September - October 2010 M.E. Synod of Bishops
Population Pilgrimage/Tourism V.I.S.
- Christians in Middle East much more than a Numbers Game.. ................. 2 - Synod: difficult, but essential, Dialogue for Peaceful Coexistence with Islam .................................................................................................. 7 - Rabbi Rosen's Address to Mideast Synod .................................................. 8 - A Shia Muslim's Words to Mideast Synod .............................................. 13 - Pontiff to Mideast Christians: You are not alone ..................................... 15 - Vatican Aide: "Voice" of Synod is Final Message .................................. 17 - Benedict XVI sends New Year Message to Rabbi ................................... 18 - Pope and Peres hopeful that Washington Talks will lead to Peace in the Holy Land ....................................................................................... 18 - Holy See - Israel meet on Protection of Holy Sites and Fiscal Status...... 19 - Concern over Status of Jerusalem and Future of Palestinian Christians voiced by WCC ........................................................................................ 20 - US Religious Leaders Support Peace Efforts ........................................... 20 - King Herod's Royal Theatre Box uncovered at Herodium....................... 21 - 1,500-year-old Samaritan Synagogue found by Beit Shean..................... 22 - Digs at Tel Shikmona unearth 6th-Century Floor Mosaics...................... 23 - Dramatic Renovations planned for Jerusalemâ€™s Old City ........................ 24 - 9,700 sq. ft. Carpet Mosaic uncovered in Jericho .................................... 26 - Happy Rosh Hashanah: Israel's Population reaches 7.6 Million .............. 27 - Jewish Population in Israel is declining ................................................... 28 - Neglect, filth and safety hazards at Israel tourism sites ........................... 29 - MKs propose banning East Jerusalem Arabs from guiding in the City ... 30 - SELECTIONS OF ITEMS FROM VATICAN INFORMATION SERVICE .................................................................. 31 - Synod for the Middle East to begin on Sunday ........................................ 31
Editor: Jerzy KRAJ, ofm
Christians in Middle East much more than a Numbers Game Franciscan Father David Jaeger is one of the Roman Catholic Churchâ€™s most authoritative experts on the Middle East. Until a few weeks ago, he was the Delegate of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land in Rome. A convert from Judaism who became a Roman Catholic priest in 1986, he is a noted canon lawyer. He was part of the Vatican team that negotiated diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994 and is part of the Vatican team that is still ironing out the final subsidiary details of that accord. He spoke to Reuters and Reuters Television about the upcoming Mideast Synod in the atrium of Antonianum University in Rome. Here is a transcript of parts of the conversation. What do you expect from the Synod? I think it is intended to be a very significant step forward in the development of the witness of the Church in the Middle East. Synods are convened not simply, or not necessarily, in response to current affairs concerns but as a moment for the Church to grow, in faithfulness and in effectiveness of witness. The moment in the Middle East is particularly appropriate for this further development. There is hope for new ecumenical relations. There is a growth of the Church itself in the Middle East, in awareness of fundamental values of Vatican II, such as religious freedom and the civic responsibility of Christians. I donâ€™t think people in the West appreciate to what extent the thematics of the Synod are totally new to so much of the Church in the Middle East. Religious freedom some decades ago was not even a known concept. It had never been experienced in 13 centuries. It had always been presupposed that it could not be attained; yet now it is being spoken of in the preparatory documents of the Synod as a serious subject, not as something already existing of course, but as something realistically to be looked forward to. The whole discussion of the civic duty of the Christian, the Christian as citizen, the Christian communities as actors in the national lives of the countries where they live, this is totally new for the region as a whole. For 13 centuries, Christians in the Middle East had been made to live strictly in kinds of socio-political ghettos, not a physical ones necessarily, but sociopolitical and legal ones, and it was a given that general society was something else, in which as Christians they had no part. Maybe individuals did manage to insert themselves into politics in different countries, of course, but that the idea that as a Christian, as a Christian community, you had to participate in the formation of a national culture, in the development of the national political culture too, these are all new insights in that region. These are all (examples) of Vatican II coming finally to fruition in that region too, so it is a very exiting moment for the Church. There is great concern about a continuing exodus of Christians from the region. What can be done about that? Let us say two things to that. One thing is that Christians are neither an endangered animal species, nor a vegetable one either. Christians are not some ethnic minority like the Yamomani in the Amazon forests of Brazil or something like that. To speak of Christians is not to speak of a given quantity. The Church is a community of faith in a state of mission. You cannot think of recruiting more Yanomami. They are a given quantity. When they die out, they die out. But this is not the case of Christians. The Church is a community of faith in a state of mission. Some people move from one region to another. Some people leave the faith; other people come to the faith from all over the world.
Second, and much more importantly perhaps in this particular context, the situation of Christians cannot be divorced from that of the countries where they live. In other words, we cannot simply say there is a problem of emigration of Christians from a given area and the Middle East is by no means uniform in this respect at all. So what are we going to do about it? We always say that and we always try to do a great many things with a great deal of sacrifice — provide some housing in some areas, especially in the Middle East, try to increase the availability of jobs in certain areas, but whatever the Church as such can do, and does and will do, while being necessary as well as beneficial, is a drop in a bucket. Essentially, Christians leave because the countries where they find themselves, their native countries, do not offer conditions of security and possibilities for prosperity, opportunities for their families, for various reasons. Therefore, the only overall solution would be the development of their home countries, within the region as a whole. In other words, if we speak of the Holy Land, and specifically of the occupied Palestinian territories, where we do know, to be quite concrete about it, in recent years there has been a very considerable emigration of Christians, say, from the Bethlehem area. There is nothing ultimately we can do about this as Church, however much we spend on works of social solidarity or housing or jobs or whatever, because they leave because they live in a very difficult situation, as their Muslim neighbours do, under conditions of belligerent occupation which have lasted much more than the lifetime of so many of them, having been in place since 1967. This is an objective fact. It has nothing to do the rights or wrongs of the conflicts in the area, about who attacked first and who responded and who attacked again and who responded. It has nothing to do with that. The objective fact is that the resulting situation for the people of that area is this, whoever is responsible or not for it. Under those conditions, a family — to say it rather provocatively — that can emigrate to the free world and doesn’t do so, may not be responsible at all towards itself and the children. It is often easier for Christians to go than for Muslims because they will find it easier to integrate in the Western world. They often already have a great number of families, of extended family members, settled in the U.S. or Canada or Australia and so on. The Palestinians are very family oriented, extended family oriented, in the sense of a great generosity and warmth towards their kin. They will receive them well and help them integrate. Nothing can change that except peace. This is why I believe that the greatest charity that is required, with regard to the Christians in the Holy Land and for the Middle East in general, is peace. It is for Catholics everywhere in the free world to press their respective governments to be truly pro-active in assisting the coming about of peace and security in the Holy Land. This is the only remedy and it is not within our power as Church to create. It is within our power to encourage, to call for, but there is nothing we can ultimately do unless the situation becomes stabilised for everyone in the land. Some say the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and its ramifications on the conflict is the greatest obstacle to Christians leading a normal life in the region. You should edit your question. It is the obstacle to leading a normal life. It doesn’t matter if these are Christians or Muslims or atheists. Of course, who of us in the free world, who of us as a free citizen in a free country, could conceive of himself living without civil and political rights, when you are never secure in your person, in your home, in your property and your papers. When you are always subject to arbitrary stopping, detention, arrest and so on. This is not a
criticism of the occupying power. It is a description of what the situation of belligerent occupation is in this case. It’s not a criticism of anyone at all; it’s an objective situation. And this situation makes it impossible for anyone to live anything like what we in the West or we free citizens of our own countries could ever consider a normal life. It is so different from what any of us has ever experienced that I cannot even imagine myself living that kind of life, let alone for a lifetime, let alone stably, without prospects and without ever changing .We just don’t have enough resources mentally to picture that. This is why — and his has nothing to do with whether you are Christian or Muslim or whatever — it is a human question. In addition, of course, in the occupied Palestinians territories, Christians are a minority within the Palestinian population itself, which brings with it, further problems. But it is subordinate to the situation overall of those people. But many say the situation is that the land of Jesus will have fewer and fewer Christians. Well, we are not engaged in a head counting exercise. This is why at the beginning of our conversation I expressed very serious doubts about the usefulness of a numbers game. We are not engaged, we as Christians, either in the Middle East or in Europe or anywhere else, we are not engaged in competition, with anyone else, with Protestants, with Muslims, with Jews, whoever. It’s not like Pepsi and Coke. It is something that is totally different. It’s not that we should say we are alarmed because there won’t be Christians or there won’t be Muslims or anything. We should say that yes, in certain areas of the world, and specifically in the Middle East, progressively fewer persons professing the Christian faith remain in their native countries. This is a source of concern, of course, because Christianity is not a numbers game. But if the faith it to be witnessed, someone has to do it and if this witness is to be effective, there has to be a critical mass of witnesses and so on and so forth. One of the situations is in Bethlehem and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories under occupation. This is not fundamentally due to any specifically Christian problem and we could never, ever think of resolving it as a Christian problem among ourselves. It is radically dependent on the general context in which Christians and all others live. The only way to really respond to it is to change that context, for everyone. This is true if you think also of other situations. You think of Iraq. There has never been an exodus of Christians from the Middle East that I know of comparable to that from Iraq in the post-2003 period, except perhaps from Syria-Lebanon in the 1860s after the events everyone knows of. But again, yes, of course, Christians are subject in Iraq and have been subject in Iraq since 2003 to an unprecedented degree of harassment, persecutions, and killings in many cases – something on a scale of a kind that had never existed in their country before. But the solution to that cannot be by concentrating on Christians. That won’t lead us anywhere. The solution is in the general destiny of Iraq. The suffering of Christians are only a symptom of Iraq precipitating into a state of theocratic, Islamist autocracy rather than evolving towards a secularised democracy. It had been been secularised before 2003 but it wasn’t democratic. So the hope, of every reasonable person of good faith, had been that it would keep the gains of secularism while progressing towards democracy. What happened is that a certain kind of democracy has happened, a very limited one indeed, but at the expense of losing the gains of 4
