Knife into society

by Toine van Teeffelen
Arab Educational Institute, Bethlehem

This Tuesday the mayor of Bethlehem, Anton Salman, was attacked with a knife. He got a deep wound in his right cheek that had to be stitched. It could have been even worse if the knife had landed higher or lower. The attacker was somebody from the Hebron area apparently motivated by revenge, as he did not receive a permit to sell corncobs on the street. After fleeing he was caught by Palestinian police in Hebron. In the evening a public demonstration was held in front of the Church of Nativity to express solidarity with the mayor and his family and protest against the lack of law and order. “An attack on the mayor is an attack on all of us.” In the aftermath people emphasized that decisions are needed, not rhetoric.

Among the issues coming up in the discussions at home and at work are the following.

First, it seems that the police are sometimes reluctant to enforce – or delay enforcing – the law, and arrest lawbreakers. The police are the representatives of the Palestinian National Authority on the street and have a credibility problem due to among other things the ongoing inter-party struggles in Palestinian politics. Due to the overall situation citizens are emotionally on the edge, and an arrest can easily lead to a quarrel or clash. When the municipality decided to regulate the bastaat (sales on the street), such as in the area in front of the Church, the attack took place.

Don’t forget here the broader context of occupation. In area C, over 60% of the West Bank, but also in area B where the Israeli army is supposed to keep law and order, there is actually no law and order agenda – rather the opposite. It is the “Wild East” where settlers supported by the army can make use of Israeli laws and army regulations to instigate a climate of fear and where properties and livelihood are at continuous risk. Palestinian criminals can take refuge there, crimes ranging from aggressive behaviour to chemicals dumping.

Next, there is the general question of how to control and develop public space. The authorities sometimes face insurmountable difficulties. The issue of traffic is a good example. In Bethlehem, like in other Palestinian places, we see from year to year a significant increase in the number of cars. It seems many households have actually two cars, new or old, bought or on a loan. Most car rides do not go beyond the urban conglomeration of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala. Car owners do not have permits to go to neighboring Jerusalem. So it is quite common now to stand in a queue in what was formerly a free road. As everywhere in the world, this increases irritation levels.

But it is extremely difficult for governing bodies in the present situation in the West Bank to identify public space solutions in the cities, and this too affects the credibility of public bodies. Besides the need to preserve the ancient buildings and homes, spatial planning requires a local-regional master plan. However, municipalities or other Palestinian authorities are not able to plan and implement public works near, let alone over the traditional boundaries of town. Tunnels and viaducts are not to be decided by the municipality or the PNA when they are in or next to areas B or C. Nor are there structural budgets for the implementation of larger public works beyond patching holes in assfalt roads. Which means that the Palestinian traffic network and public works in general remain hugely underdeveloped. If they can, Palestinian cars make use of the modern highways between the Israeli settlements and the settlements and Jerusalem.

There is a different factor which further affects the authority of the Palestinian public authorities. Given the fact that the Palestinian political system has been stuck now for quite a number of years, we see that other social structures than official governance bodies are becoming stronger, such as tribalism or expressions of religious identity. After the attack on the mayor, tribal leaders from the Hebron area wanted to come over to Bethlehem to arrange a reconciliation. This was refused, because it would only further weaken existing authority structures.

Largely due to occupation and a stagnant economy, there are huge levels of unemployment, especially under youth (not like in Gaza, but I believe youth unemployment levels here in the West Bank reach 40-50%). At the same time people see that some do actually profit from the occupation – or from international subsidies going to local or international NGOs. This is a criticism often heard. The ‘greed is good’ capitalism is certainly here present too. Many teachers or nurses and others working against low salaries are barely able to take care of their (extended) families. It is logical then that the inequality in economic chances eats into the vitals of society.

Is the situation hopeless? Of course not, but given the lack of any perspective on a just peace, Palestinian society is wounded and under considerable stress. Sumud or steadfastness is still there – in the humour against the odds, in the survival tactics, in the history and memories of social resistance, and in the political awareness as you see it during a public meeting as organized in front of the Church spontaneously after the attack. Still people are struggling to develop values of citizenship, to demand an independent judiciary and executive, create a sense of inclusive national identity, and so on. Yet it is a hard struggle.


Deep concern about Jewish Nation-State Law

By Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

Recent historic events such as the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel as well as the 70 years of “catastrophe” (or Nakba) for the Palestinians of mid-May 2018, have politically put nothing in motion. On the contrary, the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians are deeper than ever. The two communities have been further polarized and their political leaders have not been able to take any initiative at all to find a possible solution to the decades-long conflict. The international community looks at it but does not undertake anything significant. The divisions are structural, fundamental and marked by the occupation of the Palestinian territory for more than 50 years. Moreover, the divisions between the Palestinian factions (Hamas/Gaza and Fatah/West Bank) are further enflamed and politically abused. Recent political developments in Israel make dialogue between Israel and Palestine almost impossible.

