Friday, January 14, 2011

Will Christians stay in Isr/Pal?

Jerusalem’s Christians Get Help From Church in Buying a HomeDavid Miller
The Media Line
January 12, 2011 - 12:00am

Attempting to curb the flight of Palestinian Christians from Jerusalem, the city’s Latin Patriarchate is taking an unusual role in developing real estate projects that will provide affordable housing to its flock and others.

The church recently obtained building permits for 72 housing units to be built in the Beit Safafa neighborhood of southern Jerusalem on land purchased by individuals from the Al-Alami and Al-Husseini families. Last November, 68 Christian families entered their new homes in the Al-Shayah neighborhood on the Mount of Olives, in another project supported by the church.

Although the city is filled with churches, monasteries and other Christian institutions, its Christian population has been in a freefall. They numbered 31,000 in 1948, but today only 15,400, or just 2% of the city's population, identify themselves as Christians, according to statistics published by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS) on Christmas Eve.

"The Beit Safafa project is intended for church employees," Msgr. William Shomali, auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told The Media Line. "We aren’t building a Christian ghetto there; even Muslims have encouraged this project because they realize that we are a small minority that needs to preserve itself."

While the Christian population in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East has been in decline for decades, Jerusalem presents a special problem. The city has limited room to expand, putting land at a premium and raising the cost of housing. The Israeli planning bureaucracy makes getting approvals for construction a slow and cumbersome process.

Shomali said he didn't believe that Christians received preferential treatment from Jerusalem's municipality, adding that zoning for the project began 15 years ago. He downplayed the distinctly Christian character of the project, saying the Latin Patriarchate was willing to facilitate purchasing groups from all segments of Palestinian society.

"Obtaining a permit is much easier for groups than for individuals," he said. "I encourage all Palestinians to form such groups, and we will help them."

Shomali insisted the church's involvement was limited to coordination between the buyers, providing lawyers and engineers for the project. Funding, he said, was provided entirely by the buyers who take out loans from the Arab Bank, a Jordan lender that operates in the West Bank, never from church funds.

Rula Shehedeh, a 22-year-old Christian resident of the A-Tur neighborhood of Jerusalem, said housing was unaffordable for both Christians and Muslim youth in Jerusalem. Muslims often refuse to rent their homes to Christians, she said.

"To buy a house you often need your parents' assistance," Shehedeh told The Media Line. "Christian monasteries, such as Al-Faji on the Mount of Olives, sometimes fund building projects for Christians within the monastery confines."

Hanna 'Issa, who oversees Christian affairs in the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments, bemoaned the flight of Christians from the Palestinian territories.

"The emigration of Christians from Palestinian land has become a disconcerting phenomenon in recent times," 'Issa told the London-based Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi. "Recent statistics indicate that 600 Christians emigrate annually from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza."

Bishop Shomali said it was initially his idea to help Christians purchase homes in Jerusalem and that the church gradually came to support it. He added that the main problem facing Jerusalem Christians wasn’t unemployment, but rather the high price of land in the city.

Hana Bendcowsky, director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR), said that previous building projects were undertaken on church land in Jerusalem, with new buildings rented out to young couples for cheaper than market prices.

"The Latin Patriarchate owns buildings in the Old City, which it rents out, and the Lutheran Church developed its property on the Mount of Olives," Bendcowsky told The Media Line. "It's hard to tell what will keep Christian families from leaving the city, but it's certainly helpful when you have somewhere to live."

As 2010 came to a close, Pope Benedict XVI took the opportunity to acknowledge the plight of Middle East Christians, pointing the finger at Israeli occupation as the main reason for the flight of Christians from the Holy Land.

"[Attacks against Christians] spread fear within the Christian community and [create] a desire on the part of many to emigrate in search of a better life," the pope said. "The Israeli occupation is making their life difficult and the Israeli occupation is responsible for the declining of number within the Christian community."

Bendcowsky said Israel’s security barrier, which cut off some Palestinian neighborhoods from Jerusalem, contributed to the price increase in neighborhoods, which were left within the city's municipal boundaries.

"Neighborhoods such as Beit Hanina and the Old City, with high Christian populations, have seen a huge price increase over the last 10 years," Bendcowsky said.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Outrage and Civility Belong Together!

Relationships with Jewish Family and Friends
Thomas L. Are blog, 12.17.10

I have had several people recently to ask about keeping relationships with Jewish friends while at the same time being critical of Israel. This can be especially difficult when dealing with a Jewish member of ones own family. So, for what it’s worth.