secularism. You cannot solve, in any stable way, the fundamental problems facing Iraq, unless the society as a whole progresses further towards a secular democracy. What about the situation in Saudi Arabia, where Christians cannot profess their faith in public? The situation in Saudi Arabia results from the fact that there had not been any Christians there at all and that the presence of any Christians there is very recent in historical terms. First, there are diplomats and foreign engineers, and so on, and then there are masses of cheap foreign labour from other countries, mostly in Asia. So it’s not as if there has been a persecution of a resident, deeply rooted Christian community. The phenomenon of the presence of Christians is a very recent one, challenging therefore the mono-religious history and self-perception of Saudi Arabia, which as a state is also a fairly recent State. This is a huge problem but it is not new. It’s been there for many decades, in part because many countries of Christian tradition for many decades now have cultivated to an extreme decree their commercial and defence ties with the kingdom (and) studiously avoided attending to it. I have the impression that when we speak of religious freedom or security for Christians in Muslim lands, in the West the discourse tends to be entirely instrumental. At times nothing is said about it when it not convenient. When it is convenient, the subject is taken up and used in a disproportionate and not historical way for the purpose of fomenting the dreaded clash of civilisations, making it be where it does not exist or further stoking the fires when they are there. So this is a very delicate subject. I always want to be sure that people who speak of it and show concern do so for genuine reasons, not in the service of another agenda. I find it very, very curious when the concern from some Western sources for Christians in Saudi Arabia comes from quarters which before, say 10, 11 or 12 years ago, would have done anything simply to avoid thinking of the subject. No one can force societies into higher stages of cultural evolution than they can themselves reach on their own, with help. We’ve seen this in the Middle East, just in the last decade or so. We’ve seen this. You cannot force democracy. Maybe you can force elections but elections are not democracy. Elections without the rest of what makes for democracy are actually extremely dangerous, as we have seen repeatedly in Iraq, in Turkey. In Egypt the West coerced the Egyptian government to make it easier for opposition candidates to be elected to parliament only to find the parliament with many, many more Islamists, Islamic fundamentalists, Muslim Brethren representatives than ever before. This is not democracy. Pressing countries to hold elections only so that anti-democratic forces can be elected is not democracy. Some say there is a question of reciprocity with Saudi Arabia, that we should not treat Muslims well here if Christians are not treated well there Saudi Arabia will develop towards a more open society, or a less closed society, at its own pace, in its own way, under pressure of its own people, women especially. We see many signs of that within that changeless monolith as it appears on the outside. We see many signs of developments there and one of them is the astonishing, unprecedented and to the uninitiated unexpected visit of the King of Saudi Arabia to the Sovereign Pontiff. (NB: Jaeger was referring to the visit by Saudi King Abdullah to Pope Benedict in 2007) It cannot be insignificant, even in regards to Saudi Arabia, that enormous advances have been made already in the countries of the Arabian rim, from Kuwait to Oman, in terms of 5
relations with the Holy See, the possibility of public worship for Christians and so on. It’s not as if it’s a hopeless scenario. Not at all. On the contrary, it shows signs of evolution that would not have been imaginable. Do you fear that Israel may become the whipping boy at the Synod? I reject this whole way of looking at the Synod. The Synod is not there to take positions on any political questions, for or against any country. The Church is not there for that in the first place, least of all the Holy See. The Holy See and the assemblies it convenes, such as the Synod, and the pronouncements of the Pope do not intervene, by their very nature, in temporal disputes between nations and states. They give moral judgments on the moral dimensions of temporal issues, in the name of God, in the name of God’s moral law, in the name of humanity. Absolutely, inevitably, when the Holy Father, or any other truly authoritative expression of the Church speaks out on moral judgment and human affairs, there is always someone whom it secretly or openly pleases and there is always someone it displeases. Because obviously, the result will be that someone is said to have been doing good and someone else will be said not to have been doing good. But this is absolutely indifferent. The judgments are rendered, the assessments are voiced, objectively, without prejudice, without regards to persons and without regards to nations. So it is profoundly distorted to say that the Synod could speak in favour of one country or against one country. That is not the perspective at all. But before you used the term belligerent occupation. Belligerent occupation is a term of international law. It means that there has been a war and, at the end of fighting, one country is found to be in occupation of somebody else’s territory pending a peace treaty. This is what it means, pending a peace treaty. Now, the peace treaty is still pending to end this situation. Now, there can be debate whether the occupying power has done all it could have done to bring about this peace treaty, whether the absence of the peace treaty is due to the insufficient will on this part or that part. These are political judgments. They can become moral judgments, but they are essentially political judgments. It depends on how you assess the realities in the area. There can be debate over the extent to which the occupying power has abided by the extensive body of international law that governs situations of belligerent occupation. This is a debate. It is a political debate, it’s a legal debate and it can also be a moral debate. If there have been — and there have been — apparent criticisms by various levels of the Church of this or that aspect of this situation, of the occupying power’s handling of its responsibilities, they have not been and they are not in order to do harm to the occupying power in itself, to diminish it, to discredit it, to de-legitimate it. This is never the purpose of the Church. If there is such criticism, it is meant to address the situation. They are not cards being played … Whenever the Church voices a criticism of anyone it is not a card being played in an adversarial relationship. I think this is fundamental for people to understand if they really want to report truly what the Church is and does. By Reuters – 7 October 2010
Synod: difficult, but essential, Dialogue for Peaceful Coexistence with Islam Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The need for dialogue with Muslims, the urgency of civil rights, including freedom of religion, the duty of communion between the Christian Churches, and in first place among Catholics, the importance of formation. The problems of Christians in the Middle East are beginning to emerge in the speeches at the Synod from Bishops who live in that region, a day after the Patriarch Naguib, General Relator, had traced an initial outline. Archbishop Louis Sako, Archbishop of Kirkuk, Iraq, stressed the need for a serious commitment to dialogue with Muslims. "Without dialogue with them there will not be peace or stability. Together we can eliminate war and all forms of violence. We must join our voices together to denounce the booming business of the arms trade. " Referring in particular to the situation of Iraqi Christians, Mgr. Sako said that "the exodus that plagues our churches cannot be avoided. Emigration is the biggest challenge that threatens our presence. The figures are worrying. The Eastern Churches, but also the universal Church, must take their share of responsibility and together with the international community and local authorities come up with common choices that respect the dignity of the human person. Choices based on equality and full citizenship, with commitments to partnership and protection. The strength of a State should be based on its credibility in applying laws that serve its citizens, without discrimination between the majority and minority. We want to live in peace and liberty instead of just surviving". Likening coexistence between Christians and Muslims to a "glass half full" Mgr. Elias Nassar, the Maronite Bishop of Sidon, Lebanon, argued that "the ups and downs of living together are often linked to political problems." "The attachment of Muslims to prayer, fasting, charity, pilgrimages encourages their Christians neighbours to become more devout in their practise." At the same time, the presence of Christians "provokes Muslims to reflection, for example on a Christological reading of the Koran". There are, in his view, steps that could be taken in a secular state, like that of Syria during the Pauline Year, in fields such as theatre, culture and sport. Another Lebanese Archbishop Paul Youssef Matar, a Maronite from Beirut highlighted the "responsibility" of Christians and Muslims. "From the outset children of the land - he said Christians must not feel that they have to forge a destiny limited to themselves, but rather a common destiny with their partners." Being part of the Arab world "should not cause them to lose their rights or their freedom, but confirm them, in common with the rights and freedoms of their fellow citizensâ€?. As for the Muslims, the majority, "they must give a place to their Christian fellow citizens. Not just a presence in society, but in the building of society and also of its leadership. There is also the responsibility of Western powers, which should remedy past injustices. This would also benefit the region's Christians, who are wrongly identified with them. The same Western Christians and the whole world, should express their solidarity by striving to know more about their brothers and sisters in the Middle East and "put pressure on the public opinion of their country and their rulers to restore justice in dealing with Islam and the Middle East and help the world free itself of fundamentalism and encourage moderation. The need for communion was instead at the heart of the intervention delivered by Mgr. Jean Benjamin Sleiman, the Latin Archbishop of Baghdad (Iraq). It is â€œthe core of our ecclesial identity, the dynamic of unity and diversity of our Church. Our presence and our future, our 7
witness and our commitment depend on it". But "communion is above all contradicted by sectarianism”. "Rites have become confessions". "Our churches are invited to free themselves of this historical legacy in order to once again find the model of the community of Jerusalem”. One particular aspect, finally, it was addressed by Msgr. Salim Sayegh, the Latin Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem in Jordan, who spoke of sects which are "causing a great doctrinal confusion". "In Jordan, for example, there are a fifty seven, five of which have more active pastors that all Catholic and Orthodox churches together". To "keep the depository of the faith "there is “an urgent need to visit the families" to "explain, defend, sow, live and help live the Catholic faith". Another concern is the "serious Christian formation of adults," and for "Catholic schools to raise awareness of their mission as Catholic schools." AsiaNews – 12 October 2010
Rabbi Rosen's Address to Mideast Synod Jewish-Catholic Relations "a Blessed Transformation in our Times" VATICAN CITY - Here is the full text of the address given today at the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops by special guest Rabbi David Rosen, Advisor to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and Director of the Department for Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee and Heilbrunn Institute for International and Interreligious Understanding. *** The relationship today between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people is a blessed transformation in our times -- arguably without historic parallel. In his words in the great synagogue here in Rome last January, H.H. Pope Benedict XVI referred to the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council as "a clear landmark to which constant reference is made in our attitude and our relations with the Jewish people, marking a new and significant stage." Naturally this striking transformation in the way the Jewish people is viewed and presented, still had and has to contend with the influence of centuries, if not millenia, of the "teaching of contempt" towards Jews and Judaism, which obviously is not eliminated overnight nor even over forty five years. Inevitably, the impact of this transformation in Catholic-Jewish relations varies considerably from one context to another, influenced by sociological, educational and even political factors. Arguably the most dramatic internalization has taken place in the United States of America where Jews and Christians live in an open society side by side as vibrant self-confident and civically engaged minorities. As a result the relationship has advanced there to a unique degree involving cooperation and exchanges between the communities and their educational institutions; and today the US boasts literally dozens of academic institutions for Catholic-Jewish studies and relations, while there are perhaps three in the rest of the world. Indeed there is a widespread perception among the Jewish communities in the US of the Catholic Church as a genuine friend with profound values and interests in common. It is my privilege to head the international interfaith representation of the American Jewish Committee, which has been and continues to be the leading Jewish organization in this remarkable and historic transformation. 8