Basic Nation State Law

The latest drastic decision is the “Basic Nation State Law” taken by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. That law was adopted by the Knesset 62 in favour, 55 against and 2 abstentions on 19 July 2018. The law defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It has been met with worldwide criticism, including from within the Jewish diaspora.

This new legislation is of great concern and violates democratic principles such as the equality of all citizens. Civil rights should be equal rights. The law fails to provide any constitutional guarantees for the rights of the indigenous and other minorities living in the country. Arabic citizens of Israel, constituting 20%, are flagrantly excluded from the law – such as Arabic/Palestinian Muslims and Christians, Druze, Bedouin residents, etc. We are talking about 1.5 million citizens of Israel who identify themselves as Arab Israeli.

The measure ignores an entire segment of the population as if its members and citizens never existed. It seems non-Jewish people are no longer welcome in Israel. And what then is the position of the many inhabitants in Israel who belong to the Jewish people but do not profess the Jewish religion? The law discriminates among peoples, which means that the dignity of each individual citizen is not respected. The political impact of Jewish religion on Israeli society is more than ever now a reality.

Defining the character of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state weakens the democratic ethos which is supposed to be a key element of Israeli society. The Jewish identity in Israel is increasingly characterised by the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox communities, for whom ethnic and religious pluralism in “their land” is intolerable. That will result in further fragmentation of their society.

Law encourages further settlement building

The Arabic language has been downgraded from a second official language to a language with “a special status”. The law also declares that the State views the development of Jewish settlements as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation of such settlements. This strengthens the hand of settlement groups seeking to seize properties from Palestinians and from Christian church properties as well. The existence and further development of settlements in the Occupied Territories is against international law and in contradiction of all related United Nations resolutions. The further intended construction of Jewish settlements is a bridge too far.

Judaism, Islam and Christianity exist in the Holy Land

What will be the impact of the Basic Law for the other religions, including Islam and Christianity? Together with Judaism these two religions form the profile and identity of the Holy Land. One cannot do without the other. They exist and form one important section of the country that is inspired by these three religions. That means that the Holy Land and all the holy places are part of the three religious traditions and cultures. Jerusalem, as holy and eternal city of the three religions, must be shared. It cannot be the exclusive possession of one faith over against the others, or of one people over against the others. We keep talking of Jerusalem as a city of three religions and two peoples.

Law is exclusive rather than inclusive

The main conclusion is that the Basic Law is rather exclusive than inclusive. It strengthens the institutionalization of racism and dispels hopes of equality. Any state with large minorities ought to recognize the collective rights of minorities and guarantee the preservation of their collective identity, including their religious, ethnic and social traditions. Freedom of religion and religious identity, which are supposed to be guaranteed for all Israeli citizens, is at stake.

Critical opinions are not welcome

In today’s Israel, any criticism of Israeli governmental decisions is labeled as anti-Israeli. Critics are prevented from entering Israel, regardless of their nationality and religion, including Jews. Both Israeli citizens inside the country and Jews and non-Israelis from outside who make critical and constructive remarks against certain measures of this Israeli government are considered anti-Zionist and especially anti-Semitic. We all know someone, a colleague or a friend, who is not allowed to enter the country of Israel because of critical remarks about government policy. This is the tactic of enforcing silence! We all should refuse to surrender the right to speak or fall into the collective complacency of silence. A critical look at political decision-making only benefits the quality of a democracy.

Break the spiral of silence!

As matters now stand, it is the Israeli state that dominates the entire land – exploiting it as its own, and privileging the Israeli Jewish citizens. It seems that Israel does whatever it wants in the West Bank and in Gaza, and they get away with it. Israel no longer even says “sorry” for certain negative impacts of measures taken on Palestinian citizens. Financial support to the Palestinian Authority has been reduced, bringing it dangerously close to bankruptcy. The UNRWA, the UN agency which takes care of the Palestinian refugees, feels the financial crisis. The result is less care and facilities for citizens, in particularly the refugees. The unbearable consequences are that almost no one in Israel, or around the world, lifts a finger or shows sign of even caring.

Without inside and outside pressure allied with fresh thinking, we are unlikely to get any closer towards finding an equitable way to share the land for both Israelis as well as Palestinians.

