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Pope in the Holy Land

The visit by the Vatican’s Pope Francis to the Holy Land and his invitation to the Palestinian and Israel protagonists to pray at the Vatican received scant media coverage.

What was astonishing that the Pope actually laid a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, an avowed atheist and the founder of the Zionist movement. This act contradicted the claim that the Pope’s visit had “no political agenda”, honoring a man who was responsible for demolishing more than 500 Palestinian villages and ethnically cleansing the indigenous population.

The Pope also visited Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum built within sight of the infamous Deir Yassin massacre, where Zionist terrorists killed and raped innocent Palestinian man, women and children. The Pope prayed, “Never again, Lord, never again” as he kissed the hands of holocaust survivors, ignoring the plight of 2 million starving Palestinians under siege in the concentration camp in Gaza less than 50 km away.

The Pope also downplayed the difficulties face by Christian Palestinians to visit the Holy sites, and churches. He did not challenge Binyamin Milekowsky ( aka as Netanyahu) mendacious claim to protect the right to “freedom of religion” in a ” democratic” state.

Accompanied by Shimon Persky (Simon Peres) to many sites, the Pope invited him with Mahmoud Abbas to pray for peace at the Vatican. Peres is a war criminal who offered apartheid South Africa a nuclear warhead in violation of international law! In fact, these Israeli leaders did not dare step on SA shores during Mandela’s funeral for fear of being arrested for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Contrast the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land to the visit by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1989, who stated, “I have witnessed the systematic violence against and humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation and pain is all too familiar to us South Africans.

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. My conscience compels me to stand with the Palestinians as they seek to use the same tactics of non-violence to further their efforts to end the oppression associated with the Israeli occupation.”

“‘Those who turn a blind eye to injustice actually perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Surely the Pope, as the Vicar of Jesus, peace be upon him, should have displayed this courage in support of the downtrodden and oppressed in the Holy Land.

Written by
Firoz Osman
Executive member

Christians object to serving in Israel’s army

by Jonathan Cook
Source: aljazeera.com

June 10, 2014

The leaders of Israel’s large Palestinian minority are stepping up opposition to Israeli government plans to recruit Christians into the military with a specially convened congress last Friday.

The congress, due to be held in the Galilee town of Sakhnin, will include all the minority’s political factions. It follows an announcement in April from the Israeli Defence Forces that all Christians would receive call-up papers on graduating from high school. An initial batch of 800 papers is due to be issued in the coming weeks.

“The congress will make clear that there is a national consensus against serving in the military and the government has crossed a red line,” said Nadim Nashef, director of Baladna, a youth movement that has led opposition to the government drive.

The Israeli military has insisted that the notices will be treated as an “invitation”, but Nashef said it was widely assumed that Israel intended to impose a compulsory draft at a later stage. Unlike Israeli Jews, most of Israel’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, comprising a fifth of the country’s population, have been exempted from conscription since the state’s establishment more than six decades ago. Many in the minority fear the change in official policy is intended to fuel tensions with their Muslim compatriots, as part of a “divide and rule” policy.

Netanyahu personally backed enlistment for Christians after a Nazareth priest, Jibril Nadaf, went public with his support 18 months ago. Last summer, Netanyahu held a press conference with Nadaf at which he said: “The Christian youth must be allowed to go into the IDF. You are loyal citizens who want to defend the country, and I salute and support you.”

The congress takes place as Palestinian leaders have expressed disappointment that Church leaderships have failed to take a decisive stand against Israel’s enlistment drive. There had been widespread hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to the region last month would provide an opportunity for him to speak out gainst the move.

However, the pope made no mention of the issue during his three-day visit. He has yet to respond to a letter sent to him in February by Basel Ghattas, a Christian member of the Israeli parliament. He also broke with the precedent set by predecessors by not venturing to the Galilee, where most of Israel’s 130,000 Palestinian Christians live.