However, there are many countries where such social and demographic factors are not present. In most countries where Catholicism is the dominant social force, Jewish communities are small if present at all, and the relationship between the Church and Judaism often gets little notice. I confess to having been surprised to find Catholic clergy and sometimes even hierarchy from some countries not only ignorant about contemporary Judaism but often even about Nostra Aetate itself, the Vatican documents that flowed from it and thus the relevant teachings of the Magisterium concerning Jews and Judaism. While as indicated, Jewish experience in the US has done much to alleviate negative impressions of the tragic past; there is still widespread ignorance about Christianity in the Jewish world - especially where there is little or no contact at all with modern Christians. In the only polity in the world where Jews are a majority, the State of Israel, this problem is further compounded by the political and sociological context. In the Middle East, as in most parts of the world, communities tend to live in their own linguistic, cultural and confessional settings, and Israel is no exception. Moreover Christian Arabs in Israel are a minority within a minorityâ€“approximately 120,000 among an Arab citizenry of around a million and a half which is overwhelmingly Muslim and which constitutes some twenty per cent of the Israeli citizenry as a whole (some seven and a half million.) It is true that Christian Arab Israelis are a particularly successful religious minority in many respects. Their socio-economic and educational standards are well above averageâ€“their schools receive the highest grades in annual matriculation examinationsâ€“many of them have been politically prominent and they have been able to derive much benefit from the democratic system of which they are an integral part. However, the daily life of the vast majority of Arabs and Jews takes place in their own respective contexts. As a result, most Jewish Israelis do not meet contemporary Christians; and even when they travel abroad, they tend to meet non-Jews as such, not as modern Christians. Accordingly, until recently most of Israeli society has been quite unaware of the profound changes in Catholic-Jewish relations. However, this situation has begun to alter significantly in the last decade for different reasons, but two in particular are especially noteworthy. The first is the impact of the visit of the late Pope John Paul II in the year 2000, following the establishment of full bilateral relations between Israel and the Holy See six years earlier. While the latter had already had some effect on perceptions in Israel, it was the power of the visual images, the significance of which Pope John Paul II understood so well, that revealed clearly to the majority of Israeli society the transformation that had taken place in Christian attitudes and teaching towards the Jewish people with whom the Pope himself had maintained and further sought mutual friendship and respect. For Israelis to see the Pope at the Western Wall, the remnant of the Second Temple, standing there in respect for Jewish tradition and placing there the text that he had composed for a liturgy of forgiveness that had taken place two weeks earlier here at St. Peter's, asking Divine forgiveness for sins committed against the Jews down the ages, was stunning and overwhelming in its effect. Israeli Jewry still has a long way to go in overcoming the negative past, but there is no question that attitudes have changed since that historic visit. In addition it led to the remarkable new avenue for dialogue, understanding and collaboration in the form of the bilateral commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with Jewry, established at John Paul II's initiative and praised extensively by Pope Benedict XVI during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year and also in his words at the great synagogue here in Rome earlier this year.
The other major factor is the influx of other Christians who have doubled the demographic make-up of Christianity in Israel. I refer first of all to the estimated approximately fifty thousand practicing Christians who were part and parcel of the immigration to Israel in the last two decades from the former Soviet Union. As integrally connected at the same time to Jewish society through familial and cultural ties, they arguably represent the first Christian minority that sees itself at the same time as part and parcel of a Jewish majority since the very first Christian community. These Christians, as the Arab Christian communities, are Israeli citizens who enjoy full franchise and equality before the law. However, there is a third significant Christian population in Israel whose legal standing is sometimes problematic. These are the scores of thousands of practicing Christians among almost a quarter of a million of migrant workers - from the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Latin America and subSaharan Africa. Most of them are in the country legally and temporarily. However, close to half of them have entered or remained illegally and their position is legally precarious. Nevertheless the substantial Christian presence among this population maintains a vibrant religious life and constitutes a significant third dimension to the Christian reality in Israel today. These factors have contributed, among others, to an increasing familiarity in Israel with contemporary Christianity. In addition, while there are an estimated two hundred or so Israeli organizations promoting Arab-Jewish understanding and cooperation generally, there are also literally dozens of bodies promoting interreligious encounter, dialogue and studies, and the Christian presence in these is disproportionate and highly significant. This of course is substantially due to the presence of Christian institutions and their clergy, scholars, international representatives of churches and so on, who contribute totally out of proportion to their numbers to these efforts especially in the field of scholarship. Moreover the fact that in the State of Israel, Christians, as Muslims, are minorities with a need to be accepted and understood by the Jewish majority also serves as impetus for interfaith engagement (as opposed to elsewhere where the contrary may often be the case.) Christians in Israel are obviously in a very different situation from their sister communities in the Holy Land who are part and parcel of a Palestinian society struggling for its independence and who are inevitably caught up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a daily basis. Indeed the location of some of these communities on the intersection between Israeli and Palestinian jurisdiction means that they often bear the brunt of security measures which the Jewish State feels obliged to maintain in order to protect its own citizenry against continuous violence from within the Palestinian territories. It is only right and proper that such Palestinian Christians should express their distress and their hopes regarding the situation. However it is notable and regrettable that such expressions have not always been in consonance with the letter and spirit of the Magisterium concerning the relationship to Jews and Judaism. This would seem to be reflected in a wider geographical context, where the impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict has all too often meant a discomfort for many Christians with the Church's rediscovery of its Jewish roots and sometimes a preference for historical prejudice. Nevertheless the plight of Palestinians generally and Palestinian Christians in particular should be of profound concern to Jews both in Israel and the Diaspora. To begin with, especially as Judaism brought the recognition to the world that every human person is created in the Divine Image; and that accordingly, as the sages of the Talmud teach, any action of disrespect for another person, is an act of disrespect for the Creator himself; 10
we have a special responsibility in particular for neighbors who suffer. This responsibility is even greater when suffering is born out of a conflict of which we are a part and paradoxically precisely where we have the moral and religious duty to protect and defend ourselves. For me personally as an Israeli Jerusalemite, the distressing situation in the Holy Land and the suffering of so many on the different sides of the political divide, is a source of much pain; even as I fully realize that it is used and abused to heighten various tensions that go well beyond the geographical context of the conflict itself. Yet I give thanks to God for the remarkable amount of organizations in our society working to alleviate as much suffering as possible in this very difficult context. I am proud to be a founder of one of these organizations, Rabbis for Human Rights, whose director and members, precisely as loyal Israeli citizens, continue to struggle to preserve and advance the human dignity of all and especially of the vulnerable. I am of course fully conscious of the carnage of the recent past in the streets of our cities and the ongoing threats of the present from those openly committed to the destruction and extermination of Israel. Notwithstanding, we must strive to do all we can to alleviate the hardships of the situation and especially as they pertain to the Christian communities in Jerusalem and environs. In fact, in recent months there has been a notable improvement in conditions, for example, regarding the free movement of clergy, and there have also been recent indications that there is a growing understanding of the needs of the local Christian communities by the authorities, notwithstanding the security challenges. We continue to advocate for such, believing it to be ultimately in the interests of all. Indeed, Jewish responsibility to ensure that Christian communities flourish in our midst, respecting the very fact that the Holy Land is the land of Christianity's birth and Holy Places, is strengthened by our increasingly rediscovered fraternity. Yet even beyond our particular relationship, Christians as a minority in both Jewish and Muslim contexts play a very special role for our societies at large. The situation of minorities is always a profound reflection of the social and moral condition of a society as a whole. The wellbeing of Christian communities in the Middle East is nothing less than a kind of barometer of the moral condition of our countries. The degree to which Christians enjoy civil and religious rights and liberties testifies to the health or infirmity of the respective societies in the Middle East. Moreover, as I have already indicated, Christians play a disproportionate role in promoting interreligious understanding and cooperation in the country. Indeed I would presume to suggest that this is precisely the Christian mĂŠtier, to contribute to overcoming the prejudice and misunderstanding that bedevil the Holy Land and which of course are greatly reinforced in the region at large. While it is not fair to expect the small local Christian communities to be capable of bearing such responsibility alone, perhaps we may hope that supported in this by their universal Church and its central authority, they may indeed be blessed peacemakers in the city whose name means peace and which has such significance for our communities. Already some initial sign of this has been evident in the local Catholic leadership role in the establishment in recent years of the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, which brings together the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Shaaria Courts and Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, and the official Christian leadership in the Holy Land. This Council not only facilitates communication between the various religious authorities, but it is also committed and working to combat misunderstanding, bigotry and incitement, and 11