We all need to keep the struggle high in achieving peace between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people in their independent state, as well as between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world. There is no real choice or alternative for the State of Israel to reach peace with Palestinians and its broader neighbourhood as to integrate into the geographical and political region in which it is located. The mission continues!


Emotions dominate people and world events

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Besides being a century of migration and globalisation, our 21st century has also become a century of nationalism and of a renewed search for identity. The ideological battle of the 20th century and of the Cold War especially (1945-1989) has become an identity battle. We live in a time in which we carry out our “identity”, both as an individual and as a nation. We demand the right to be unique, to be different. Some are even prepared to “battle” in order to make others acknowledge them in their existence.


Emotions or passions are part of our human feelings. One needs a certain passion in order to come across convincingly. All of us are driven by emotions, but because these differ in most cases – at times are even opposed to each other – these divide us rather than unite us. And by definition our emotions are selective since they are mostly subjective. Some selective emotions, for instance the extreme egoism of my own country first (America First or Mother Russia First), are more dangerous to the world than universal cynicism and the complete absence of emotions. By nature, emotions are variable and diverse and at times even contradictory. But that one emotion that has been driving us the last couple of years is fear, in various forms. Some speak of an actual culture of fear.

We cannot understand the world in which we live without taking the role of feelings in world geopolitics into account. It is important to put our emotions into perspective in order to rise above them and not to get hung up on them, but mostly to just understand the “other”. The message therefore is to put feelings into perspective so as not to be dominated by them. Emotions reflect the level of confidence of a society. And it is that measure of confidence that determines whether a society is able to recover from crises, whether it can take up challenges and whether it can conform to changing circumstances.


Primarily, there are three types of emotions: fear, hope and humiliation. Obviously, there are other emotions too, like anger, indignation, hate, pain, sorrow, love, honour or solidarity. The emotions fear, hope and humiliation are, however, most applicable to the concept of trust between people as well as between peoples/nations. One of the main causes of rivalry, distrust and “own people/nation first”-thoughts is a lack of trust. It is like a downward spiral and this can lead to possible (armed) conflicts. Trust is as important to nations and civilisations as it is to individuals. Trust is a significant indicator of the (healthy) state of our world. This is why, in politics too, we speak of taking “confidence-building measures” in order to mitigate or resolve areas of tension or conflict in, for instance, the Ukraine or with North Korea.

Identity is closely related to trust, and trust (or lack thereof) is expressed in emotions – especially in feelings of fear, hope and humiliation.


Throughout the years, fear has deepened, expanded and diversified. When people(s) feel humiliated, fear lashes out. It is an emotional reaction to potential danger or insecurity. Sometimes people are afraid because they do not know what to expect. By a constant focus in our society on problems related to migration and security, a culture of fear is being created. There is a fear of the other, of foreigners who pour into our countries, who threaten our identity and steal our jobs. There is a fear of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction; of economic insecurity or collapse. There is a fear of disease and natural catastrophes. It concerns fear of the unknown and of a threatening future, on which humankind can exert little or no influence. Such fears are found worldwide and have globalised through, among others, the relocation of activities abroad, job loss and “unfair” instead of “free” trade. Although one should treat (feelings of) fear seriously, they should also be put into perspective. Fear can give way to hope.


Hope is an expression of confidence and is based on the belief that the situation today is better than that of yesterday and that tomorrow it will be better than today.

There is a spiritual conception of hope: the belief in the redemption of human beings through the liberation from sin. People cannot continue without hope. In a way, we all share the calling to be “givers of hope” to one another. Give hope. Encourage each other and try to be ahead of despair, or to at least make room for despair in life. Hope is central to our Christian culture, just like belief and love.

In the secular sense of the word, hope represents the belief in one’s own identity, in one’s ability to be interactive with the world in a positive way. Hope is the opposite of resignation or surrender; rather it is a form of confidence that encourages us to come close to other people, to accept their differences from us without fear.


Humiliation is powerlessness. Humiliation is the injured confidence of those who have lost their hope for the future. We often consider our lack of hope to be caused by others, as those who have treated us badly in the past. One experiences humiliation when one is not in control over one’s own life, whether as an individual or as a people/nation. The feeling is that someone else completely dominates you and has made you dependant. You have lost power and control over the present and especially over the future. The feeling of humiliation is present in all cultures and civilisations. Humiliation itself is quite useless and we shall try to turn it into hope, else it leads to despair and to having feelings of hate or revenge, which can easily turn into a desire to destroy.


