(It may come as something of a surprise to many of Israel’s Christian supporters in the US, but as Israel Shamir reveals Sharon’s government is pursuing an actively anti-Christian policy. Ed.)
The Attorney General of Israel, Dr Eliyakim Rubinstein, and police and government bodies intend to press criminal charges against a leading churchman, the spiritual head of the native Greek Orthodox community, Dr Theodosios Atallah Hanna, for performing his religious duty. The spiritual leader of the oldest Christian community in the world, established directly by Our Lord, the dean of St James Cathedral, a native of Nazareth and the highest-ranking native Palestinian clergyman in the Orthodox Church, is well known as a proponent of full equality for Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land. He calls for peace and brotherly love between denominations, creeds and nations, defends the poor and oppressed, guards the legitimate rights and property of the Church, of the community and of all the dwellers of the Holy Land. These activities have made him disagreeable to the state officials, who prefer pliant clergymen ready to compromise public interests for their personal benefit.
The Attorney General’s office indicated that Fr Atallah Hanna will be charged with the offence `unauthorized contact with the enemy’ for his voyages to Christian communities in Syria and Lebanon, though practically all leading churchmen, rabbis and Muslim clergy in Palestine regularly visit their brethren in the nearby countries. The Attorney General did not charge the rabbis who visit the Jewish communities in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and his decision to charge a Christian priest goes against the principle of equality before the Law.
Father Atallah is to be charged with meeting with `terrorists’. His accusers fail to see the similarity between a priest and a physician: neither should ever refuse a call. Man of faith, Fr Atallah would meet even Sharon and Mofaz, people charged with war crimes in European courts of law. He would not send away even the ex-PM Yitzhak Shamir, though he was a leader of LEHI, the terrorist organisation. Both priest and rabbi should meet the sinners as well as the virtuous.
The impending charge of incitement to violence is groundless as well. The Christian faith upholds love, charity and mercy: the Church rejects violence and vengeance. A faithful Christian leader, Fr Atallah condemns all forms of violence and terror, whether by the state, by the army, by organisations or by private persons. He especially condemns the acts of vengeance ordered by Sharon, for “vengeance is Mine”, said the Lord. It is particularly odd to charge this man of peace, since the Attorney General did not charge with incitement to crime the Chief Rabbi Mordehai Eliyahu, who allowed settlers to steal the olives of Palestinian peasants; he did not charge with incitement the hundred rabbis who declared that the Palestinians are “Amalek”, and thereby issued a call to genocide; he did not charge Rabbi Ovadiya, who called zealously for the killing of Palestinians; he took no action against the Rabbis calling for the destruction of all churches and for the eradication of Christianity; he took no action against persons and organizations promoting hatred of Christianity and Christians.
This is the latest addition to the ongoing persecution of Christianity in the Jewish State. It is not enough that Israeli laws allow for the imprisonment of preachers and missionaries, that Israeli laws allow for the stripping of Christian immigrants of their Israeli citizenship and for their deportation, that the Knesset of Israel has debated rendering the praising of Jesus punishable by mandatory prison sentence.
Last year, the Sharon government of Israel implemented active anti-Christian policies, namely:
· it refused to recognize the duly elected Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land, an act without precedent in last eight hundred years ;
· it condoned actions as barbaric as the public burning of the Gospel;
· it besieged the Church of the Nativity and its monks and priests during Easter;
· it demolished the antique Byzantine church of St Barbara in Abboud;
· it shelled Catholic churches in Bethlehem and Nablous;
· it condoned the defacing and partial destruction of churches, crosses and images in Haifa (Stella Maris), Kursi, Shibta, etc);
· it denied access by believers to the holy places in Jerusalem in the occupied territories;
· it did not defend the clergy in face of attacks by fundamentalist Jewish organizations.
Recently, the Sharon government increased its pressure on the Orthodox Church in order to seize the lands the Church holds on behalf of the Christian community and Christian believers all over the world. The Church refused to extend land leases by hundreds of years, as the government wished, and demanded to regain its rightful property. This is the backdrop to the Israeli authorities’ attack on Father Theodosios.
We call upon the Israeli Government: save us from this shameful and needless action, and avoid expected international condemnation. We call upon the international community, upon the people of the world, upon clergy of all creeds, upon the citizens of Israel, to protest against this impending action. Do not touch the priests of God!
(For more detail, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the head of the Greek Orthodox Community, Adi Bazhala phone 056-379312)
Israel Shamir, Press Liaison, Shamir@home.se 054-616775