Will the Holy Fathers Bear True Witness?
by Maria C. Khoury, Ed.D.
It is a special day in the Holy Land where His Holiness Pope Francis will meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to commemorate the historic meeting of their predecessors in Jerusalem fifty years ago that began a new era of Church relations. The motto for the Apostolic Pilgrimage is "So that they may be one" (John 17:20-23). Also scheduled to arrive in Jerusalem is Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai of Lebanon.
Although the Holy Fathers will not make it to Taybeh, many newspapers came to report on the Christian community. We wish to be for the world the light and the hope needed under Israeli occupation. We are locked up behind a wall in an open prison and settlements continue to go up all around us while Israel continues to control all of the boarders, the roads, the natural resources. It is a hassle and harassment not to have the freedom to enter Jerusalem without permits.
Will the Holy Fathers speak against the atrocities we experience and see? Does it have to take a miracle to hold Israel responsible for the death of two Palestinian children gunned down by the Israeli soldiers during Nakba Day protest (May 15th) near Ramallah? Will the Holy Fathers even have time to see the video released by Defense for Children Palestine which reveals that the sixteen year old Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh Salameh and the seventeen year old Nadeem Siam Nawara were not holding any rocks or weapons, nor were they posing any security threat when the Israeli soldiers shot them assassination style. Does the world know about this brutal killing that goes on daily in Palestine. Yes, Palestine. I am sorry to say that some of the press releases refuse to even include the word "Palestine" and mention the visit only to Israel. So sad! We do exist in 22% of the historic land of Palestine; over 4 million people although less than 1.6% Christian, we are united as Christians and Muslims with the hope for a free Palestine.
As Pope Francis is celebrating Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem which we are so honored that the Taybeh Latin Church choir will sing for him, will he say anything about the destruction by the Israeli military this past week, May 19th of 1500 fruit trees at the Tent of Nations Peace Farm near where he is praying. I am so shocked and outraged of the damage at the Daoud Nassar farm because many of the trees were ready for harvest this June. But will His Holiness say anything to Israel?
Our local Latin priest Father Aziz Halaweh has written a letter more than once to the Holy Father about the twenty Palestinian priests of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem who do not have the right to enter Jerusalem without a permit. If they get this permit, increasingly unlikely, however they cannot enter Jerusalem with their own car. They must use public transportation. They must cross the checkpoint on foot (not drive through with other priests who have a visa). They must be inserted into a queue and wait many hours as Palestinians to cross without being sure they enter Jerusalem. Even when the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem which is an official Vatican Representative has tried to facilitate their pastoral mission and provide a pass for priests to show at the checkpoint the Israeli military authorities refuse it.
One priest said: "Every time I show it to pass, the Israeli soldiers refuse it, and they always ask for a visa. Recently, a soldier told me, in view of this pass: " Throw it away , here it's worthless." Another priest also said: "Israeli soldiers accused us in an arrogant way of being liars," You Catholic priests, you are liars, you have a document without a visa and you pretend to enter Jerusalem. "
Will any of the Holy Fathers this weekend be a loud voice to speak against military occupation and the discriminatory laws? Or will the Christian community be like a museum where the media simply comes to see how we are keeping the Christian values and traditions for two thousand years here in the very land where Christ was born. One of the commandments is "Thou shall not bear false witness." We hope everyone who comes to visit Israel/Palestine will have their eyes open and speak the truth for justice and peace. Will Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew have the courage to speak against the injustices happening in the very land where Christ was crucified and Resurrected? Will they see the crimes against humanity like we see them with our eyes?