With the end of the Cold War in November 1989 (the fall of the Berlin Wall – the beginning of a culture of hope) came the breakthrough of the phenomenon of globalisation. Globalisation is a dynamic process, consisting among others in the integration of markets, nation-states and technologies. It enables individuals, societies and nations to act quicker than ever in order to “command” the world. In the period of globalisation, the relationship with the other has become more fundamental than ever. We live in uncertain times and the first one we look upon negatively is the other, he or she that comes from far away, mostly from the South. That insecurity begins with fear for the other.

Israel and Palestine

How are two peoples with different emotional “landscapes” to be reconciled? The exodus of a large number of Jewish people to Palestine was like a miracle of rebirth, a new home. That same event is called the “Nakba” by the Palestinians and for them is a synonym for a disastrous defeat and repression. Driven from their homes!

Israelis consider their state to be legitimate and a necessary manifestation of their existence as a nation. The Palestinians, just as the Arabs, experienced it as an anachronistic display of Western imperialism. This clash of two peoples is related to humiliation and fear. An absolute and unique tragedy, such as the Shoah, gave birth to a nation; and a different people has been crushed and repressed by a victim that has largely grown blind to the suffering of others. This tragic and lasting confrontation is an especially emotional event that impacts our global society.

Israel’s central and “emotional” location, in the midst of the Arab and Muslim world, has led Arabs to experience the existence of the state Israel as “stolen territory”. What a humiliation! Arabs consider this territory to be their own land, including Jerusalem and its Dome of the Rock, one of the three most holy places of Islam.

The only real solution to the conflict is that all parties recognise both the state of Israel and a to-be-built state of Palestine as full, equal and with hope for the future. It remains problematic and a reason for further conflict to continue humiliating both peoples by not or inadequately recognising them.

If there is one large community that has been humiliated during many years, it is the Arab population — especially after the subdivision of the Ottoman Empire into British and French mandates about a hundred years ago and especially through the post-1945 politics of the USA that have been characterised by political interventions and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other things. The West has humiliated the Arab world.

On the other hand, the Arab community itself should set things right by reworking the differences between Sunnis and Shiites into a workable and constructive tension which enables all people and all communities to enjoy their basic rights. It is not an option to continue humiliating, or even destroying, each other!

In conclusion

Ignorance and intolerance go hand in hand. Peace and reconciliation are only possible for people and communities that know and accept one another. Recognise each other’s existence! Despite the fact that we live in an age of information, we do not understand other people or different communities any better than we did in the past, rather the opposite seems to be true.

It seems that in our complex world, cultures, nations and even individuals are getting more and more obsessed by their own identities. This obsession can only further increase the significance of emotions in international relations. But perhaps everything first starts with self-knowledge. Only people and communities that are at peace with themselves, that know who they are and what they represent, can come to terms with others.

* Photo courtesy of National Public Radio at

Seventy years of tension between Israel and Palestine: Moving from commemoration to a just solution

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

NOTE: This article is a personal opinion by the author. It is not written in the name of Pax Christi International.

In this year, we mark 70 years since (1) the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR);[2] since (2) the establishment of Israel; and (3) then the tragic events that Palestinians call the “Nakba” – all of which occurred in 1948.

The State of Israel is unique in being the only country in the world with a Jewish majority. Some 75% of its 8.7 million people are Jewish; the rest are mostly Palestinian Arabs – predominantly Sunni Muslim but also Christians and Druze – whose presence pre-date the 1948 creation of Israel.

Dates deep in the memory of the two peoples

On 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion[3] proclaimed the independent State of Israel, a joyous fact that is celebrated every year. For the Palestinians, however, the catastrophe, the Nakba, began. It meant for them the expulsion of their people, in which 440 Palestinian villages were destroyed and more than 700,000 Palestinians had to flee. To this day, many Palestinian refugees still have the keys to the houses from which they have been expelled. They too commemorate this day every year, with flags and keys, in the hope that they can ever return. The commemoration takes place one day later: on 15 May. On 15 May 2018 it is 70 years ago that the Palestinians were expelled from their homes.

The idea of a Jewish homeland, prompted by anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia and Central and Eastern Europe, was first popularised by the Budapest-born Theodor Herzl,[4] elected as president of the First Zionist[5] Congress in 1897 in Basel. In 1904, he declared “Greet Palestine for me. I gave my heart’s blood for my people.”

After the First World War, Great Britain took control of Palestine. This control was formalized in 1923, when the League of Nations issued a mandate for the British to rule in the southern part of what has been Ottoman Syria.[6] The British Mandate for Palestine created two temporary protectorates, both set to expire on 14 May 1948. One protectorate was in Palestine, an attempt to fulfil the promise of the U.K. foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour in 1917 to support the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”[7] A second protectorate was in Transjordan, and was governed semi autonomously.