also seeks to be a force for reconciliation and peace so that two nations and three religions may live in the land in full dignity, freedom and tranquillity. The Instrumentum Laboris of this Special Assembly for the Middle East quotes Pope Benedict XVI in his interview with Osservatore Romano on his way to the Holy Land as follows: "it is important on the one hand to have bilateral dialogues–with the Jews and with Islam–and then also trilateral dialogue" (sect.96). Indeed this last year, for the first time, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Relations and the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews co-hosted together with the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) and the foundation for the Three Cultures in Seville Spain, our first trilateral dialogue. This was a particular joy for me as the proposal for this was put forward during my chairmanship of IJCIC and I earnestly hope that this is just the beginning of more extensive trilateral dialogue, to overcome suspicion, prejudice and misunderstanding, so that we may be able to highlight the shared values in the family of Abraham for the well-being of all humanity. It appears to me that the aforementioned bilateral commission with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land together offer even greater opportunity and challenge in this regard. The Instrumentum Laboris also provides important insights into the nature of relations for Christians with both Muslims and Jews. It quotes Pope Benedict XVI's words in Cologne in August 2005, when he described relations with Islam as "a vital necessity…. on which in large measure our future depends" (sect.95). Indeed in the Middle East this is a truism. Whether one understands the concept of Dar el Islam in just a geographical/cultural context or in a theological one, the critical question for the future of our respective communities is whether or not our Muslim brethren can see the Christian and Jewish presence as a fully legitimate and integral part of the region as a whole. Truly the need to address this issue is nothing less than "a vital necessity…on which…our future depends". Indeed this relates to very issue that is at the "root" of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Those who claim that "occupation" is the "root cause" of conflict are at best disingenuous. This conflict had been going on for decades long before the Six Day War in 1967 as a result of which the West Bank and Gaza came under Israeli control. "Occupation" in fact is precisely a consequence of the conflict, the real "root issue" of which is precisely whether the Arab world can tolerate a non-Arab sovereign polity within its midst. However, the Instrumentum Laboris commenting on Dei Verbum describes the dialogue of the Church "with her elder brothers" as not just necessary, but as "essential" (sect.87). Indeed in his visit to the great synagogue in this city this year, Pope Benedict XVI quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church (sect.839). "It is in pondering her own mystery that the Church, the People of God of the New Covenant, discovers her own profound bond with the Jews, who were chosen by the Lord before all others to receive His word", and added that "the Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation". These words echo those of the late Pope John Paul II who in his historic visit to the same central Jewish place of worship in this city in 1986 declared that "the Jewish religion is not extrinsic to us but in a certain way is intrinsic to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion." Furthermore in his Apostolic 12
Exhortation of June 28th 2003 he described "dialogue and cooperation with believers of the Jewish religion" as being "fundamentally important for the self-knowledge of Christians" in keeping with the Synod's call "for acknowledgment of the common roots linking Christianity and the Jewish people, who are called by God to a covenant which remains irrevocable". As I have noted, the political realities in the Middle East do not always make it easy for Christians in the region to acknowledge, let alone embrace, these exhortations. However I pray that the miracle of what John Paul II referred to, as "the flowering of a new springtime in mutual relations" will increasingly become evident in the Middle East as throughout the world. To this end let us dedicate ourselves ever more devotedly both through prayer and in work for peace and dignity for all. Let us pray in the words of Pope John Paul II at the Western Wall in Jerusalem with which Pope Benedict XVI concluded his presentation at the Rome great synagogue: "Send Your peace upon the Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family; stir the hearts of those who call upon Your Name, to walk humbly in the path of justice and compassion". And allow me, as one who comes to you from the city that is holy and beloved to us all, to conclude with the words of the Psalmist "May the Lord bless you from Zion and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life" (Psalm 128:5). Zenit – 13 October 2010
A Shia Muslim's Words to Mideast Synod "Christians live side by side and in Peace with their Muslim Brothers" VATICAN CITY - Here is the intervention given Thursday by special guest Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi, Professor at the Faculty of Law at the Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran and member of the Iranian Academy of Sciences, to the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. He was invited as a representative of Shia Islam. *** During the past few decades, religions are faced with new conditions. The most important aspect of this is over-extended confusion of their disciples in real scenes of social life, as well as in national and international arenas. Before the Second World War, and in spite of technological developments, the followers of different religions, more or less lived in their own national boundaries. Neither the enormous problem of immigration existed nor did exist such expansion of communication that connects so many different social groups together. Neither the world had become such a “global village” that “connects” so many destinies together! But today we witness the great changes that have occurred in the past half-century and that this transformation continues with an incredible pace. This not only had a qualitative effect on the rapport between religions but also affected relationships between different segments of religions and even with their own followers. Certainly no religion can stay indifferent toward this rapidly changing state. At the end of the second millennium, multi-culturalism within societies was more or less accepted worldwide. Up until then, understanding of a multi-cultural society was much different 13
than what we experience today. And the newly entered culture into a society could have only been accepted as "the new Culture" and not on the basis of its own merit and excellence. But today there are less and less societies and groups who would defend a monolithic cultural society. The Balkan experience proved that cultural and ethnic dominance of one group over others could not be defended while disregarding other existing groups within that society. This is an important factual necessity and not an isolated intellectual perception. In societies where different ethnic groups with their own languages and religions have been placed, for the sake of social stability and ethic sanity, one is required to respect their presence and their rights. Concordance of interests and social welfare on national and international levels is as such that no one group or country can be disregarded. And this is the reality of our time. As described, mutual understanding between religions reflects this newly positioned status, and in the future will necessarily have to take these new conditions into consideration. All will be sharing each other's destinies. Today, this idea is being shared by many opinion leaders and gradually more and more of masses of people are siding with this reality. A prerequisite for this kind of thinking is to put aside our formal classical and conditioned viewpoint on other religions and cultures in order to be able to have a more objective vision. We have to look with understanding, respect and sympathy to other cultures. At the same time it is undeniable that there still exist biased and reactionary viewpoints, which are derived from a historically prejudiced, expansionist and supremacist political and cultural system of thinking. But I believe that in the long term, this kind of discriminatory and chauvinistic thinking is diminishing and bound to fade away. Besides these transformations, other cultural and intellectual changes have been shaped, although mostly in the sphere of Western and industrialized world. This has brought some sort of query and doubt in the mind, even on those issues that previously seemed "inevitable". Now there seems to be an increasing desire and craving for discovering "others", other cultures and ways of lives, other philosophies and religions. This wish apart from being a curiosity is more an inner and spiritual need. This is mostly frequent among the youth and thinkers in these societies. Here the importance is that this movement will certainly affect spiritual understanding of religions of each other. But it should be noted that the major tendency today is the attention paid to Asiatic faiths, and the new religious sects that are offspring of industrialized societies with mostly spiritual basis. These groups find more and more followers every day. We should also consider what the ideal condition is for the believers and followers? How is the best situation achieved? It seems that ideal world would be the state where believers of any faith freely and without any apprehension, fear and obligation could live according to the basic principles and modes of their own customs and traditions. This right, which is universally recognized, should in fact be practiced by the states and communities. Furthermore, the right of interpretation of each faith should be given to the believers of that religion, as long as this interpretation is based on scientific and basic spirit of that religion. The truth is that those believers have the better recognition and right of the interpretation of their own faith better than anyone else. It need not be mentioned that of course each faith must have its own present-day exegesis, without which it would be a hard task. No one is allowed to make an interpretation on behalf of others and decide on their behalf. Each faith has its own logic and method based upon its own requirements and its own moment in time. Any adaptation and conformity outside of this framework, which is not recognized by the faithful, has no legitimacy and therefore is not effective and lasting.
This is good for the essence of each religion and their believers that disciples of each faith could practice their rights without any shame and fear and live according to their own historical heritage and culture. Stability of the world depends on the stability of the livelihood of small and large groups and societies. This stability could only be achieved when all can live without fear and threat from others. This is the most important element in achieving an ethical and social stability and peace. This is our duty to bring about such conditions. The rapport between Islam and Christianity, based upon inspirations and propositions of the holy Quran, since the establishment of Islam in Saudi Arabia, has been founded upon friendship, respect and mutual understanding. In the holy Quran, Jesus is referred to as the "Word of God", and believing in him has been set as a basis for believers, to the point that any doubt in his guidance has been denounced. "You will find [that] the closest to the believers are those who say we are Christians that is because among them are learned priests and monks and they are not arrogant," Ma'eede Sura, ch. 82 "When the angels say: Oh Myriam, Allah bestows you, the glad news of the birth of a son, whose name is Jesus, illustration in this world, and shall be honored in this world," Al-Omran Sura, ch. 45. It is unfortunate that during certain periods in the past 1400 years, at times because of political considerations, there have been dark moments in this relationship. But one should not relate these illegitimate acts of certain individuals and groups neither to Islam nor to Christianity. According to the teachings of the Quran, in most Islamic countries, notably Iran, as it has been stipulated also by law, Christians live side by side and in peace with their Muslim brothers. They enjoy all legal rights like other citizens and perform their religious practices freely. At the end, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI for his timely and vital remarks in the speeches in Jerusalem and in Istanbul regarding the importance of continued healthy and friendly rapport between Christians and Muslims. Such approach and manners are essential for all believers and certainly important for peace in the World. Thank you, and may God bless you! Zenit â€“ 15 October 2010
Pontiff to Mideast Christians: You are not alone Says they are always accompanied by the Church VATICAN CITY - Benedict XVI assured Catholics of the Middle East that they are not alone, and that they are always accompanied by the Holy See and the entire Church. The Pope said this today in his homily at the solemn closing of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in St. Peter's. The two-week Synod, which gathered together some 170 Synod fathers to discuss the situation of the Church in the region, reflected on the theme: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness."