I think sometimes we have to opt for relationship rather than issues I have in mind my relationship with one of the most anti-Muslim, pro-Israel men in Georgia. My last blog was in response to his email that said, “it was too bad that Israel did not sink the Mava Marmara. It would have freed the world of 600 terrorist.” Trying to get a sympathetic fact by him is like trying to give a flu shot to a tombstone. So, we do not talk about anything important except kids and doctors. Mark Braverman tells us to give up on the hard liners. Marc Ellis rejects what he calls “the ecumenical deal,” which requires Christian and Jews engaged in dialogue to never mention Israel’s occupation. I have a Jewish friend who is very vocal about “being free to criticize Israel.” Yet, she spends most of her time and energy criticizing those who criticize Israel. I understand the strain on relationships.

Now to the grandmother whose daughter is married to a “fine Jewish man.” I say, Jews are good people, and intelligent. Your grand children have every right to be proud of their heritage. When I was in Mississippi, the issue was civil rights for African Americans and the leaders of this cause came from the Jewish community. I think of those three civil rights worker who were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi, two were Jews and the other was African American. Throughout history Jews have been sensitive to the needs of others. It is in their DNA to be caring and to stand up for the poor and oppressed. It’s also in their scriptures, especially the Psalms and the Prophets. Give it a little time and you will win your daughter’s heart and appreciation. Her struggle is not with you, it is with her own faith. My guess is that in years to come, her struggle will be with her children. Many, many young Jews are beginning to question the policies of Israel and some of them are angry. I would also bet that your daughter has never been there and has never seen what is going on in the West Bank and Gaza. The most passionate Jews who cry for Palestinian justice are those who have been there and are shocked by what they see.

Your daughter is absolutely right about anti-Semitism which has been a senseless stain on the Christian church for almost two thousand years. However, there are some in the Jewish community who cannot hear criticism of Israel as anything other than anti-Semitism. For those, I say we can only go on seeking justice without their approval.

Justice for Palestinians is the position of more and more Jewish authors, professors and peace advocates. I have in mind, Marc Ellis, Noam Chomsky, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Joel Kavol, Norman Finkelstein, Ilan Peppe, Gideon Levy, Jeff Halper, Sara Roy, Mark Braverman , Tanya Reinhart, Richard Goldstein and many others These brave people are not seeking to destroy Israel, but believe Israel is on a path of self destruction. Just last week I heard Rachael Sussman who works for B’Tselem say that we must do “all that we can to stop Israel’s madness.”

Israel is deliberately starving people, depriving them of medicines, fuel and building supplies, stealing land, and water, creating Jewish only roads that separate families and restrict movement, constructing a wall which surrounds communities separating kids from their schools, farmers from their fields and the sick from medical care, bulldozing homes by the thousands, imposing closures, curfews, and checkpoints, all in the name of exceptionalism. These actions promote anti-Semitism and the reaction of the Arab nations. I cannot understand why the Jewish community is not standing on its heels shouting condemnation of Israel’s anti-Jewish policies rather than debating supersessionism. When have you heard a Rabbi even mention the word “occupation?”

Who is going to speak out for justice if we don’t at least try? Politicians are silenced by the lobby. The Christian right declares that the Jews must drive out the Palestinians for Jesus to come back, even if it means murder, torture, cruelty and theft. The media is seldom “fair or balanced.” Israel’s aggression is reported as a “reaction.” One Israeli soldier held in captivity and everybody knows of Gilad Shalit by name. Netanyahu called it "inhumane," which it is, while the 9000 Palestinians languishing in Israeli prisons are seldom mentioned. Israel’s military is one of the most powerful and brutal on the globe and everybody in the world knows it but citizens of Israel and the US.

The argument that other governments do things that are bad or even worse, therefore we should not “pick on Israel,” does not hold up. If I am hauled before the judge, it’s a poor defense for me to say, “OK judge, I raped that girl, but Big John up the road raped two girls so it is unfair to judge me.” It makes no sense unless Israel is vying to be the most barbaric state on earth. It is our tax money that pays for Israel’s planes, bombs, and bullets. It’s our government that blocks international law from applying to Israel and vetoes UN resolutions. We, you and I, are involved in everything Israel does. We have a responsibility to speak out. So, keep up your good work, be who you are, and be guided by your moral convictions. Keep on loving your daughter but let someone else deal with her defense of Israel.

Thomas Are
December 18, 2010