A period of growing unrest followed. Jews continued to settle in Palestine even as Palestinian Arabs demanded an independent state. The situation erupted in sporadic violence, with Arabs rioting against Jewish settlers and Zionists resisting – sometimes violently – the efforts of the British government to limit Jewish immigration. Once the horrors of the Shoah – the Holocaust[8] became known, Britain’s policy of resisting immigration of Jewish refugees into Palestine met with wide-scale revolt. Dissident Zionist forces carried out attacks on British forces and officials.

Partition plan for Palestine

Britain turned the problem over the newly created United Nations that developed a plan to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem under Nations Nations control.[9] The UN General Assembly, at that time 57 countries, voted resolution 181 of 28 November 1947 in which the partition of Palestine speaks about an independent Jewish state (55% of the land) and an independent Arab state (44%), with Jerusalem (1%) under an international trusteeship. That resolution states also that Jerusalem should be the double capital for Israel (West) and of an Arab / Palestinian state (East) and it will be the Eternal City for the three monotheistic religions, with free access for all believers to the religious places in the Old City.

The Arab League denounced the plan also in the name of Palestinian Arabs. On the day the mandate was set to expire – 14 May 1948 – David Ben-Gurion, the executive head of the World Zionist Organisation and president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, unilaterally declared “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” [10]

On 15 May 1948, the neighbouring Arab states (Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, and Iraq) attacked the Israeli. It took a year before a cease-fire could be established. Jordan annexed the West Bank, including East-Jerusalem. Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. During the lull, Israel sought and won admission to the United Nations. Significant numbers of states refused to acknowledge its right to exist. Today, more than 30 United Nations member states refuse to recognise the State of Israel.

Some 700.000 Palestinians either fled or were driven out to become refugees in the surrounding countries. 35% of the number of refugees in 1948 have been Christian. The Arab-Israeli war resulted also in the departure for Israel of some 700.000 Jews over a period of three years from Arab countries, such as Iraq; where their families have been resident for centuries.

Both peoples exist!

Israel and its legitimate security needs are recognised beginning with the state’s emergence of 1948, in UN guarantees for its existence, in the right to protect its people under international law, and in guarantees for the territorial integrity of all nations in the area including Israel. Palestinians have the right of self-determination; their duly elected governmental authorities must be recognised. Palestine should be recognised as an independent state. About 163 states have recognised Palestine as an independent state.[11]

70 years of Palestinian refugees

A serious remaining problem, also 70 years old, is the situation of the Palestinian refugees[12] – 3 or 4 generations long! Their condition represents the most protracted refugee situation in the world; things seem to be getting tougher by the day. Prospects for a fair and lasting solution to their plight appear as remote as ever.

They all live in about 60 camps (in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Jordan, in Syria and in Lebanon). Many refugees left the region and live since then in the USA, Europe, Central and South America, Australia and Canada. Many of them, also in the diaspora, keep calling for a “right of return”. The refugee problem is one big break between Israel and Palestine. Every peace proposal is stranded on this separation of thoughts. Apparently insurmountable. A permanent solution for these people is urgently needed.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA)[13]  began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees.[14] It would only function temporarily. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services. The majority of Palestine refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory and from Syria rely on UNRWA to provide aid that is literally lifesaving, including food, water, shelter and medical assistance.

Inside Syria, UNRWA[15] is reaching over 400,000 Palestine refugees with cash assistance, one of the largest such programmes in an active conflict setting anywhere in the world. Despite the immense security challenges, UNRWA is providing education to over 47,000 Palestine refugees, supplementing regular classes with psychosocial support and safety-awareness training. For those unable to reach the classrooms, UNRWA has developed distance-learning materials.

UNRWA is facing calls for its dismantlement as well as the USA administration’s decision to contribute much less of the planned contribution. The impact of UNRWA not being able to provide its services to an already vulnerable and marginalised population would be catastrophic for the refugees, and for the stability of their host countries and the region as a whole. The UN General Assembly keeps supporting the UNRWA and continues to call for financial support. The refugees’ living conditions need to be improved!

Lessons learned

The British Mandate in Palestine ended in May 1948, before the territory could be peacefully divided, leading to a unilateral declaration of independence by Israel and unresolved conflict in the region. One of the lessons that can be drawn from this history is that the British mandate did not have a clear plan to govern the area. Palestine ended up in a large legal and political gap, a territory in which the chain of sovereignty had been broken. The newly established United Nations had no control over the events. Another lesson is the fact that what was conveniently overlooked at the time was the near-impossibility of reconciling a national home for the Jewish people (which Zionists saw as their future state) with the rights of the existing Arab population of what was then called Palestine.

