By Stuart Littlewood – London
My ears pricked up when I heard the Archbishop of Canterbury was planning a visit to Gaza last February, and Lambeth Palace (his headquarters in London) was "actively engaged in humanitarian relief and advocacy".
I asked for more information. Whom would he meet? Would he see the health minister? Would he sit down and talk with elected prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, man of God to man of God, Mr Haniyeh being an imam? I’d like to be a fly on the wall at such a meeting.
Would he "do Gaza proud by spending a generous amount of his time with senior members of the Islamic faith"?
And would he look up Fr Manuel Mussallam, the redoubtable old priest who was a mainstay of the Christian community thoughout Gaza’s darkest hours and tells it straight?
His office didn’t reply.
Looking at his website again now, I see he did none of those things. At least, he doesn’t mention them if he did.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is Britain’s ‘Mister Christianity’, the top cat in the Anglican Church. His website explains that his role as a figure of unity in the worldwide Anglican Communion, which is represented in over 130 countries, means that "he is in a unique position to bring the needs and voices of those fighting poverty, disease and the effects of conflict, to the attention of national and international policy makers and donor agencies".
He started his Ecumenical letter this Easter by saying: "Christians need to witness boldly and clearly “, and ended with: "The world will not be saved by fear, but by hope and joy… In whatever way we can, we must seek to communicate this joy, however dark or uncertain the sky seems."
Hope and joy? Tell that to the Palestinians, especially those in Gaza.
Since his return has he said anything about Gaza in the House of Lords, where he has a voice in Parliament? It seems he hasn’t opened his mouth there for over a year, hasn’t spoken in any debates and hasn’t voted. He’s a below-average performer.
So what was all that about bringing the needs of people suffering the aftermath of conflict to the attention of policy makers?
The Archbishop said in a press release that peace would not be achieved without sacrifice on all sides because the interests of one were intimately bound up with the interests of the other.
Sacrifice? How much more must Palestinians sacrifice, one wonders…?
He urged a greater awareness of the humanitarian crisis and isolation, to ensure that the people of Gaza were not forgotten.
That’s where a few well-chosen words in the House of Lords might have helped…
He also pledged the continuing prayers and support of the Anglican Communion as a whole, and his personal support and prayers for all who felt so little hope for the future: "God’s faithfulness is sure and will never fail".
Drinking at the Palestinians’ Well
While in Jerusalem he had no hesitation in meeting the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and off they all went afterwards to Yad Vashem to lay a wreath “in recognition of the abiding significance of the Holocaust and as a commitment to the struggle against the continuing evil of anti Semitism and all racial hatred and bigotry”.
Did he meet senior Islamic figures? No mention of it.
So much for inter-faith engagement then.
But he talked with the President of Israel about “the current state of relations between Israel and Palestine… and a range of environmental issues including water”. What excuses did nice Mr Peres offer, I wonder, for stealing 80 per cent of the Palestinians’ water at gunpoint so that Israeli settlers can enjoy a 24/7 supply, fill their swimming pools and wash their cars, then sell what’s left back to the Palestinians in strictly rationed dribs and drabs, forcing some to go without?
We’re not told.
Is that the Archbishop’s idea of “witnessing boldly”?
If he’s a filmgoer he’ll remember the powerful scene in Lawrence of Arabia where Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) and his guide are drinking from a well. Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) rides out of the shimmering heat of the desert and shoots the guide dead.
“This is my well,” says Ali.
“I have drunk from it,” says Lawrence.
“You are welcome.”
“He was my friend,” insists Lawrence pointing at the dead man.
“That! He was nothing. The well is everything. The Hasimi may not drink at our wells. He knew that.”
Expulsion of Christians from West Bank
And what, I wonder, does the Archbishop make of the new Israeli military order that came into effect on 13 April and is designed to deport Palestinians who are resident their homeland, the West Bank? We have already seen how students from Gaza, like Berlanty Azzam, attending university in the West Bank are arrested and dumped back in Gaza when only weeks away from graduating.
The wording of the order is so vague that Israeli human rights organisations say
every Palestinian in the West Bank may find him or herself in danger of being criminally prosecuted and deported or being deported without appeal or review. “It defines anyone present in the West Bank, regardless of his status, as an “infiltrator” if they do not possess a permit given by the military commander or on his behalf – a permit whose exact nature is not defined in military legislation at all. In fact, the vast majority of individuals now living in the West Bank have never been required to possess any sort of permit.”
In short, the order allows the Israeli military to empty the West Bank of all Palestinians, if it wishes, without the need for any inconvenient process like hearings. This of course hits Christians as well as their Muslim friends and neighbours.
Kairos Palestine describes the new order as:
• A flagrant display of military power;
• A destructive and cynical command that reduces thousands of people into “illegal aliens” in their own homes;
• A threat that, regardless of the extent of its implementation, will confine Palestinians in their villages and further sever them from vital economic, health, education, and social centers and is
• Another improper step toward creating demographic changes in the West Bank and entrenching a regime which discriminates between people on the basis of religion and nationality.
As well as defying basic human rights, says Kairos, the military order "arrogantly violates various terms of international law, including Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting the forcible transfer/deportation of protected civilians in an occupied territory, and the principle of self-determination stipulated by general international law".
Kairos is a group of Palestine Christians who recently produced a document entitled “A Moment of Truth” – their word to the world about the occupation and an expression of their faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering. It is a call for solidarity to end over six decades of oppression.
Kairos Palestine calls on churches worldwide, church-related organisations, Christians and the wider international community to "condemn these shameful developments and work to restore the justice that is both our calling and our right".
I feel sure the Archbishop knows about this. It’s Holy Land business and central to his faith. What has he to say? Will he show leadership?
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.