Politicians must make Holy Land peace reality

By 
  • November 21, 2008
{mosimage}JERUSALEM - As Christmas approaches and the world again turns its hopes and prayers toward Bethlehem, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem is asking politicians to make peace a reality in the Holy Land.

Patriarch Fouad Twal told Canadian Catholic journalists visiting Jerusalem that a Saudi Arabian peace proposal would make a good basis for future peace in the region.
“It’s a pity that Israel didn’t take this good initiative that comes from Saudi Arabia,” Twal said.

The Saudi plan was first floated by Crown Prince Abdullah in 2002, endorsed by the Arab league in 2005, and was spoken of positively by Israeli President Shimon Peres at a United Nations interfaith meeting on Nov. 12. It calls for Israel to withdraw from occupied lands in exchange for normal diplomatic and trade relations with all the surrounding Arab nations.

Israel is heading into elections early in 2009 and it is unclear whether any party will be open to the Saudi plan. Front-running Kadima Party candidate Tzipi Livni rejected demands from religious parties not to negotiate the status of East Jerusalem. Under the Saudi plan East Jerusalem would become the capital of Palestine.

The religious leaders of the region who preach peace are dependent on politicians to make peace a reality, said Twal.

“Everything is politics. We hope to influence our faithful — each one in his own church, his own mosque — but the politics does not depend on us,” he said.

The Latin-rite patriarchate and Pax Christi International are once again participating in an Advent program of e-mailed wishes and prayers for peace in Bethlehem. Run by the Arab Educational Institute in Bethlehem, the program asks for e-mailed prayers and wishes for peace before Dec. 25 from Western Christians and before Jan. 4 from Orthodox Christians. Prayers and wishes can be e-mailed to aei@p-ol.com.

It will take international pressure to push both sides to a negotiated, political settlement, said Twal.

“Can the Canadian bishops, the Canadian government, the Canadian journalists — can they have an influence on the political result? That’s the work,” Twal said.

Peace is the only way to stop the decline in the Christian population, according to the patriarch. While an increase in pilgrimages to Bethlehem and other holy sites would be welcome in a region dependent on tourism, reopening religious goods shops in the narrow streets of Bethlehem won’t change the picture for young Palestinian Christians, he said.

“You cannot forget the occupation. You cannot forget the wall separating the Christians and the Muslims. You cannot forget that this wall separates families, separates good wills — even the good people are separated, even those who are struggling for peace and security cannot meet each other,” Twal said. “You ask how the Christians are living. What can they do behind the wall? When they finish Bethlehem University, people who have their degree, what can they do?”

The patriarch asked the small delegation of journalists to encourage Canadians to make pilgrimages, pointing out that there had never been a recorded incident of a pilgrim being harmed in terrorist attacks.

“They (pilgrims) give us a  sense of communion with them. They give us the idea we are not alone, we are not abandoned, we are not a small minority here abandoned,” he said. “But the world church, the Christian world is thinking with us. We receive many helps from the world outside. We do not receive what we need more — peace, peace, peace, peace, peace.”

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