The conclusion is that one of the characteristics of Israel is of being in a state of actual or threatened war ever since the proclamation of the country by David Ben-Gurion. It became since then a burning sense of injustice for Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular (the Palestinians refer to the 1948 creation of Israel as “al-nakba” – the catastrophe).[16]


Today, the peace process seems all but dead. A new peace process has to be put on the tracks. The United Nations and possibly silent diplomacy by a number of third countries must take initiative.

A just solution begins with the recognition of both Israel and Palestine as two independent states and Jerusalem as their capital city and as the Holy City for the three monotheistic religions. That includes of course the end of the more than 50 years of occupation and the beginning of a real peace process respecting all the basic rights of the two peoples, including security.

Peace in Israel and Palestine is inseparable from international peace. The conflict affects stability and security in the Middle East and in other regions.



Women and Peacemaking

Palestinian women haunted by abuse in Israeli jails

‘Sometimes they feel shame, even though we know that they are our enemy and they do this to break us,’ said one former woman prisoner

by Chloé Benoist for Middle East Eye

BETHLEHEM, West Bank – “I remember he brought his chair closer, opened his legs and sat very close to me. It was something ugly for me. It made me feel that he was trying to attack my body,” Khawla al-Azraq said, as she recalled the physical intimidation tactics and sexual harassment used by Israeli interrogators when she was only a teenager.

Decades later, al-Azraq, who is now 54, still shudders at the memory of Israeli interrogators brushing their hands across her legs to sexually intimidate her.

“They would sit in a way to be very close to us, to touch our bodies. I remember it was terrible for me at that age,” she said.

Al-Azraq is a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council. Since the age of 14, she has been arrested by Israeli forces four times for her involvement with Fatah and taking part in protests against the Israeli occupation. When she was only 18, she was sentenced to three years in prison.


“The torture, ill treatment, and degrading treatment start from the first moment of the arrest,” said Sahar Francis, director of Addameer, a Palestinian prisoners’ rights group…

Read the entire article by clicking here.


What does the future look like for Christians who live in the Holy Land?

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Read a version of this article in Dutch by clicking here.

In the Holy Land, there are several Christian churches, communities, religious congregations, organisations and various local parish communities. They exist, are present and active in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories. Great disillusionment and even fear is increasing among the Christians in the Holy Land, especially for Christian Palestinians. Many of them live between fear and hope.

What is the future for Christians in the Holy Land? What is or will be decisive for the coming generation: fear and despair or hope with perspectives for a normal life?

This article[1] tries to understand and analyse the current situation of Christians in the Holy Land. I try to look at these realities from a political as well as from a spiritual point of view.

People live in fear because of the inhuman reality on the ground and the possible outbreak of more violence. There is anxiety because of recent confrontational statements from U.S. President Trump, among others. There is concern because of a lack of perspective and a future for the younger generations. There is frustration since more and more “living stones” – local Christians – are emigrating from the Holy Land. And there is distress also because religious sites are becoming more museums instead of inspiring places to nurture and deepen faith.

Yet many continue to believe in a new future and that the prospect of solutions to the problems is feasible. They draw that hope from their Christian faith that says that life is stronger than misery or death. That hope keeps them struggling for a better life. It is called “Sumud”, meaning steadfastness.[2] Living with hope and faith of the birth at Christmas of the Prince of Peace, Christ as the Incarnation of God, peace on earth! A strong belief exists also in the resurrection of Christ saying that death does not have the last word.

Come and see

Many Christians from abroad who come to the religious sites as pilgrims or tourists will observe the current situation from a distance, although some of them do express their concern about what they are seeing. The Biblical notion of “come and see” is essential in trying to understand the ongoing situation in the Holy Land. To be present is already an act of solidarity.

You cannot visit the holy places in the Holy Land without seeing the context and wanting to know the situations in which the local populations live. Once you have seen the reality you will not get away from it. You want to make your own contribution to help improve the situation of the local population. Pax Christi International keeps calling its membership to visit the Holy Land and learn about the ongoing realities on the ground.

Staying or leaving?

Nevertheless, for the local residents and especially the Christians who were born and raised in Israel and Palestine and who really want to stay in their homeland, the recent developments in the political debate are particularly disappointing, even alarming. They must undergo much outside of their will. Locals have nothing to say about their own future. At best, solutions are imposed without input from the local population. They feel neglected. Are they strangers in their own land? They experience themselves as not existing!

