Thursday, 25 December 2008

Jerusalem patriarch slams Israel during Gaza Christmas address

Gaza – Ma’an – The top Catholic leader in Palestine on Tuesday called on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, where he prayed with Christian Palestinians on Sunday.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal met with Christians during his visit on Sunday, and on Tuesday called on Israel to “put an end to the occupation and the injustice."

The Christian leader delivered his seasonal address to the Gaza Strip early this year due to Israel's refusal to allow Gazan Christians to attend Christmas mass in Bethlehem on 25 December.

He also reportedly called on the international community to reach a “just and final peace in the Holy Land.”

Only about 4,000 of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians are Christians, but the Catholic leader’s message was focused on the plight of the besieged Strip’s population, in general. He also called on Palestinians, themselves, to seek unity in light of the current divides between Hamas and Fatah.

"We also call upon the Palestinians themselves to return to unity in the context of a recognized Palestinian legal structure, and in this way to spare the people the continuing and degrading siege," Twal said.

Israel has isolated the Gaza Strip from aid deliveries and news coverage for over two months in response to Palestinian rocket fire. On two separate occasions, the United Nations’ chief Palestinian aid agency had to close down its operations for lack of supplies. The agency feeds 750,000 Palestinians on a daily basis, roughly half the population of the Gaza Strip.

Twal also criticized Israel for barring Gazan Christians from visiting Bethlehem during Advent and Christmas. He called visiting the Holy Land a right granted by God, and said neither state nor any person had the right to prevent worshipers from making such a holy pilgrimage.

He said both the Church and the Christian community had strong feelings for the people of Gaza, adding that, “What hurts Muslims hurts Christians,” and vice versa.

The Patriarch expressed his hope that peace will prevail between all countries and between the Palestinians. “Mutual love,” he said, will be what reunites Palestinians. But for now, he told Gazans, “a disastrous situation dominates this good land, whose people are suffering badly.”

“Where are the peacemakers?” Twal asked, lamenting a situation where “the Child of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ” would not be able to “walk in the streets without fear or walk in confiscated lands without seeing closed shops.”

“We need you [Jesus Christ] to come back and let us hear your voice in Palestine,” Twal said to the crowd, “Oh Child of Bethlehem, how badly we need you to resume the innocence of childhood, and follow your mother Mary’s courage. Our world today is tough and merciless and right seems to come from might, rather than right surpassing all else.”

He said that Christians in Palestine are awaiting Jesus’ return to deliver “us from those fears, hardships and internal divisions that beset this land.”

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