A member of the Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarchate in Jerusalem warned an audience in London last week about the plight of Arab Christians under Israeli occupation. "The flight of Arab Christians from the holy land will turn churches into museums," said Archimandrite Abdallah Giulio Brunella. Arab Christians, he explained, are being forced out from their place of origin.
Father Brunella made his remarks during a meeting organised by MEMO, Europal Forum and the Think Forum for civil society leaders and human rights activists who came to meet with members of a delegation from Israeli-occupied Jerusalem on Friday.
The delegation arrived in Britain two weeks ago to meet with MPs and leaders from civil society to highlight Israel's rampant human rights abuses and discrimination. MEMO and Europal Forum coordinated seminars in London and arranged meetings with several MPs. They also facilitated a two day visit to Belfast where the delegation spoke with parliamentarians from all the major political parties, including Sinn Fein, and held private briefing sessions with solidarity groups, civil organisations, trade unions, NGOs and religious leaders in Northern Ireland.
During his final address in London on Friday, Father Brunella echoed concerns raised by church leaders in a joint statement to the Christians around the world over Israel's "systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and "weaken[ing] the Christian presence" in Palestine.
He spoke of the shared Arab heritage of Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and denounced Israeli efforts to present the conflict in Palestine as a war between Christians and Muslims. The conflict is not a religious war between the three Abrahamic faiths, he insisted, but is a conflict between an occupier and the occupied.
Sharing his views in a private briefing, the senior churchman said that the West, which claims to be of Christian heritage, has ignored the plight of Arab Christians whose very survival in the holy land is threatened by Israeli policy. His message to fellow Christians comes at a perilous time for Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the occupied territory.
Jerusalem-based lawyer Khaled Zbarga described some of the threats facing the Palestinian community while speaking about ethnic cleansing carried out by Israel over the past year. He spoke of the Palestinian village demolished 118 times and the plans for a Jew-only development project that will practice apartheid unashamedly.
Zbarga, who has spent years defending Palestinians against home demolitions, spoke of the growing numbers of Israeli politicians who are publicly endorsing ethnic cleansing against non-Jews. He cited remarks made last week by Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich, who threatened to expel Palestinians who refuse to give up their aspirations for a national homeland.
Feras Sabbah and Iyad Misk were the two other members of the delegation who spoke at the event; they are both lawyers. Jerusalem-based Sabbah spoke about the spate of home demolitions and Israeli efforts to undermine Palestinian sovereignty over the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa. He said that the Israeli provocation by installing electronic gates and metal detectors at the entrance to the mosque in July was not about security but about Israel trying to assert its claim to the most sacred parts of the holy sanctuary that belong to Muslims and Christians.
For his part, Misk described the plight of Palestinian political prisoners and the mass detentions they suffer at the hands of Israeli security forces. No one is spared, he explained, including women and children, who are often arrested very late at night without access to lawyers and at times without the knowledge of their parents.
The organisers thanked the members of the Jerusalem delegation and mentioned the significance of the visit. "Such delegations and meetings have a positive impact on politicians and motivate them to support the cause," said Ragad Altikriti, the co-ordinator of the programme. "There is a great need for such delegations to expose the lies embedded in the Israeli narrative and the powerful lobby aimed to get our politicians to support Israel in its stances."