People are living permanently in a dilemma: shall I stay or shall I leave my homeland? Education is of high quality. A basic problem is the lack of work opportunities. Many (young) people do emigrate. It is hard leaving your family and friends behind. Is the future abroad much better? Christians have been receiving more publicity – sadly often only because of the community’s worryingly high levels of emigration.[3]

Those who decide to stay have a strong faith and conviction. Their faith keeps them hoping for a better future. Although that faith is becoming very fragile. Therefore, community formation is of great importance here. Churches and communities or parishes play a very important role in bringing together believers to meet each other, to deepen their faith together, to support each other and to help each other. That mutual bond is of particular importance – not the least within minority communities.

Series of tragic historical events

This year it is exactly 70 years since the war broke out between Arab countries and the newly created country of Israel. The local population as well as the international community has been reminded repeatedly about the many tragic “anniversaries” of events that happened in the past and in the present. I mention a couple of them:

  • The Sykes – Picot Agreement[4] of 1916;
  • The Balfour Declaration[5] of 2 November 1917 (the promise to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine – a “national home for the Jewish people”);
  • The May 1948 declaration of the State of Israel, the Arab-Israeli war[6] and 70 years of Nakba in 2018,[7] the Palestinian exodus or “disaster”;
  • The Six Day War[8] in 1967 and the beginning of the occupation of the Palestinian territories[9] since then (East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza).
  • The de facto end of the Oslo Agreements of 1993.[10]

There is simply no peace process

Right now there seems no prospect of improvement in the relationship between Israel and Palestine at all. On the contrary, polarisation is on the increase and division is holding back the power. No initiatives are being taken to re-trace the peace process between the two peoples. The international community carries a great responsibility by allowing the conflict to muddle further. It seems that political leaders worldwide hear-nothing, see-nothing and do-nothing about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Why such a big passivity? Making statements from a distance – as the EU is doing – makes not enough difference on the ground.

A main blockage is the mainstream thinking in Israeli public opinion. It seems that no Israeli politician will ever make a deal with the Palestinians. The majority of Israeli politicians do not believe that there is any possible deal that can be put before the Israeli public without further fracturing the society and punishing the party and the politician responsible. The knowledge that no Israeli politician will support negotiations has become part of the framework of the problem. Creativity and political will are very absent. They prefer to do nothing. Challenging statements and provocative decisions continue to stir the mood.

There is an urgent need for a deliberate and decisive process to bring the two parties together and come to a negotiated solution, in full respect, as two equals. The peace process should be about freedom for everyone. I believe that it is up to the United Nations to act as a mediator and, above all, as a trigger for a process leading to an acceptable community solution for both peoples and for all populations, majorities and minorities. It is clear that the USA alone cannot play that role. Palestinian leadership has recently made it clear that the USA is no longer a credible mediator to lead the peace process.[11]

Following President Trump’s statement of 6 December 2017[12] to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and thus recognise the city as the capital of Israel, Pax Christi International responded with a statement referring to resolution 181 of 28 November 1947. That resolution states that Jerusalem should be the double capital for Israel (West) and of an Arab/Palestinian state (East) and it will be the Eternal City for the three monotheistic religions, with free access for all believers to the religious places in the Old City.[13] If the USA and other countries move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognise that city as the capital of Israel (West) without mentioning the notion of having also Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital (East), it is another historical tragedy. Pax Christi International repeatedly stated that the city of Jerusalem should be an international city – a common capital – the headquarters of all things international and one where peace will find a well for the entire world to draw from.[14]

Keep the two state solution on the political agenda

Resolution 181 has never been implemented! Nevertheless, the resolution as well as most of the position statements of international players in the conflict between Israel/Palestine, not at least the UN and the EU, still keeps the two state solution as an option. With the further construction of (Jewish) settlements on the West Bank, the realisation of a Palestinian state has become an impossible matter.

I realize that this concept of two states is discussed a lot, for and against, and that the possible two states solution is under pressure and perhaps de facto no longer feasible. However, it is the only political proposal and the only basis for building politics on.

The Holy See has recognised both Israel and Palestine as two independent states and has been advocating repeatedly for getting that vision realised. For instance, the latest speech of Pope Francis to the Diplomatic Corps on 8 January 2018 clearly refers to that policy to be realised. The Pope said: “The Holy See, while expressing sorrow for the loss of life in recent clashes, renews its pressing appeal that every initiative be carefully weighed so as to avoid exacerbating hostilities, and calls for a common commitment to respect, in conformity with the relevant United Nations Resolutions, the status quo of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims. Seventy years of confrontation make more urgent than ever the need for a political solution that allows the presence in the region of two independent states within internationally recognised borders. Despite the difficulties, a willingness to engage in dialogue and to resume negotiations remains the clearest way to achieving at last a peaceful coexistence between the two peoples.”[15]

Keep status quo of Jerusalem

The status quo of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims, means that all the religious sites should be open and accessible for all believers. Jews should be able to pray at the Wailing Wall. Palestinian Christians are routinely prohibited from traveling to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, where the church commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection from the dead. Whilst Palestinian Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza strip are prevented from traveling to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The old city, which is holy for Jews, Christians and Muslims, should be an “open city”.[16]

Christians are a minority both in Israel as in Palestine. They have always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land. The tendency is to make Christians invisible in the region. Various sides want to claim the Holy Land as the exclusive possession of only one people. No party should ever be able to make an exclusive claim over a holy place – not at least over the holy city of Jerusalem.

