By Stuart Littlewood – London
Dignitaries, emissaries, human rights delegations, fact-finding trippers… they come and go, but Gaza’s suffering continues and day by day gets worse, thanks to the corrupted leadership of the international community who are the scandal of our age.
But here’s a spot of Christmas cheer for the starving, desolated Palestinians imprisoned in the tiny coastal enclave.
Sometime in February they are likely to get a visit from none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. At least, that’s what his office at Lambeth Palace says. Yes, archbishops in England live in palaces and hang out in the House of Lords.
The top religious figure in England hopes to call at the Al-Ahli Hospital for which he has raised several thousand pounds in the past year. Al-Ahli is an 80-bed facility providing emergency care and mobile clinics in the Gaza Strip. During the blitzkrieg a year ago it dealt with many of the badly wounded. "Clearly the situation in Gaza is desperate," says the Palace. With fellow Anglicans in the region under the leadership of the Bishop of Jerusalem Suheil Dawani, they are actively engaged in humanitarian relief and advocacy.
That may be. But there is little mention of it here in England.
Is it possible that my open letter to the archbishop last month spurred him to action? I asked what courageous thing he and his colleagues would do this Christmas-time to intervene and bring humanity, practical relief and spiritual help to all those Christian and Muslim families who for years have been so cruelly oppressed and abused by the Israeli regime and its supporters.
"Why not visit the Strip?” I suggested. “Ask Brown and Blair to fix it, and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Galvanise the government and remind them of their Christian duty to defend and protect the weak: somebody should. Of course, that is the duty of all decent men, Christian or not."
Will the archbishop bring a smile to the face of God?
On past performance, however, Gazans needn’t get too excited. I have seen no statement about Gaza on the archbishop’s website for nearly a year. And while Israel was planning its infamous Cast Lead operation, which resulted in the cynical slaughter of hundreds of Palestinian women and children, the archbishop accompanied Chief Rabbi Sachs to Auschwitz to preach against extreme hostility and genocide. The archbishop called it "a place of utter profanity" and spoke of the collective corruption and moral sickness that made the Holocaust possible.
If and when he arrives in Gaza he’ll witness a holocaust of another kind. The irony of his remarks about Auschwitz were not lost on the besieged Gazans, who are still under daily bombardment by their mad-dog tormentors. Unfortunately Lambeth Palace has given no further details of the archbishop’s trip. Whom will he meet? Will he also visit the exhausted Al-Shifa hospital, which has taken the brunt of the casualties? Will he shoot the breeze with Ismail Haniyeh, the (legitimate) Palestinian prime minister, bishop to imam? Will he see the health minister, Basem Na’im? Will he look up Fr Manuel Mussallam, the redoubtable old priest who has been a mainstay of the Christian community throughout Gaza’s darkest hours? Fr Manuel, a man of true grit, recently retired but is probably contactable in the West Bank.
Will he paddle on Gaza’s beach? Will he cast his net upon the waters with Gaza’s fishermen, and scorn the machine-gun fire from marauding Israeli warships?
(Gazans might perhaps write with helpful suggestions to email@example.com)
Will Rowan Williams bring a smile to the face of God? I hope so, for it is not too late.
He will have already done more than the Pope. That expensively frocked individual, who has a bigger stake in the Holy Land than anyone else in the Western world, earlier this year "refrained" from visiting the smoking ruins of Gaza to show solidarity with his terrified flock, and instead played the tourist in the Occupied Territories next-door. He chose the word "refrain" in his excuse to the media. It smacked of abstinence, as if abstaining from sex, and infuriated those who had suffered so much.
If this Vicar of Christ is a force for good, where is the armada he should have sent to bring relief to his Christian community and to his Muslim brothers and sisters?
‘Salt of the earth’ aim to break the siege for human decency’s sake
Relax, Holy Father… Viva Palestina and George Galloway are on the case. They are doing your job for you and breaking the evil siege. You could have done it in the name of God. They are doing it in the name of human decency.
It seems that the salt of the earth from our city back-streets – assorted Christians, Muslims, atheists and even Jews – who organized, joined or supported the convoy, have more understanding of compassion and the teachings of Christ than all the learned navel-gazers in the Vatican.
I can find no specific reference to the human tragedy of the Holy Land on the Vatican’s website. The Pope “refrains” from mentioning it even in his New Year’s Message celebrating the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2010.
Nor do I see Christmas greetings to Gazans on the Lambeth Palace website.
When Archbishop Rowan gets home from his historic visit, what will he do? He and 25 of his colleagues sit in the British parliament’s House of Lords. They have clout. But in a quick search through theyworkforyou.com I could find no recent record of these ’super-clerics’ raising questions about Israel’s murderous onslaught, the unending persecution of the Christian and Muslim communities and the unlawful restrictions imposed on the Holy Land generally. No criticism of the British government’s inaction either.
When its leader has seen and heard the awful truth at source, and reported it, what will the Anglican church as a whole then do to begin the process of improving the human condition in the Holy Land and safeguarding its spiritual legacy?
-Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.