“Act and intervene, or nothing will change”




My first Christmas greeting this year came all the way from Bethlehem itself, just yards from where the Big Story is supposed to have begun 2012 years ago. My friend Jiries is a survivor of the murderous 40-day siege of the Church of the Nativity by Israeli troops in 2002.

Outside the Irish Parliament. Left to Right: Alan Lonergan (SADAKA), Constantine Dabbagh, Fr Manuel Musallam, John Ging (Head of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip), Archbishop Theodosius Hanna.

And they made this stark plea: “Act and intervene, or nothing will change.

Fr Manuel told Irish Government ministers and their foreign affairs committee: “I was in Gaza during the war [Operation Cast Lead] and suffered with my people for 22 days. I saw with my own eyes a phosphoric bomb in the school yard. I saw people injured by the’se phosphoric bombs, although the’se bombs are forbidden. The’se crimes against us were ignored by all the people of the world…

“What happened in Gaza was not a war. A war is a clash between soldiers, aircraft and weapons. We were victims, just victims. They destroyed Gaza. I was there and saw with my own eyes what happened. We in Gaza were treated like animals… We are not terrorists. We have not occupied Israel.

“We do not want to die to liberate Palestine. We want to live to build Palestine…. We are asking the world to give the Palestinian people their rights. The question is whe’ther peace is possible. Despite all the difficulties, the crimes and the war, we as Palestinians say peace is possible if justice is possible.

All we ask of Israel is to respect us and not treat us like animals. We also ask parliamentarians and governments across the world not to give us food aid. We do not need cookies from Israel. We do not even need to trade with Israel. All we need is to be protected. We are suffering a war that we have endured for more than 60 years.

Be assured that Hamas will protect Christians in Gaza

Christianity in the region had been destroyed not by Muslims but by Israel, said Fr Manuel. Israel destroyed the church of Palestine and the church of Jerusalem beginning in 1948. It, not Muslims, has sent Christians in the region into a diaspora.

He told his listeners how he had seen the Israeli army target the Christian school in Gaza. “Five Hamas ministers visited the school after it was attacked and promised they would repair the damage… Hamas paid more than $122,000 to repair all the damage caused. Afterwards I met the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. When he embraced me he said this, and we believed it. He said: ‘Go to your family, but be assured that Hamas will employ weapons against Muslims to protect Christians in Gaza.’ This is the reality. Christians in Palestine are not suffering persecution, because we are not considered to be a religious community, but rather the people of Palestine. We have the same rights and the same obligations.

He finished by describing how things really are. “We have spoken to Israel for more than 18 years and the result has been zero. We have signed agreements here and there at various times and then when there is a change in the Government of Israel we have to start again from the beginning. We ask for our life and to be given back our Jerusalem, to be given our state and for enough water to drink.

We want to be given more opportunity to reach Jerusalem. I have not seen Jerusalem since 1990… We want to see an end to this occupation, and please do not ask us to protect those who are occupying our territory.”

Fr Manuel should have been a political leader. To improve the human condition, it seems to me, churchmen must also be politically minded and not afraid to mix it with the out-and-out scoundrels who infest our political institutions and cloak themselves in a national flag.

The priests words are all the more poignant this Christmas after yet another bloody and cowardly assault on defenceless Gazans and the continued inaction, even connivance, of some (supposedly Christian) Western powers.

My Christmas message to Palestinians in the Holy Land therefore is, pray for a miracle.

And my Christmas message to politicians in the world outside the Holy Land is this: as Fr Manuel says, peace is possible if justice is possible, so get off your fat backsides and ACT to deliver JUSTICE.

Make peace possible.

Or go pack your bags, find other employment, for you offend all decent people.