Christians should be full citizens in Israel and in Palestine

The presence of Christians in the Holy Land remains crucial. They are part of the “mother church”. Christianity is born in the Holy Land. Christianity exists! Existence relates to numbers and figures. The overall tendency is that the number of Christians is rapidly decreasing and declining at an alarming rate.[17] The outside world believes that there are only Israelis (Jews) and Palestinians (Arabs) in the Holy Land. However, the reality is that there are also Christians present, Palestinian Christians most of them, Arabs indeed.

Presence relates to Christians’ role, activities and integration within their societies and with their fellow citizens facing the same destiny, namely living together in justice and peace. The Christian presence in both Israel and Palestine is significant because of its contribution to society, particularly in its service of education, health and relief work and in its evangelical language of love, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Therefore, Christians consider themselves as an indispensable part of society and call for full citizenship in Israel and in Palestine on the basis that they are not an island or a minority even if they are small in numbers. A Christian belongs to his people, to his country and to his society. They are not a group of people somewhere living apart in isolation. A visible tendency among Christians in the region is the isolation of Christians in their own neighbourhoods, institutions and clubs. The aim should be to establish a kind of secular society, in which all citizens are equal and not discriminated against because of their religion or ethnicity.  A religion cannot impose a model of society on the population. Religions can and must be sources for inspiration and meaning within a secular society.

Fragmented but unified within Christianity

The Christian community in the Holy Land is very mixed and fragmented.  Christianity as one of the three monotheistic religions is the general denominator. However, based on that concept, there are incredibly many different traditions, churches and communities.[18]

What are the present and the future of Christians in Israel and in Palestine? H.B. Michel Sabbah, Patriarch emeritus of Jerusalem and former President of Pax Christi International, has given a detailed address at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem about the identity of Christians in the region, 19/20 January 2015.[19] Patriarch Sabbah believes that Christians have a mission to love and contribute to the general human building of a fraternal society in the context of other faiths and different peoples.

In the Occupied Territories (East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza), Christians are under military occupation, dominated by a regime of checkpoints and other difficulties of daily life. All legitimate measures should be taken to put an end to this occupation and to attain independence and freedom. The ongoing occupation is a main source of conflict. This is structural violence because it systematically degrades all Palestinians, restricts their movement, confiscates land, devastates the economy and violates the basic rights, including the very basic right to a decent life.

Inside Israel, Christians are citizens. All migrants and all Arab citizens living in Israel – Muslim, Christian and Druze – are subject to second-class status, discrimination and marginalisation. They have duties and should have the rights of citizens. They are demanding equality and an end to all discrimination. Christians living in Israel, also tend to prefer emigration to other countries where Christian communities are more strongly present.

One of the main drives of most of the faithful of all the churches and religious communities is that they expect from their leadership to speak out for justice and to advocate for their rights. It is their duty to raise their voice not in the least in favour for the poor and the weakest. Christians and their leaders have to be on the side of the poor and the oppressed. Christians have a role to play in looking at the political realities from a critical distance but at the same time to be prophetic and speak out in favour of the common good of all the citizens in both countries.

Being part of the society means that Christians also have to care for all those who suffer around them, whatever their nationality or religion might be. “Divide and rule” is not their mission! They express solidarity and will unite people instead of divide. Christians engage in civil society bringing to it a discourse that focuses on basic human values like justice, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation as well as demanding the fostering of a civil society in which basic belonging is based upon citizenship rather than on religious, denominational or ethnic identity. Being human comes first. Religious or ethnic differences come next. Be pro-humanity!

Christians and “all people of good will” who remain to stay or wants to stay in the Holy Land need more international support and solidarity and especially help them creating a strong conviction, hope and faith to keep going and help to create “peace on earth.”


[1] This article is a personal opinion by the author. It is not written in the name of Pax Christi International.














[15] Pope Francis at the Udienza al Corpo Diplomatico accreditato presso la Santa Sede per la presentazione degli auguri per il nuovo anno, 08.01.2018.