"May the experience of these days assure you that you are never alone," the Holy Father said at the end of his homily, in which he recalled that the Church was "born in Jerusalem, spread through the Middle East and then the rest of the world." The Pontiff expressed a "deep gratitude toward God who has afforded us this truly extraordinary experience, not just for us, but for the good of the Church, for the People of God who live in the lands between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia." "We have shared a powerful moment of ecclesial communion," he continued. "We now leave each other so that each may return to his own mission, but we know that we remain united, we remain in his love." Benedict XVI also expressed the hope that the experience of ecclesial communion would also favor progress in ecumenical dialogue. "As todayâ€™s Gospel reminded us, we need humility, in order to recognize our limitations, our errors and omissions, in order to be able to truly be 'united, heart and soul,'" he said. "A fuller communion within the Catholic Church favors ecumenical dialogue with other Churches and ecclesial communities as well. "The Catholic Church reiterated in this Synodal meeting its deep conviction to pursuing such dialogue as well, so that the prayer of the Lord Jesus might be completely fulfilled: 'May they all be one.'" Regarding the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Middle East, the Pope assured them that "even if they are few, they are bearers of the Good News of the love of God for man, love which revealed itself in the Holy Land in the person of Jesus Christ." He reminded Christians that they are "full-fledged citizens" and that they "can and must do their part" in society to become "builders of peace and apostles of reconciliation." "Conflicts, wars, violence and terrorism have gone on for too long in the Middle East," the Holy Father continued. "Peace, which is a gift of God, is also the result of the efforts of men of goodwill, of the national and international institutions, in particular of the states most involved in the search for a solution to conflicts. "We must never resign ourselves to the absence of peace. Peace is possible. Peace is urgent. Peace is the indispensable condition for a life of dignity for human beings and society. "Peace is also the best remedy to avoid emigration from the Middle East." "Pray," he urged, "for the peace of Jerusalem. We pray for peace in the Holy Land. We pray for peace in the Middle East, undertaking to try to ensure that this gift of God to men of goodwill should spread through the whole world." Benedict XVI affirmed that another contribution that Christians offer society is the promotion of freedom of religion and conscience, which he said is "one of the fundamental human rights that each state should always respect." "In numerous countries of the Middle East there exists freedom of belief, while the space given to the freedom to practice religion is often quite limited," he said. "Increasing this space of freedom becomes essential to guarantee to all the members of the various religious communities the true freedom to live and profess their faith." Zenit â€“ 24 October 2010
Vatican Aide: "Voice" of Synod is Final Message Responds to Critics that say Assembly was Anti-Israel VATICAN CITY - To understand the Mideast Synod, it is necessary to read the final message its entirety, instead of focusing in on one or two voices, a Vatican spokesman affirmed in response to critiques coming from the Israeli government that the assembly was a forum for antiIsraeli sentiment. In an interview on Vatican Radio today, the Director of the Vatican Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, affirmed that the Message to the People of God of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which was published Saturday, is the only "synthetic expression of the positions of the Synod at this time," and that it's the "only text written together and approved by the Synod." "There was a great richness and variety of the contributions of the Synod fathers," he explained, "but as such, one cannot consider each one as the 'voice' of the Synod as a whole." Additionally, he noted that reaction to the Synod has been to a great extent favorable: "The evaluation of the Synod in its entirety and of its working sessions, in the words of the Holy Father and in the common opinion of the participants and observers, appears largely positive." Disappointment His comments responded directly to the "disappointment" expressed by Danny Ayalon, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister, that the Synod, which concluded Sunday, had become "a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda." He added, in comments to the Jerusalem Post, that "the Synod was hijacked by an anti-Israel majority." The Israeli Minister referred in particular to comments made Saturday at the presentation of the final message, during which the Greek-Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros of Newton, Massachussets, said that "the concept of the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians." He added that "sacred Scripture should not be used to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestine." The Archbishop's comment was not an exact expression of the Synod's message, in which the fathers said that it was time "to commit ourselves together to a sincere, just and permanent peace," and that "both Christians and Jews are called to this task by the Word of God." "Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable," the message continued, without specifically referring to Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The final message also recognized the suffering of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. On one hand, the fathers considered the sufferings of the Palestinians "who are suffering the consequences of the Israeli occupation: the lack of freedom of movement, the wall of separation and the military checkpoints, the political prisoners, the demolition of homes, the disturbance of socio-economic life and the thousands of refugees." On the other hand, the fathers also considered the "suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live," and on "the situation of the holy city of Jerusalem." The Synod's message urged a "'just and lasting peace," and called on the international community "to work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region." Zenit â€“ 25 October 2010 17
Benedict XVI sends New Year Message to Rabbi VATICAN CITY - Benedict XVI sent a message of congratulations and friendship to Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Rome, on the occasion of the Jewish festivities celebrated this month. The Jewish calendar marks Rosh Hashana 5771 (New Year) Sept. 9-10; Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) Sept. 18; and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) Sept. 23-Sept. 29. In his message, the Pontiff expressed to Di Segni and to all the Jewish Community of Rome his "most cordial and sincere wishes," as well as his "hope that these celebrations will bring copious blessings from the Eternal and be a source of profound joy." Benedict XVI added the hope that "the will grow in us to promote justice and peace, so needed by the world today." The Holy Father said he remembered the visit he made to the Synagogue of Rome last Jan. 17 "with feelings of gratitude and affection." The Pontiff ended by expressing that "God, in his goodness, may protect the whole community and grant us to grow, in Rome and in the world, in mutual friendship." Zenit – 9 September 2010
Pope and Peres hopeful that Washington Talks will lead to Peace in the Holy Land Benedict XVI and the Israeli president call for “an agreement that is respectful of the legitimate aspirations of the two peoples.” They also talked about the results of the bilateral working commission that has worked for years on drafting an agreement to settle economic and tax issues. Both men expressed hope for a “rapid conclusion of its work.” Castel Gandolfo (AsiaNews) – In their meeting this morning, Benedict XVI and Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed hope that Israeli-Palestinian talks in Washington may help Israelis and Palestinians reach “an agreement that is respectful of the legitimate aspirations of the two Peoples and capable of bringing lasting peace to the Holy Land and to the entire region.” A press release by the Vatican also made further reference to renewed talks, reaffirming in order to condemn “all forms of violence and the necessity of guaranteeing better conditions of life to all the peoples of the area”. The two men, who have known each other for some time, met in a “cordial atmosphere”. Their previous meetings took place in the Vatican in April 2006 and September 2007 and in Israel in 2009 during the papal pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Referring to the Pope’s visit and to the situation of the Catholic Church in Israel, the Vatican statement said, “The discussions also permitted the examination of the relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See and those of the state authorities with the local Catholic communities. In this regard, it was underlined the great particular significance of the presence of these communities in the Holy Land and the contribution which they offer for the common good of society, also through Catholic schools. Finally, the results, thus far, of the bilateral working 18
Commission, which has for many years been tasked with the drafting of an Accord concerning economic matters, were noted while at the same time expressing the hope for the rapid conclusion of its work.” Peres landed in Rome from Tel Aviv just before 9 am. From there, he was quickly taken to Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict XVI is currently staying, along with five aides, including two women. The President, who also visited the gardens of the Pontifical Villas, first met for half hour with the Cardinal Secretary of State, His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, before his audience with the Pope. The private meeting, held in English, between Shimon Peres and Benedict XVI lasted about 40 minutes. At the end, the president gave the Pope a menorah, the traditional Jewish sevenbranched candelabrum. Made by an Israeli artist, the 30-centimetre object is in silver, and has an inscription that reads, “To his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, the shepherd who seeks to lead us to the fields of blessings and the fields of peace. With great esteem, Shimon Peres, president of the State of Israel.” The Pope in return gave Peres a bronze medal copy of the one placed by Pope Alexander VII in 1657 on the first stone of the colonnade on the north side of Saint Peter's basilica at the Vatican. The medal shows Bernini’s initial plan for Saint Peter’s Square. AsiaNews – 3 September 2010
Holy See - Israel meet on Protection of Holy Sites and Fiscal Status As has become tradition, the meeting took place in a "cordial" atmosphere and saw "progress." But the joint statement did not mention the dates of future meetings, which had been agreed. Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) - The delegations of the Holy See and the State of Israel held a working meeting in Israel yesterday. They are charged with drawing up a third treaty between both parties, this time with the aim of confirming the historic fiscal status of the Church and safeguarding measures for the Holy Sites. At the end of the day’s discussions, the bilateral commission, which includes both delegations, issued this joint communiqué: “The Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel met today 21 September 2010 to carry on its scheduled work pursuant to Article 10 Paragraph 2 of the Fundamental Agreement (1993). The talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and produced progress towards the desired agreement”. There is no indication of the date of the next meeting at this “working” level and there is no mention of the next plenary meeting, which was also decided on a bilateral basis last June at the Vatican for Dec. 6 next at the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel. By Arieh Cohen AsiaNews – 22 September 2010 19
Concern over Status of Jerusalem and Future of Palestinian Christians voiced by WCC The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has sent a message to the Middle East negotiators in Washington to stress the concerns of Palestinian Christians. The message conveys concern over the final status of Jerusalem, the future of the Christians there and the need for a just peace in the region. "Now is the time for a just peace," Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit says in the message from Jerusalem, where he is visiting this week with a WCC delegation. "The Christians here pray for that; all peoples here need it desperately. The time of occupation and violence must end." The message also talks about the need for the final negotiations on the status of Jerusalem to involve the heads of the local churches. "Palestinian Christians are also concerned about their future here and about their status in Jerusalem," his message said. In the message Tveit also says the Christians in Jerusalem are "very much concerned by the discourse about religious identity of states in this region, which they fear will marginalize not only their presence and witness but also that of all Christians elsewhere in the region." The message came, as discussions between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams were about to resume. At a meeting between US President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, 1 September, each of the leaders pledged to work diligently toward peace. World Council of Churches â€“ 2 September 2010
US Religious Leaders Support Peace Efforts Express Hope for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations WASHINGTON, D.C. - Religious leaders representing Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities are expressing their support for peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, were among the leaders who presented a statement of support. The religious leaders visited the White House and State Department and met Wednesday with National Security Advisor General James Jones and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on behalf of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East. In those meetings, the leaders presented a statement that noted, "With the support and engagement of the United States, earlier this month, direct negotiations resumed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the goal of reaching agreement within one year." "It is imperative that the peace talks continue," it added. "Our faith traditions teach that every person is created by the one God and deserving of respect," the religious leaders affirmed. "This common religious heritage finds expression in our common commitment to peace with justice for all." 20
