Partner Plan Letter
Rev Páraic Réamonn, December 11 2017
St Andrew’s Scots Memorial, Jerusalem
Each year, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) sends around 100 ecumenical accompaniers (EAs) from different countries to protect and show solidarity with vulnerable Palestinian communities and, especially after returning home, to advocate on their behalf. Along with the Methodists and the Quakers, the Church of Scotland is active in the British EAPPI committee.
Each time one group of EAs arrives and another departs, there is a handover service in which the outgoing group “passes the light” in the form of candles to those coming in. As Zoughbi Zoughbi, the local programme coordinator, says, these services help the EAs in “settling in or letting go”. I and my ecumenical colleagues in St Andrew’s always attend, and I was instrumental, early on, in persuading the programme to add St Andrew’s to the list of service venues.
In July we met for the first time in the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, on the seam between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, at the invitation of the institute’s director, Fr Russ McDougall. Russ and I are involved in an invigorating Christian-Jewish group, now meeting mostly at St Andrew’s, which (at the request of the Jewish participants!) is currently studying Paul’s letter to the Romans. He regularly joins the Church of Scotland team visit to our partners in Gaza and some time ago introduced us to Sister Bridget Tighe, a redoubtable Irish nun who runs the Caritas operation there.
In September, during the World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel, Vivien and I and some of my ecumenical associates were at Wi’am (the Palestinian Conflict Transformation Centre in Bethlehem) for a service with the theme, “Enhancing Hope in the Face of Darkness”. Munib Younan, outgoing bishop of our partner church the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, was the main speaker. We met in the centre’s garden, under the shadow of an apartheid wall that now surrounds Bethlehem on all four sides; the feeling was best captured in a prayer by my friend and colleague Carrie Smith, pastor of the English-speaking congregation in the Church of the Redeemer:
“How many times must we meet here, in this place, with this ugly wall as the background of our photos and of our lives? How long, O Lord, until this long night is over? 100 years? 69 years? 50 years? Now even this wall is in its teenage years.”
Her questions are to the point. This is a time of deep darkness in Israel/Palestine, as the Netanyahu government pursues relentlessly the programme of displacement and dispossession that began in 1947-48 and the Abbas administration is more and more obviously a waste of space.
In our work here, we focus largely on the larger Zionist-Palestinian conflict. But sometimes we need to turn our attention particularly to the consequences of that conflict for churches and the Christian community.
On Wednesday of the World Week, and on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and (ironically) the “ten days of repentance”, the Beit Jimal monastery, home to Salesian monks near Beit Shemesh, was vandalized – for the third time in four years.
Haaretz reports that “over 50 Christian and Muslim sites have been vandalized in Israel and the West Bank since 2009, but only nine indictments have been filed and only seven convictions handed down, according to Public Security Ministry data. Moreover, only eight of the 53 cases are still under investigation, with the other 45 all closed.”
Gadi Gvaryahu, chair of Tag Meir, an organization that monitors hate crimes, believes that it is a question of police priorities: “Without a doubt, they aren’t looking hard enough.” He adds that some of these crimes remain unsolved despite security camera footage that includes pictures of the suspected vandals’ cars (sic).
In a forceful editorial, Haaretz contends that “Israel’s Public Security Minister is soft on crimes against Christian and Muslim sites.” It says: “[Minister Gilad] Erdan should be reminded that his job isn’t psychiatric diagnosis, but running the police. It’s high time for him to finally start doing this job, even when the crime victims are non-Jews.”
Will anything change? Not without serious pressure from churches and governments outside.
Meanwhile, Al Monitor reports that Israel is reigniting the conflict over the Haram al Sharif or Temple Mount – the last round of which ended in a humiliating climb-down by Israel and the closure sine die of the Israeli embassy in Jordan. The Israeli government is trying permanently to close the Bab al-Rahma building inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to bring the Waqf (the Islamic Religious Endowments) that administers the Haram before an Israeli court on the absurd charge of terrorism.
In October, I led a Church of Scotland visit to Gaza. Our schedule was organized by Dr Issa Tarazi, executive director of the Near East Council of Churches committee for refugee work in Gaza.
We visited the NECC clinic and vocational training centre in Shija’ia; Ahli Arab Hospital; Atfaluna, which works with the deaf and hard of hearing; Caritas; the Women’s Programme Centre in the Nuseirat refugee camp; and the YMCA. We were also received by Archbishop Alexios, a Greek who is renovating the Greek Orthodox Church of St Porphyrios, and Fr Mario da Silva, a cheerful Brazilian who has just finished renovating the Church of the Holy Family (Latin Catholic).
