The Palestinian Archbishop of Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox Church, Atallah Hanna, has spoken out against the Israeli occupation and stressed his support for the Palestinian people and cause, urging Christians around the world to do the same.
Speaking exclusively to MEMO at the "First Global Conference on Israeli Apartheid", which took place in Istanbul last week, Hanna said: "The city of Jerusalem is the city of the three Abrahamic religions…Christian and Muslim Palestinians living in Jerusalem suffer from the occupation, suffer from repression, tyranny and oppression."
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He emphasised the increasing policies enforcing apartheid in the holy city and in the rest of Palestine, stating:
The occupation in Jerusalem is treating us as if we are guests and foreigners in our own city. This is the embodiment of apartheid policies and practices against our people in Jerusalem specifically and in Palestine more generally.
Hanna was firm in his commitment that the apartheid system enforced by the Israeli government – which separates Palestinians from Jewish Israelis and treats them as second-class citizens who do not have equal rights such as access to certain areas, jobs, livelihood and resources – will not drive the Christians from the city and from defending the Palestinian cause and justice.
"We will remain in Jerusalem, defending our religious sites and endowments. We reject the policies of the occupation. We will not surrender. Our motto will always be: freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. Our religious sites will remain ours. Jerusalem will remain ours."
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He also touched on the US support for Israel and it not holding the Jewish state to account over its violations of human rights and international law, adding: "We reject America's unjust decisions which come in support of Israeli policies and the occupation of Jerusalem."
Archbishop Hanna also had a strong message for Christians throughout the world, reminding them that "In a few days, Christians will be celebrating Christmas all over the world. The streets and town squares will be decorated with lights, adornments and Christmas trees in Europe and the world. I would like to remind all Christians all around the world: there is no point in celebrating Christmas if you do not pay attention to what is happening in Palestine as it is the birthplace of Christ and where Christianity originated and spread its message throughout the world. The nativity grotto is in Bethlehem. The true light of Christmas emanated from Bethlehem."
Hanna stressed that Christianity's roots in Jerusalem and in the land of Palestine means that oppression in the very land that Jesus was born must be opposed and fought, rather than the pro-Israel and Zionist stance with which many Christians in the West are perceived to associate with. The continued Israeli occupation and the apartheid system which it enforces prompted the Archbishop to "call upon all the churches of the world, in the west and east, to urgently defend Palestine, the children of Palestine, and the Palestinian cause. Let our message this Christmas be to free Palestine and the Palestinian people."