"It will be difficult to achieve, but peace is possible," they acknowledged. They continued, "As religious leaders in the United States, we have prayed for peace, made public statements, met with public officials, and stood in solidarity with religious leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and throughout the region." Signs of hope "Despite tragic violence and discouraging developments, there are signs of hope," the statement affirmed. It continued: "Majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians still support a two-state solution. Arab states have declared their commitment to peace in the Arab Peace Initiative. There are U.S. diplomatic efforts to restart Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese negotiations for peace." "As we said two years ago," the leaders stated, "there is a real danger that cynicism will replace hope and that people will give up on peace." "With the resumption of direct negotiations, clarity is demanded," they asserted. "So let us be clear. As religious leaders, we remain firmly committed to a two-state solution to the conflict as the only viable way forward." "We believe that concerted, sustained U.S. leadership for peace is essential," the religious leaders affirmed. "And we know that time is not on the side of peace, that delay is not an option." The statement affirmed: "We refuse, now and always, to give into cynicism or despair. We are people of hope. "We call upon the members of our religious communities to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and to support active, fair, and firm U.S. leadership to advance comprehensive peace in the Middle East. "The time for peace is now." Zenit â€“ 30 September 2010
King Herod's Royal Theatre Box uncovered at Herodium Theatre box reveals Jewish monarch's luxurious lifestyle, displays rare example of elaborate style of Roman wall painting found outside Italy. A royal box built at the upper level of King Herod's private theatre at Herodium has been fully unveiled in recent excavations at the archaeological site, providing a further indication of the luxurious lifestyle favored by the well-known Jewish monarch, the Hebrew University announced in a statement released Tuesday. The excavations at Herodium National Park at the eastern edge of Gush Etzion region were conducted by Prof. Ehud Netzer under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology. The theatre, first revealed in 2008, is located halfway up the hill near Herod's mausoleum, whose exposure in 2007 aroused worldwide attention. The highly decorated, fairly small theatre was built in approximately 15 BCE, which was the year of the visit of Roman leader Marcus Agrippa to Judea, Emperor Augustus's right-hand man, according to Prof. Nezter, who has been assisted in the excavations by Yakov Kalman, Roi Porath and Rachel Chachy. The royal box (measuring eight by seven meters and about six meters high) is the central space among a group of rooms attached to the upper part of the theatreâ€™s structure. This
impressive room likely hosted the king, his close friends and family members during performances in the theatre and was fully open facing the stage. Its back and side walls are adorned with an elaborate scheme of wall paintings and plaster mouldings in a style that has not been seen thus far in Israel; yet, this style is known to have existed in Rome and Campania in Italy during those years. This work, therefore, was probably executed by Italian artists, perhaps sent by Marcus Agrippa, who a year before his visit to Judea met Herod on the famous Greek island of Lesbos, said Netzer. On the upper parts of the walls are the room's highlights: a series of unique “windows” painted with "out folded" shutters on either side and various naturalistic landscapes within. They include scenes of the countryside, the Nile River and a nautical scene featuring a large boat with sails. One can identify features of trees, animals and human beings. Some of these windows have survived intact on the walls, whereas others were found in fragments on the floor and are undergoing restoration in the Israel Museum's laboratory. Painted windows with shutters appear in the late Second Pompeian Style in Italy, and mainly depict unrealistic views like theatre settings and still-life. The closest parallels for the windows at Herodium are known from the "Villa Imperiale" at Pompeii, dated to the early Third Style of painting between 10 and 15 BCE, some of which were recently placed on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The data accumulated during the excavation proves that the theatre’s lifetime was very short, less than ten years. It appears that the theatre was deliberately destroyed slightly before Herod's death in order to preserve the conic shape of the artificial hill of Herodium. During the construction of the artificial hill (as well as the famous monumental stairway which begins at the bottom of the hill), parts of the theatre, including the "royal box," were temporarily used by the builders, leaving their footsteps in the form of subdivision walls, cooking installations and graffiti. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which plans on launching the first exhibition featuring the finds from Herod's grave in the upcoming year, financed and undertook the complicated preservation work on the royal box. The royal box site at Herod's theatre will be opened to the public once a special protective structure is built around the room when the theatre itself undergoes a partial restoration. By Ronen Shnidman The Jerusalem Post – 15 September 2010
1,500-year-old Samaritan Synagogue found by Beit Shean Recent discovery reveals historical details of ancient sect during national renaissance in the Byzantine period. Excavations have uncovered a 1,500 year-old Samaritan synagogue near Beit Shean the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Monday. The ancient Samaritan house of worship was discovered shortly before Rosh Hashanah and is one of the oldest Samaritan synagogues discovered in Israel. Directors of the Israel Antiquities Authority excavation, Dr. Walid Atrash and Ya’aqov Harel issued a statement Monday saying “the synagogue that is currently being revealed played an important part in the lives of the farmers who inhabited the surrounding region, and it served as a center of the spiritual, religious and social life there.” 22
The statement added that the synagogue, which is believed to have stood from the fifth century CE until the eve of the Muslim conquest in 634 CE is indicative of how in the Byzantine period (fourth century CE), "Beit Shean became an important Samaritan center under the leadership of Baba Rabbah, (an ancient Samaritan leader and reformer) at which time the Samaritans were granted national sovereignty and were free to decide their own destiny. This was the case until the end of the reign of Emperor Justinian, when the Samaritans revolted against the government. The rebellion was put down and the Samaritans ceased to exist as a nation." The building includes a 40 square meter rectangular hall, which faces Mount Gerizim, the mountaintop outside Nablus that is the holiest site in the Samaritan religion and the site of the present-day Samaritan village of Kiryat Luza. Across the floor of the hall an intricate mosaic was laid which included geometric patterns and an inscription reading "This is the temple." The synagogue joins “Beit Leontis” and “Tel Iztabba,” two other Samaritan houses of worship discovered in Beit Shean. The Samaritans are Israel’s smallest minority and one of the world’s oldest and smallest religious sects, numbering barely over 700 with a history that dates to before the Babylonian exile. Around half of the community lives in the enclave of Neve Pinchas in Holon, while the rest live on Mount Gerizim, some 800 meters above the outskirts of Nablus. The Samaritan religion is separate from Judaism but has many parallels, though it does not accept traditions or religious interpretations from the Jewish Diaspora. By Ben Hartman The Jerusalem Post – 21 September 2010
Digs at Tel Shikmona unearth 6th-Century Floor Mosaics Researchers say the well-preserved mosaics date back to the Byzantine period and were part of an ecclesiastic structure. Intricate 6th-century floor mosaics have been uncovered at Tel Shikmona Park in the North, the University of Haifa announced on Tuesday. The mosaics were unearthed by researchers from the university’s Institute of Archaeology, who were taking part in renewed digs at the site. Archaeological digs were held at Tel Shikmona throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but the site was neglected for decades and became strewn with trash. Since the discovery was made, researchers have been working to remove the built-up garbage and clean the mosaic floors to prepare them for viewing by the public. Researchers say the well-preserved mosaics date back to the Byzantine period and were part of an ecclesiastic structure. A number of archaeological finds have been discovered at the seaside site south of Haifa, including an Egyptian tomb, a Persian citadel and a number of luxury items from the Bronze Age. Earlier finds have shown that Shikmona was inhabited over a range of time from the Bronze Age to the Byzantine period, and was the main city of the Haifa and Carmel area from the 4th century BCE to the Muslim conquest in the 7th century CE. The site is part of the Shikmona National Park in the Shikmona Nature Reserve and is managed by the Israel Parks and Nature Authority. Plans are under way for the site to become a public archaeological park that will be annexed to the Hecht Park in Haifa. By Ben Hartman The Jerusalem Post – 6 October 2010
Dramatic Renovations planned for Jerusalem’s Old City New tunnel in Jewish Quarter will lead to underground parking lot with dozens of apartments on top. The last time someone blasted through the Old City walls was in 1898, and it’s going to stay that way, architect David Sherki told The Jerusalem Post while clarifying his plans for the proposed construction in the Old City. Sherki’s firm is building a parking garage in the Old City, and it will have a new entrance, but not a break in the walls. Instead, the architect proposes to create a tunnel underneath the southern wall between the Zion and Dung Gates. The tunnel is part of a larger plan that includes new public parks, dozens of apartments and a 600-space parking area underground. Sherki’s company, Jerusalem Building Workshop, was in the media recently amid reports that it was planning to break through the Old City’s walls in order to build the new garage. Sherki called the reports “simply untrue.” The proposed plan, which already has the initial approval from the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee, will be one of the most drastic architectural changes to the make-up of the Jewish Quarter, and will turn the current Jewish Quarter parking lot into a residential area. “You see [the current parking lot] and it’s not built up. It’s totally empty compared with the rest of the Jewish Quarter,” explained Sherki, in his airy office on King George Street. “The goal of the project is to fill in the empty spaces and give more cohesiveness to the Old City from the urban standpoint. The parking garage is a by-product.” In 1898, Ottoman authorities knocked down part of the wall near Jaffa Gate to allow Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II to pass through with his imperial entourage. Today, vehicles use the opening as one of the main entrances into the Old City. Prior to 1967, the current parking lot was an archaeological dig, so researchers already have a clear picture of what they’ll find when they tear up the asphalt. Because of this, they’ve been able to design an underground parking garage that moves with the contours of the expected archaeological finds, which will be two levels at some points and four levels at other points. “We're not dogmatic – if it happens that we find more archaeological sites, then we’ll have less spaces,” Sherki said with a shrug. “Our goal is 600, but if we end up with 500, no problem. The conditions of the area will dictate what’s possible.” Building an underground parking garage in an area as archeologically rich as the Old City may seem like a recipe for disaster, but Sherki insists that other ancient cities around the world are doing the same thing. “Now the trend is that ancient cities like Toledo, Rome, and Paris are putting in underground parking garages, in cooperation with UNESCO,” Sherki said. “They're dealing with these problems and finding that you need to put parking even in historical places. “There are people that say, ‘We don’t need parking here.’ But everyone understands that you can’t solve a problem by erasing it. We have to figure out how to take care of it. 24
“We are in favor, of course, of strengthening public transportation as much as possible, and of diluting the traffic that’s left as much as possible. We’re looking for ways to cause the least amount of private traffic. That’s the big picture.” On June 6, the municipality banned private cars, except for vehicles belonging to Old City residents or transporting the disabled, from entering the Old City between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Disabled rights activists and the citizen groups like Movement for Jerusalem and its Residents have complained bitterly about the restriction, and are appealing to the Transportation Ministry to repeal the ban. The cars cause more than just traffic, Sherki notes. They also cause damage to the buildings, especially Zion Gate, where larger cars often scrape the walls. Sherki admitted that it would be impossible not to lose some archaeology in the course of construction, and said it took many years for the Israel Antiquities Authority to agree with the plan because of the potential archaeological losses. But he believes that because they have a good idea of what exists underneath, the construction will minimize the destruction of archaeological ruins. At its deepest point, if no significant archaeological discoveries are made, the parking garage will reach a depth of about nine meters, allowing for four levels of parking. But with as little as five meters, a depth Sherki is certain they can reach without disturbing any ruins, they can have a double-tiered parking garage. “It’s preferable to dig at a spot where there’s ruins from the Second Temple Period, of which there’s such an abundance,” he said. “There’s two kinds of archaeology,” Sherki explained. “There's archaeology that’s one of- a-kind and archaeology that’s not one-of-a-kind. “For example, if I find a mikveh from the Second Temple period, there are like 300 other ones that we know about. That’s not saying that it’s not important and it’s not exciting, but it’s saying that it’s well known what it looks like and what it means historically. It doesn’t give us anything more if we find another. “But it does mean something if we find something unknown, like a Roman Street [which recently happened near Jaffa Gate while upgrading sewage pipes] or a monument of some sort. That’s a totally different story. Our strategy needs to take this into consideration.” Sherki’s plan is not connected to the renovations at the Western Wall Plaza announced at the beginning of the week, which also call for an underground entrance, additional parking, and areas for a visitor center and auditorium. That plan, designed by Gavriel Kertesz, got the initial approval from the municipality on Monday. On Wednesday, Tourism Ministry director-general Noaz Bar-Nir and Jerusalem Municipality Director-General Yair Maayan took a tour of the Old City to examine ways to improve tourism infrastructure in the city’s biggest tourism attraction. The municipality is coordinating a variety of aggressive renovation projects in the Old City as part of the mayor’s vision to increase tourism from three million visitors a year to 10 million by 2020. While the parking garage will certainly help alleviate some of the difficulties faced by tourists, Sherki is also passionate about what will come on top of the parking garage – public parks and apartment buildings.