Hana Swaid, the only member of the Israeli parliament from the Roman Catholic community, said he was “astonished” that the Pope had not made time to meet with him or other leaders of the Christian community. “Army service will only add to the pressures on the Christian community here. It makes it even more likely that Christians will leave the region, seeking to make a new life overseas,” Swaid said.

He added that recent threats from Jewish extremists against the Christian community, including a wave of attacks on holy sites, had further contributed to feelings that life was not safe for religious minorities in Israel.

Ghattas told Al Jazeera that the Greek Orthodox Church had demonstrated a similar reluctance to intervene.

Last month, hopes were briefly raised when Isa Musleh, a senior official with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, announced that Nadaf had been sacked. He issued a statement saying: “We warned him before to keep to his priestly duties and not to interfere in matters of the army.” But the Patriarch himself, Theophilos III, is reported not to have enforced the decision, with Nadaf advised instead to keep a low profile.

“The Patriarch knows Netanyahu has made this his personal cause and is afraid the Church will face severe sanctions if he is seen to be punishing Nadaf,” Ghattas said. He added that the Church leaderships had many “complex and murky interests” in Israel, especially concerning ownership of land, tax affairs, and the need for clerical visas.”

Bishop Isychios, a spokesman for the Patriarch, declined to respond to questions, including on whether Nadaf had been sacked. Nadaf has since become the spiritual leader of a Forum for Christian Recruitment, established by a small group of Christians who volunteer in the Israeli military. He has been widely feted by the Israeli right.

The Forum’s spokesman, Shadi Halul, a reserve paratrooper, told Al Jazeera that it was natural for Christians to want to serve Israel. “We are part of this country. Israel protects us and offers us the chance to live in peace in the region.” He said most Christian leaders in Israel lived in fear of the Muslim population, which comprises 80 percent of the Palestinian minority. Referring to sectarian fighting in neighbouring Syria and Egypt, he said: “Our [Christian] brothers are being persecuted and slaughtered only a short distance away.”

According to the IDF, about 2,000 Christians reach the age of conscription each year. Despite the government’s promotion of enlistment, only about 150 Christians are reported to be serving. Riah Abu el-Assal, the former Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, said the Forum represented only a very small minority of Christians in Israel. “The reality is that most Christians do not want to serve and will not respond to the call-up.”

Opponents of enlistment among the Palestinian minority have staged a series of protests.

In April, youths in Nazareth took over a central square dressed as soldiers and harassed passersby at a mock checkpoint to highlight what military service entails. A pamphlet warned that Israel wanted to achieve “the disintegration of the Palestinian national minority into warring sects”. A similar demonstration took place in the city of Haifa a fortnight ago.

Last month, Ghattas interrupted a meeting of the parliament’s interior committee to which Nadaf had been invited, calling him a “traitor” and “agent for the Shin Bet”, a reference to Israel’s secret intelligence service. He told Al Jazeera that the government was cracking down on any criticism of Nadaf, including by calling in people for interrogation. “It is like we have gone back to the 1970′s when the Shin Bet sought to control our political life,” Ghattas said.

There have been several demonstrations on university campuses. During one at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in April, three students were arrested.

A political activist in central Israel, Ghassan Munayir, was also arrested in April after posting on Facebook photographs of Nadaf and other Christians meeting the finance minister, Yair Lapid, to discuss drafting Christians. He was released on house arrest, but only after agreeing to the confiscation of his computer and phone.

Ghattas said the police had disrupted efforts to hold protest meetings in Christian communities by threatening to revoke the licence of any public venue owner who agreed to host them.

Palestinian leaders in Israel are also concerned by related efforts to establish a separate legal status for Christians and Muslims. In February, the parliament passed a law that, for the first time, provides recognition of Christians as a separate minority from Muslims.

Yariv Levin, who drafted the law and is a leading member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, told Israeli media that the legislation was meant to “connect us [the Jewish majority] and the Christians”. He added: “They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within.”

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