Palestinian Autonomy is knocking at the door of the United Nations Organization for help
Fr. Marek Łuczak
Palestinian Autonomy is not a country in the traditional sense of this word. However, Palestinian nation living in Israel is glad about its tolerable independence on the territories which are separated from the Jewish with a wall to much extent. In a short time the Palestinian Autonomy will probably become an official member of the United Nations Organization. On this occasion we publish a report from the Middle East in ‘Niedziela’.
The Holy Land is a real melting-pot. Believers of three great religions live near each other; the religions are not homogeneous either. It seems that they mix together in front of Damascus Gate, but they do not notice that. We tolerate each other every day indeed but we rarely socialize with each other – says Ibrahim, working in a restaurant. – A mixed marriage is inconceivable – he adds.
The identity of the local population can be proved by many signs. A layman will not distinguish between languages and not every Jewish or Muslim wear traditional clothes either. The district, where I am now, is easy to recognize due to the behaviour of shop assistants on holidays. On public holidays Muslims’ Bazaars are closed on Fridays, Jewish shops – on Saturdays and the Christian ones – on Sundays. This attitude is characteristic for the most pious people and deviations from it can be seen of each party.
Direction – The Holy Land
Ben Guriona airport looks completely different today. Nearly three years ago, because of Israel – Palestinian riots, it did not even look like an airport, being completely empty. Although August does not belong to the most popular months in the Holy Land, due to its heats, planes land one by one even at midnight, and taxis do not keep up with taking passengers from the main hall.
The view of Jerusalem is more and more impressive. The city becomes more and more beautiful every year and its infrastructure conforms to the European standards more and more. However, it is different only with the standard of living, the worst case is with Arabian residents who have not got rid of old and dilapidated cars and a new fleet has appeared only in the bus transport. The local people and tourists pay for the latter one, as, unfortunately, the prices of tickets got much more expensive. The road to Bethlehem has been opened recently and tunnels carved in rocks are impressive. Israel authorities have a great experience in reconstruction of the country – one of the bus passengers says. – I wish they used it for good purposes – he adds, pointing to a very popular concrete wall surrounding Bethlehem city.
Life behind a concrete leash
The results of separation policy of the Palestinian Autonomy are visible on the Arabian side with the naked eye. There are dozens of taxis at the entrance. Tourists may have an impression that it’s an only occupation of the local residents, not adding omnipresent trade, of course. However, as much as we can see people in Jerusalem who sum up their working days in the evenings, counting their earnings in cafes, the situation in Bethlehem seems hopeless –my situation is bearable – says 27-year-old Gregor, a Christian owner of a restaurant situated opposite a Basilica. – People come on pilgrimages here, walk in sacred places, so naturally, they also come here for a meal or drink. Traders from the nearby shops are in a worse situation. Even if there are many groups, only few tourists go shopping in the centre of the city. Moreover, there is a belief that souvenirs are bought in Jerusalem, and after all, whole families work here at manufacturing souvenirs from olive wood in order to keep their relatives.
The palpable crisis is also proved by a situation in nearly every cafe or restaurant. You can have an impression everywhere that the number of staff surpasses the number of customers or, at least, it is disproportionally too big in relation to the latter one. Therefore unemployment is a threat for Bethlehem. Even on working days the city centre is full of lots of the youths who lean against the walls of the nearby houses. – I managed to get into a university – says 22-year-old Assan. – But perspectives are not the best, as people with diplomas can’t find any job anyway. – I am a good example – confirms Gregor. – I am an engineer – electronics specialist. I studied in Canada, I completed praxis in Emirates but Israel does not need my qualifications. That’s good I have work in my parents’ restaurant.
With us or against us
Among Arabian people in Israel, the Christians have no better situation. Although these latter ones must reckon with the repressive policy of the country every day, they suffer from oppression from their own people. – Muslims have a grudge against Arab Christians for their life choices – explains Father Antoni Kazimierz Dudek OFM, an author of many publications about the Holy Land. – They even think it’s a betrayal. I have been in Kustodia recently but I could hear a lot about the pressure on the Christians.
Sometimes it takes even the most radical forms which can be included in a dramatic question: are you with us or against us?
As experts of this local situation say, a practical meaning of Christian witness of faith may sometimes bring deplorable results. – Sometimes Christ’s believers are eliminated from public life or dismissed from work – explains Father Antoni. – If there is a shortage of the Christians in Israel, the sacred places will stop being shrines, they will stop being vibrant with religious life and will become a kind of a museum. It would be very sad – he adds. However, a Franciscan many years’ tourist guide in the Holy Land is an optimist. As he ascertains, the Bible doesn’t say that the Church will exist somewhere on Earth till the end of the world. The Bible only says that Jesus will be with us till the very end. And as the Christians used to be present in North Africa where churches are empty there today, the similar situation may happen here one day, although – as he states – it would be extremely sad.
Pawns on the chess-board of politics
Unfortunately, the Christians suffer from oppression also from Israel. The attitude of authorities towards Christian citizens, and also towards pilgrims or Church members in the Holy Land used to be different a few or several years ago. Then, however, Vatican’s support was needed, in connection with diplomatic offensive aiming at legislation of the country on the world map. – I would not like to deal with politics but today it is difficult to keep calm in thinking about the future – says Father Antoni Kazimierz Dudek OFM. – There is no shadow of doubt that we are only pawns on a chess-board of political interests.
The situation of the Holy Land is monitored by Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land. – At present the situation has somehow stabilized – says Fr. Paweł Ryter-Andrianik studying in Jerusalem – but we have dealt with massive emigration of the Christians in the recent years. Those people left their houses in mass because, not seeing any perspectives, they were forced to leave for bread.
Fr. Paweł also notes that there are not any new people who would replace them – Christianity is thought by Muslims to be a religion connected with the Americans, and thus the opposite one. There are very few conversions into Christianity, missionary activity is also difficult – he says.
The atmosphere over the last years helped the Christians to leave Israel in masses. It is estimated that 50 percents of Palestinian believers of Christ live in Europe and the United States today. Luckily, the tendency stopped, and even according to some sources, those people started to return to the country. How can we help them? Surely, one of the ways is going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There, we can be in places not only connected with Jesus but we can help our fellow believers in a specific way. Every dollar given to the Christians is an insurance policy for places which we love so much.