His firm has presented three different plans to the municipality, which are still under discussion. One plan calls for a large park and a massive residential unit, a second plan calls for a series of smaller parks with buildings placed in a density similar to the rest of the Jewish Quarter, and the third attempts to strike a balance between the two options. Any construction – whether for the parking garage, tunnel, or residential units – is years away. First, all the plans must pass through a complicated and lengthy approval process from both the municipality and Interior Ministry, including multiple periods for public comment. “Of course we're getting responses from the residents, Muslims, UNESCO,” said Sherki. “Look at what happened when we rebuilt the Hurva synagogue and we had Arab riots. It went all the way to the United Nations. Of course you’re going to have strong reactions to anything you do in the Old City, that’s clear.” Despite the obstacles, Sherki dismissed the notion that his project poses an insurmountable challenge. “It’s [about] perspective,” he said. “Our perspective is that we design in the real world. We're not in a vacuum, saying ‘this is what we want.’ In the Old City, you do the design that's possible.” By Melanie Lidman The Jerusalem Post – 8 October 2010
9,700 sq. ft. Carpet Mosaic uncovered in Jericho Since being excavated in 1930s and '40s, mosaic has largely remained hidden under layers of canvas, soil to protect it against sun, rain. JERICHO — Visitors to ancient Jericho got a rare glimpse Sunday of a massive 1,200year-old carpet mosaic measuring nearly 900 square meters (9,700 square feet), making it one of the largest in the Middle East. The small red, blue and ochre square stones laid out in sweeping geometric and floral patterns cover the floor of the main bath house of an Islamic palace that was destroyed by an earthquake in the eighth century. Since being excavated in the 1930s and 1940s, the mosaic has largely remained hidden under layers of canvas and soil to protect it against sun and rain. Starting Sunday, a small section will be laid bare for a week, as part of Jericho's 10,000th birthday celebrations. The mosaic then will be covered up again until the money is found to build a roof that would serve as a permanent weather shield, said Palestinian archaeologist Hamdan Taha. Biblical Jericho attracts a steady flow of pilgrims, but the small Jordan Valley oasis is making a major push these days to become a magnet for tourists, presenting itself as the oldest city on earth. Marking the 10,000th birthday Sunday is entirely random, though, with archaeologists saying they could be off by hundreds of years in dating the first human settlement in the area. However, throwing a birthday party is a way of spotlighting Jericho's attractions, including Hisham's Palace, a winter retreat built in the eighth century during the Umayyad
Empire. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad held his weekly cabinet meeting in Jericho on Sunday to mark the town's birthday, and was to tour the palace later in the day. With the large mosaic mostly covered up, a smaller one in the audience room next to the bath house has been getting all the attention. It shows two gazelles nibbling at the leaves of an apple tree, while nearby a lion attacks another gazelle from behind. A small house was built over the tree mosaic to protect it. Now archaeologists are trying to find a way to keep the large mosaic permanently on display as well, scrambling to raise at least $2 million to build a roof above it. One proposed solution — a shield that looks like a large upended wooden crate — was contributed by awardwinning Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. A model of his design is on display at the site. Taha said a final decision on the design of the weather shield has not yet been made. During a visit Sunday, several dozen square meters of the mosaic were visible, the colors of the small square stones unexpectedly bright. A walkway of blankets separated the exposed part of the mosaic from covered area, hidden under sand. A guide told tourists they were lucky to get a peek at the mosaic. Archaeologist Iyad Hamad, who is in charge of the Palace site, said he expects far larger crowds of tourists once the large mosaic is on display permanently. He said turnout had surged during brief periods in recent years when the mosaic was uncovered for research. Hamad said it's the largest carpet mosaic in the Middle East, a claim backed by Marwan Abu Khalaf, an archaeology Professor at Al-Quds University and a fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. Abu Khalaf said the fine workmanship suggests that the Umayyads hired master artists instead of ordinary craftsmen to lay the mosaic. By The Associated Press The Jerusalem Post – 10 October 2010
Happy Rosh Hashanah: Israel's Population reaches 7.6 Million Central Bureau of Statistics: 14,572 new immigrants arrive in Israel this year, 28% of population under the age of 15. The Central Bureau of Statistics published new figures, including the fact that 28 percent of Israelis are currently under the age of 15, and 14, 572 immigrants to the country arrived in 2009. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5771, the population of Israel surpassed 7,645,500, of which 5,770,900 people are Jews, 1,559,100 are Arabs, and another 315,500 labelled "other," according to numbers published by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Monday. This data does not include the migrant workers in Israel, who number approximately 220,000. The statistics also reveal that the growth rate of the population of Israel in the last 7 years equals approximately 1.8 percent per year (since 2003). Israel experienced a similar growth rate in the 1980s, which were years with low levels of immigration. During the 1990s, when there were record high immigration levels from the former Soviet Union, the country's growth rate of 3 percent per year, on average. 27
In 2009, the annual growth rate among Jews was 1.7 percent, among Arabs it was 2.4 percent, and among the "others" it was 0.8 percent. The growth rate for Muslims was 2.8 percent, for Christians 1 percent, and for Druze 1.7 percent. 14,572 immigrants arrived in Israel in 2009, 6 percent more than in 2008. The countries from which the most immigrant arrived were Russia (3,245), the U.S.A. (2,474), the Ukraine (1,602), France (1,558) and the U.K. (708). In 2009, Israel immigration continued to be overwhelmingly female. For every 1,000 women that immigrated to Israel, only 892 men made aliyah. The Israeli population is considered to be relatively young in comparison to the Arab states. In 2009, 28 percent of Israelis were under age 15, in comparison to 17 percent on average in other Western countries. The percentage of Israelis over the age of 64 was close to 10 percent, compared to 15 percent in other Western states. By Moti Bassok Haaretz â€“ 6 September 2010
Jewish Population in Israel is declining Despite a million immigrants over the past two decades, the percentage of Jews in the Israeli population is declining. I took up Moshe Arens' suggestion, made on this page last month ("Demographic bogey"), to take a look at the figures of the Central Bureau of Statistics that he finds so encouraging. And what do I find? For one, that the statistics bureau deals only with data within the Green Line, namely Israel, and data about the Jews of Judea and Samaria. As far as the Arabs in the territories are concerned, we will have to look elsewhere. What is so encouraging about the figures for 2010? I found that within Israel, Jews constitute 75.5 percent of the population, but that the proportion in 1998 was 79.2 percent, and 81.7 percent in 1988. In other words, the percentage of Jews in the Israeli population is constantly declining, in spite of the influx of about 1 million immigrants over the past two decades. According to the forecasts, in 2015 the percentage of Jews will decline to 73.5 percent, and will drop to 70.6 percent by 2025. Only in 2030 will there be, for the first time, a miniscule increase in the proportion of Jews, bringing us to 72 percent. What is there here to make Arens happy? If to this harsh data we add foreign workers, immigrants from Africa, tourists who did not return to their homeland and Palestinians who enter the country and don't return home, then the percentage of Jews drops to 70 percent of the inhabitants of Israel. What's so wonderful here? It's an unpleasant picture. But in recent months Arens has been preaching in favor of the annexation of Judea and Samaria to Israel (according to him, that is the way to prevent the existence of two states in this narrow space). Of course, that poses a serious demographic problem. So what does Arens do? He receives data from some American team, which enables him to count how many Arabs live in Judea and Samaria, how many have left, how many are leaving and how many will leave the Land of Israel in the future. He also keeps tabs on the number of births and deaths and asserts "scientifically" that only 1.5 million people live in Judea and Samaria. If we erase 1 million Arabs
from the board, then there is a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel; the redeemer has come to Zion and the demographic bogey is dead. But I don't rely on American teams, and instead turn to the head of the Civil Administration in the Israel Defense Forces, who reports to me that there are presently about 2.6 million Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria, and in Gaza their number is estimated at 1.5 million. Anyone who doesn't rely on the IDF can access the figures of the Palestinian statistics bureau, whose last census was held in 2007, under the aegis of representatives of the Norwegian government; their numbers are similar to those of the IDF (after subtracting the residents of Jerusalem who were already counted by the Israeli statistics bureau). In both cases it turns out that, not counting Gaza or foreign residents, Jews constitute 59 percent of the total population in the Land of Israel. If you do count Gaza and foreign residents, there are somewhat fewer Jews than there are Palestinian Arabs. There is no choice but to deal with forecasts for the next decade or two, and it turns out that by then the proportion of Jews will have declined to 42 percent. That means an end to the Jewish entity in the Middle East. The demographic bogey, then, is alive and threatening after all, and we still haven't discussed the density of the population or the issues of internal security that we can expect from a hostile population of millions of people. There is no choice but to tell Arens that the right-wing Betar ideology on which he was raised went bankrupt a long time ago and it won't help if he virtually erases 1.5 million Arabs from the territories. They are here. The conclusion is frighteningly simple: Whoever brings about the establishment of a single binational state in the Land of Israel will doom the Jews of Israel to destruction. We, the sane majority who still live here, will not allow anyone to do that. The writer is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Haifa. By Arnon Soffer Haaretz â€“ 4 October 2010
