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The Current Situation in the Holy Land

His Excellency Governor General Dr.  Pier Luigi Parola
His Excellency   Prof. Dr. med. Paul Oldenkott Lieutenant of the order in Germany,

Dear Dames and Knights of the Holy Sepulcher in Germany

I do extend my sincere gratitude and appreciation to his Excellency lieutenant Pro.Olden Kott for enabling me in this precious yet crucial moment to stand in front of you to reflect on the life of all who live in the Holy Land, and on your eminent role in making such a life more durable and yet vibrant. Sharing with you the factuality as well as the despondency of the present moment is the least I can do for whom I share the hardships and adversities that they encounter on a regularly basis.

I cannot but simultaneously extend, and on behalf of the Latin Patriarchate, my meaningful and sincere gratefulness to his Excellency the Governor General for his unconditional cooperation, and uncompromised efforts which have been invested on our behalf.

Certainly, my appreciation and indebtedness is commonly extended to the Dames and Knights of the Holy Sepulcher in the world and especially in Germany. The solid ground we currently stand at, as a Latin Patriarchate, could not have been achieved without your collective and comprehensive support. Amidst the bleak situation we live in, being there for us is more than a light that enlightens the end of our tunnel. 

Before talking about the current situation in the Holy Land, allow me to give you an idea about the latest statistical information on the Christian emergence in the Holy Land. I will try to convey the last statistics adopted:

  • His Beatitude Michel Sabbah presided as Patriarch in 1987 to serve the Diocese of Jerusalem that extends over Palestine, Israel and Jordan.
  • Christians are more or less 300,000 out of 12 million people living in the three countries.
  • Our demography has been highly affected by the Arab Israeli conflict and the tenuous political atmosphere. Today, the Christians living in Palestine and Israel are only 150,000 (or 1.8). In Palestine alone, i.e. West Bank and Gaza Strip including East Jerusalem, we are 50,000 (2.2%) of the Palestinian population estimated in 2003 at 3,500,000. In Israel, we are 100000 out of 5 million and a half. In Jordan, we are around 150000 out of 4 million and half Jordanians.
  • As for the current situation, life in the Holy Land is drastically deteriorating at all levels especially after the near expected completion of the so-called Apartheid Wall or what is defined by Israel as the Security Fence. According to Israeli provisions, the building of the Wall will end in June 2007. Due to the construction of the Wall, all Palestinian villages and cities ended to be ghettoized, fully segregated from each other, all bordered by an entry gate that opens and closes in hours defined by the Israeli Soldiers. The Wall succeeded to prevent most of the Palestinians living in the West Bank to go and find work in Israel and Jerusalem.
  • Check points that are randomly located at the entrance and exists between Palestinian cities make communication between those cities ever dehumanizing and difficult. The waiting in line for hours and hours has affected children and adults equally.
  • Tourism, on of the main economic outlet for Palestinians, witnessed a drastic decline during the past 4 years and reached its climax after the latest war between Israel and Lebanon.
  • On the Palestinian national level, Palestinians are currently squeezed in the narrowest corner ever. To put you in the core of the situation, permit me to provide you with a brief exposition on the current circumstances taking place in the Holy Land. As you, all know, and since Hamas has been elected on the head of the Palestinian government, all public sector employees hardly receive their salaries. This sector includes doctors and health workers, civil servants, policemen, and mostly teachers. Most drastically, for the last three weeks, the latter participated in a collective strike and did not attend their schools since then. Thousands of students, and on all class levels, are at home spending their time relentlessly and unfruitfully.
  • Most fortunate, our students are the ones to regularly attend schools since the beginning of the academic year and in every part of the Holy Land. Thanks to your generous support for without it, salaries could not have been paid nor could fees have been covered. Remember, education is the most vital instrument to be invested against all discrimination and hopelessness witnessed in the Holy Land.
  • Most dramatically, ensuing the winning of Hamas as an elected government by the Palestinians, all expected financial support to the PNA has been rigorously cut off. Unquestionably, the victims of this boy-cot are the people who ended without salaries since seven month except for a partial payment of salary equivalent to 500 Shekels (90 euros) Palestinians are expected to stand on the verge of poverty sooner than we expect.
  • You may have seen on TV a few days ago how despair can turn into ciaos. To maintain order, clashes between public servants on strike and law enforcers resulted in the killing and injuring of several. Should the conditions remain at a standstill and aid to the Palestinian people is put on hold, these street fights could become the norm.

The Palestinian Christian Community that represents close to 2% of the total population is an integral part of the national, social and cultural identity of the Arab Palestinian people. Their being throughout the past centuries have formulated the living identity of the cities, towns and villages they reside within as well as the social structure of the daily life as they co –exist with Muslims and Jews in certain communities. By awareness and by birth, the Christian community is part and parcel of the national Palestinian cause, thus share the larger Palestinian society the frustration and the hope for a better future.

However, and given the religious particularity of the Christian community, and the fact that mass immigration has rendered Christians into a diminishing group. We are more vulnerable to social, political and economic instabilities.

Under such strenuous circumstances that Palestinian in general and the Christians in particular are going through, we reiterate and confirm on one fact. We have to continue in supporting and empowering our Christian believers in the Holy Land while exclusively encountering the turbulent winds of occupation and despair.

By the end, a nation is being physically confined. On the long run, such physical confinement if not adequately addressed and dealt with, a mental, psychological, and even spiritual confinement will take place. Despondency and surrender are what we have to collectively face. Fortunately, you are all standing on a ground where liberation and emancipation are most appreciated and experienced. Let us strive together to keep every Christian living in the Holy Land morally free and motivated by a liberated vision and unconfined spirit. In the mere end, are not they the living stones of the Holy Land!?

Fr. Shawki Baterian
General Administrator-Latin Patriarchate, Jerusalem

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