Topics of conversation, apart from the specific work of those we visited, included the continuing shrinkage of the Christian population of Gaza (now probably less than 1,000 out of two million) and the reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas. Best analysis of the latter came from Raji Sourani, director of the Palestine Centre for Human Rights in Gaza. He said this attempt at a unity government was rather more likely to succeed than in the past because Egypt, the United States and Israel all wanted it too: Egypt, because it needs support from Gaza in suppressing Islamic militants in the Sinai, the US, because it can’t make any moves towards a new “peace process” (however farcical) without a unity government; and Israel, because it would like to ease the siege of Gaza provided this cannot be seen as a victory for Hamas. Unity will not end the Zionist-Palestinian conflict, which at the moment seems set to run and run; and in more recent weeks, unification has run into trouble. But easing the siege, for whatever reason, would make a huge difference to the long-suffering people of Gaza; so let’s hope.
Our congregation in Jerusalem is growing modestly, adding both Arab Christians and Messianic Jews (we also attract expats, but most of these are here only for a time). In September, we started a fortnightly ecumenical women’s group that meets in the guesthouse: “ecumenical”, because we invite and are attracting women from beyond the congregation.
Relationships with partner churches and organizations continue to develop fruitfully. Rev Grant Barclay was here recently, interviewing on video many people from these churches and organizations. As he says, you can argue with people’s ideas, but you can’t argue with their experience: it has its own authenticity.
The Trump effect
On Wednesday December 6, Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel”, partly to distract the great American people from his Russia troubles, partly to appeal to his base, but mostly, I think, to show that he could – and to show that he wasn’t Barack Obama.
This attracted widespread international condemnation, mostly from those who want to keep playing the game of a fictitious “peace process”. It also provoked disturbances resulting in death and serious injury in East Jerusalem, Gaza, green-line Israel, and the West Bank.
It’s easy to understand the indignation that Trump provokes, on this as on other issues, but the more useful responses are from those in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere who are trying to make sense of what is going on. I posted links to several statements and articles on our Facebook page. If you haven’t already “liked” this page, we encourage you to do that. In this season of Advent, as well as links to sermons preached in St Andrew’s and to such topical articles, it also carries Advent devotions from our ecumenical associates who as their day job run the Methodist Liaison Centre based in the Tantur Ecumenical Centre.
Enhancing hope in the face of darkness seem to me an apt summary of what the Church of Scotland is and should be doing in Israel/Palestine: speaking clearly for justice, peace and reconciliation; and accompanying two communities stuck in a conflict to which our own dear country has contributed significantly – and not just through the Balfour Declaration.
 Ministers from other expatriate churches who are attached to St Andrew’s
 Carrie has two teenage sons
 Ahmad Melhem, “New Israeli closure at Al-Aqsa escalates tensions”, al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/09/israel-closes-bab-rahma-building-and-brings-endowments-court.html
 Shija’ia or Shuja’iyya, with 92,000 people in six square kilometres, is one of the most densely populated areas in Gaza
 300 beds, started by CMS, handed over to the Southern Baptists, and now run by the Diocese of Jerusalem. It has a nice new diagnostic centre, which would be nicer still if Israel allowed it to import all, and not just half of its diagnostic machines; and a nice view across the street of a building with a big round hole in it, from a missile fired from an Israeli helicopter in 2014, and a cemetery Israel also bombed, presumably out of fear that the dead might rise and join the struggle
 See under: Emperor’s New Clothes
 See: Letter to President of the United States of America Donald Trump from the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches in Jerusalem; Sabeel Christmas Message from Jerusalem; A call for action from the Joint Advocacy Initiative of the East Jerusalem YMCA and the YWCA of Palestine; David B Green, “Jerusalem for Dummies: Why the World Doesn’t Recognize It as Israel’s Capital”, Haaretz; David B Green, “Jerusalem for Dummies, Part 2. What the Palestinians want”, Haaretz; Roger Cohen, “There was no peace process for Trump to destroy”, New York Times; Anshel Pfeffer, “Trump recognized one Israeli capital city. But there are really three Jerusalems”, Haaretz; Amira Hass, “Trump’s Jerusalem declaration gives Abbas a chance to shake things up”, Haaretz; Gideon Levy, “Donald Trump, visionary of the (single) state”, Haaretz; Anshel Pfeffer, “Three reasons we aren’t seeing a third intifada”, Haaretz). To read “premium” articles on Haaretz, you need to register (free); to read more than a few “premium” articles each month, you need to subscribe (not free, but worth it).