Neglect, filth and safety hazards at Israel tourism sites Tourism sites are plagued with safety problems, neglect and poor maintenance, according to a report released on Wednesday by the State Comptroller's Office. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss examined tourist sites within the boundaries of various local authorities, and he criticized both the way the authorities handle the sites and the Tourism Ministry's methods of dealing with the local authorities. The comptroller examined six cities with major tourism sites in their jurisdiction: Jerusalem, Safed, Nazareth, Acre, Tiberias and Ramle. The examination focused on sites the ministry has invested funds in developing over the years. Lindenstrauss explained the importance of such sites to the Israeli tourism industry and noted that tourism is very important from an economic, social and cultural standpoint. He also said the local authorities' responsibility for such sites is based on a number of existing laws. In Jerusalem, Lindenstrauss found dangerous problems with streets and sidewalks, as well as public parks filled with garbage and exposed electrical wiring. He also complained that signs were inadequate. In Tiberias, the comptroller found the situation has improved since a
reorganization of the city's tourism services in July 2009, but complained there were still many sites not under supervision, as well as many sites that needed serious work. The comptroller said none of his complaints are new. Back in 2006, a report on Israeli tourism from international consulting firm Ernst & Young stated that such sites were poorly maintained and infrastructure was lacking. The finance and tourism ministries commissioned the report from Ernst & Young, and the Tourism Ministry adopted its conclusions. As a result of the report, in 2007 the ministry set new rules for allocating funding for developing tourism infrastructure, including a requirement that any project include a commitment by the local authority to maintain it. But despite these new rules, Lindenstrauss found that the actual handling of such sites was still faulty. Lindenstrauss concluded that the ministry must increase its supervision over the maintenance of sites, in accordance with the procedures the ministry itself has set. He recommended sanctions against local authorities that do not honor their commitments, and said the Tourism Ministry should act in conjunction with the Interior Ministry to help the localities improve their Internet sites to provide accurate and up-to-date information on tourist sites. In Nazareth, the report said, the city has still not fixed many of the problems it promised to address, and local regulations are inadequate to guarantee cleanliness. The conditions in Acre, Safed and Ramle were also quite poor, and sites were maintained at an extremely low level, if at all, Lindenstrauss said. By Irit Rosenblum Haaretz - 14 October 2010
MKs propose banning East Jerusalem Arabs from guiding in the City Proposal sponsored by Gideon Ezra and seven other MKs, says tourists should get Israeli viewpoint. A bill sponsored by MK Gideon Ezra (Kadima) and seven other Knesset members proposes to ban residents of East Jerusalem from serving as tour guides in the city, potentially putting hundreds out of work. Ezra, who said he was temporarily freezing work on the bill so as not to damage the negotiations with Palestinians, said in the introduction to the bill he believed Palestinian residents of Jerusalem should not be certified guides because they did not represent Israel's national interest well enough "and in an appropriate manner." Ezra's bill has so far won the endorsement of MKs Uri Ariel (National Union), Carmel Shama and Danny Danon (Likud), Avraham Michaeli (Shas), Nachman Shai and Otniel Schneller (Kadima), as well as Ilan Ghilon (Meretz). Ghilon later withdrew his signature, with his aides citing a misunderstanding. The bill proposes that a guide leading a group of over 11 people, or traveling in more than one vehicle, must be a citizen of Israel. Most Arab residents of East Jerusalem have residency status but not citizenship, and so would be banned from guiding a majority of the tourist groups. "Israel has valuable tourism sites," the text of the proposed bill reads. "Oftentimes there are disagreements on the manner of the presentation of these sites historically, religiously, culturally and more. The city of Jerusalem, with its many historic sites, is an example of a site 30
about which there are such disagreements. Some of the residents of Israel, like those in East Jerusalem, often have 'dual loyalty,' since they vote in elections of the Palestinian Authority. "These residents often present anti-Israeli positions to groups of tourists that they guide. To ensure foreign tourists are exposed to the national Israeli viewpoint, we suggest ruling that travel agencies, and any organization providing tours for foreign tourists, ensure that the groups are accompanied by a tour guide who is an Israeli citizen and has institutional loyalty to the State of Israel," the bill suggests. Samir Bahbah, Chairman of the Association of East Jerusalem tour guides, told Haaretz there are some 300 Palestinian guides holding certification from Israel's Tourism Ministry. All of them could become the target of the bill. Ezra decided to suspend work on the bill for the meantime, out of concern for the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. "The problem is a problem," Ezra said, "It's clear to me there are tour guides hostile to the State of Israel and to Jerusalem. They are also the cheapest. But I don't want to hurt the talks and I will not be promoting the bill in the near future." The Jerusalem NGO Ir Amim, which works to promote Jewish-Arab coexistence in the capital, slammed the bill yesterday, saying: "We know all too well which states attach statesponsored guides to foreign tourists. This bill is just another one bringing us closer to this kind of state. This is not only a dangerous political clampdown, but a desperate economic blow to the tourism resource, possibly the only resource still available to East Jerusalemites.â€? By Nir Hasson Haaretz â€“ 19 October 2010
SELECTIONS OF ITEMS FROM VATICAN INFORMATION SERVICE Synod for the Middle East to begin on Sunday VATICAN CITY - Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, today held a briefing in the Holy See Press Office to inform journalists of the significance and of certain organisational aspects of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, due to be held in the Vatican from 10 to 24 October. The theme of the forthcoming Synodal assembly is: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East. Communion and Witness. Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul". Archbishop Eterovic explained that "what we mean by Middle East, apart from Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, are the following sixteen States: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Syria, Turkey and Yemen. This vast region of 7,180,912 square kilometres is home to 356,174,000 people, of whom 5,707,000 are Catholic, representing 1.6 percent of the population. The number of Christians stands at about 20,000,000; that is, 5.62 percent of the population".
"Apart from the Church of the Latin tradition, since earliest times there have been six 'sui iuris' Eastern Catholic Churches, each with its own patriarch, father and head of the Church: the Coptic Church, the Syrian Church, the Greek-Melkite Church, the Maronite Church, the Chaldean Church and the Armenian Church. ... The variety of traditions, spirituality, liturgy and disciplines is a great treasure to be conserved not only for the Eastern Catholic Churches, but for the whole Catholic Church presided over in charity by the Bishop of Rome, Universal Pastor of the Church". The Special Assembly for the Middle East, Archbishop Eterovic continued, will be attended by 185 Synod Fathers including 101 ordinaries from the ecclesiastical circumscriptions of the area, and twenty-three from the Diaspora who have responsibility for faithful of the Eastern Catholic Churches who have emigrated from the Middle East to all corners of the world. Also present will be thirty-six experts and thirty-four auditors, both men and women. The sittings of the Synodal assembly will also be attended by a number of fraternal delegates representing fourteen Churches and ecclesial communities with deep roots in the Middle East. The Synod Fathers will be addressed by three special guests invited by the Holy Father: Rabbi David Rosen, director for inter-religious affairs of the American Jewish Committee and the Heilbrunn Institute for International Inter-religious Understanding, Israel; Muhammad alSammak, political counsellor to the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, for Sunni Islam, and Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi, Professor at the Faculty of Law at the Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran and Member of the Iranian Academy of Sciences, for Shia Islam. The Secretary General then went on to explain some specific characteristics of this Synod. "For the first time", he said, "almost all the ordinaries of the Middle East will meet with the Bishop of Rome"; moreover it "will be the shortest ever Synodal assembly, lasting only fourteen days". This, he explained, "is the result of the relatively lower number of participants, which during the Ordinary General Assemblies can include as many as 250 Synod Fathers", and because the "complex situation in Middle Eastern countries means we do not want to keep the pastors from their flocks for too long". Arabic will be one of the official languages of this Synod, along with French, English and Italian, said Archbishop Eterovic. "The aims of the Special Assembly for the Middle East are mainly of a pastoral nature" and can be divided into two main points: "reviving communion between the venerable 'sui iuris' Eastern Catholic Churches that they may offer an authentic, joyful and attractive witness of Christian life", and "strengthening Christian identity through the Word of God and the celebration of the Sacraments". The Synod, the Archbishop concluded, is "a joyous occasion to present the riches of the Eastern Catholic Churches to the entire world, especially to Christians, that they may offer greater spiritual and material support to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East, in particular those who live in difficult situations because of violence, terrorism, emigration and discrimination". VIS â€“ 8 October 2010
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