s.

“Are you Palestinian,” he asked. If not, he would allow them in. If so, he would not.

Every evening in the booth, participants could join for tea time.  “We served sweet mint tea and cookies and discussed issues like ‘Palestinian children and the right to education,’ the ‘arbitrary use of violence against Palestinian children,’ ethical pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and access to worship.

Access to education

"Are you Palestinian," the soldier asked.  If so, you could not enter the booth.  A reflection of the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face every day. Photo EAPPI.

“Are you Palestinian,” the soldier asked. If so, you could not enter the booth. A reflection of the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face every day. Photo EAPPI.

“We sought to build awareness about the issue of ‘access to education’ to WCC member churches and ecumenical programs,” explained Nader, EAPPI Advocacy officer. “We wanted to mobilize them to take actions to improve Palestinian schoolchildren’s access to schools.

Anne-Marie, EAPPI’s Program Associate in Geneva recounted:

“Many people, who didn’t know much about the conflict were shocked, especially issues such as kids being threatened on their way to school and impunity for settler violence.”

The main event focused on access to education. Adli Daama, Learning for Development Officer at UNICEF, discussed the overall context of education under occupation, while Rafeeq Zeineldeen teacher from Qabalan school near Nablus, focused on his school’s experience and the affects of occupation on his students.  In addition, two former EAs discussed their experience in the West Bank and how people on the ground are affected.

Tearing down the wall

On the last day, many people gathered at the EAPPI both, where Manuel Quintero, EAPPI’s International Program Coordinator and Rifat Kassis, head of Defence for Children International in Palestine, talked about the illegality of the separation barrier under international law.  At the end, everybody chanted, ‘The wall must fall. The wall must fall.’ Nader retold, “and we symbolically tore down the wall.”

“EAPPI’s participation at the WCC assembly succeeded in bringing the attention of many churches around the world to the struggles of Palestinians,” said Yusef Daher, Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre. “As Palestinian Christians, we saw the most enthusiasm we’ve seen in any large event, especially from churches in the global south, such as Korean and India, and we hope to see them involved in EAPPI’s work soon.”