Dr. Aref Assaf
Close to 500 people were treated last Sunday to a most moving speech by Archbishop Hanna Attallah who traveled from Jerusalem to be the keynote speaker at the 42nd Annual Convention of the US-based United Holy Land Fund. Theodosios (Hanna) of Sebastia (born 1965) is the Archbishop of Sebastia from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Ordained on the 24 December 2005 at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, he is the second Palestinian to hold the position of Archbishop in the history of the diocese.
His eminence, delivered in perfect Arabic a most passionate plea for the world leaders and peoples to view the tragedy of the Palestinian people as one deserving their fullest attention. Over sixty years of suffering, dispossession and living in the Diaspora, he asserted, is far too long a punishment. More importantly, he was poignantly demanding the different Palestinian factions to reunite their efforts under the umbrella of national unity. The linkage between justice and political influence, he asserted, is a weapon Arabs and Palestinian Americans must employ in effecting pro-justice and pro Palestine policies. The Archbishop’s eloquence, demeanor and stately presence were a source of elation for many in the audience. They were also sufficiently indicative of how leaders can stir uneasy feelings about how inadequate is our commitment to celebrating and nurturing political narratives while remaining proactively committed to defending our national struggle.
The core of his message was the centrality of Jerusalem in the realization of Palestinian national aspirations. He stated that “there will be no Palestine without Jerusalem as its capital. It is ridicules to imagine Palestine without Jerusalem, because it beats in the heart of every Palestinian. In addition to that, Israel tries to change the features of Jerusalem through its development projects like the light train, the malls or the parks. They are trying to make the Palestinians foreigners in their own city. According to international law, Jerusalem is still an occupied city, thus it has no right to change anything in it. Whatever was the final agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Palestinians should have the free right to enter their city without any restrictions, and also they must have the right to live in it, build their homes and reside in it without the interference of anyone. The Palestinians in Jerusalem are in their city and country not a stranger. The treatment of the Palestinian as outsider is by itself a racist action.”
As for the support Israel receives from so called Christian Zionists in the US, the Archbishop was adamant that the Orthodox Church as all churches in the Holy Land refuses to give excuses from the bible for the unjust treatment of the Palestinian people.” He added he was “very sorry to hear about some religious groups in the United States that support the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Such support cannot be justified from a Christian point of view because Christianity is against any sort of occupation and the injustice in it all forms and rationalization. These groups need to re-read their bible, because the bible calls us to stand with the marginalized and the oppressed and not with the oppressors.
For those who use the bible to support Israel need to differentiate between God’s promise and the Balfour promise (Balfour Declaration), because the occupation is the result of a promise given to the Israelis by Lord Balfour and not by God.
God is innocent from the unjust actions of the Israeli occupation of our land since ‘48 and until now.”
On a joyous side note, we were treated to the introduction of Dr. Leila Ghannam who is the first woman to ever hold the title of “Muhafeth’ or Governor for the Ramallah and Al-Biereh Governorate. Dr. Ghannam, spoke of the Palestinian educational achievements under the most difficult circumstances of statelessness and military occupation.
I was particularly impressed with her important statements considering that we languish under a suffocating military occupation, our people have surpassed expectations. But I was more troubled with what she alluded to about the challenges and serious deficiencies our youth faces in Palestine. While we are proud of the number of graduating students each year, I worry about providing opportunities for them to translate their education into tangible and productive achievement for our people.
It was refreshing to hear her reassuring words that our people will overcome the bleak conditions of disunity and the occupation. Palestinian Americans can and must play a decisive role in moving our people ever closer to achieving their dream of sovereignty and independence. As a son of a refugee who passed away recently, his dream of returning to his village, Allar, unfulfilled, I am burdened with the future of our people. Palestine lives in our hearts and conscience and its love and suffering is manifested into our actions or lack thereof. Many of us work superbly as individuals but we can never seem to work as a united group. I know more can and needs to be done. As you visit other cities in the US, please tell our people to unite and to work together for the cause of beloved Palestine. Sadly, political and ideological divisiveness has reached our shores. You need to remind us of what we are.
The United Holy Land Fund, which is a registered non profit tax exempt entity in the US, raised close to $100,000 which will go to help Palestinian students with their college tuition. The UHLF is led by a dedicated group of volunteers based in Illinois, US and has branches in several States.