August 30, 2010

Interview With Archbishop Theodosios (Atallah) Hanna On Orthodoxy In Contemporary Israel

July 23, 2010

“Those who use the Bible to support Israel need to differentiate between God's promise and the Balfour promise, because the occupation is the result of a promise given to the Israelis by Lord Balfour and not by God.” - Archbishop Theodosios

Elias Harb: Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel has claimed in various publications that Jews, Christians and Muslims are able to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem and that only under Israeli sovereignty had freedom of worship for all religions been assured in the city. How do you respond to that?

Archbishop Theodosios: The facts on the ground say exactly the opposite, as more and more Muslims and Christians are having great difficulties in entering the city. We see thousands are denied the entry to their holiest sites. The Israeli authorities are even preventing the Arab Jerusalemites from entering the Holy Sepulchre and the Aqsa Mosque on major religious feasts. It is very apparent that the Israelis want Jerusalem to themselves and they do not want to share it with others. It is a big pity that the city of peace, which symbolizes brotherhood and love, to be transformed into a symbol of hatred and division because of Israeli actions.

EH: How has the Israeli Occupation affected Palestinians living in the West Bank and their right to worship and visit the Holy Places in Jerusalem? What is the importance of Jerusalem to the Palestinians? Could there be a State for the Palestinians without Jerusalem as its capital? How have Israel development projects changed the features of the Holy Land?

AT: Let me be clear on this subject, there will be no Palestine without Jerusalem as its capital. It is ridiculous 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 a outsider is by itself a racist action.

EH: Many people around are unaware of the dwindling Christian population in the Holy Land. How critical is this situation and what will happen to the future of Christianity in the Holy Land?

AT: First of all, I should stress on the fact that the Christian Palestinians were here since Jesus times, where in the Books of Acts in the Bible it was mentioned that there were Arabs listening to the Apostles in Jerusalem. Christian Arabs had and still have a big effect in the development of the Arab societies in the Middle East. We are not visitors or strangers to Palestine. Our history is deeply rooted in this area of the world. On the other hand, our numbers are dwindling due to the occupation and the bitter reality it is causing. But we are not afraid that Christians will disappear from Palestine, because there will be always Christians in Palestine to continue the message of Jesus Christ.

EH: Mainline Evangelical Christians in the U.S. and western countries believe that the emergence of the State of Israel is promised by God. They support Israel financially. What is the Orthodox Church’s position on this matter?

AT: 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.

I am 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 all its forms and rationalizations.

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.

EH: Israel has built the Separation Wall and claims it is for security purposes, how do you respond to that? Also how has the Separation Wall affected the daily lives of Palestinians? Israel has created many facts on the ground in the occupied territories; do you believe a two state solution to the Palestine/Israeli conflict is still possible?

AT: First of all, I want to stress on the fact that the wall is illegal, even the highest court system in the world declared that it is illegal, thus our duty as humans is that we have an obligation towards our brethren to dismantle this rascist wall. The purpose of this wall is simply to cut Palestinians from their neighbors, family and land. A proof of that is the inhuman checkpoints, where if a person who wants to visit his/her relative in Jerusalem, is not allowed to enter, and if by some miracle he got permission, he has to pass these awful checkpoints where he is treated in a very humiliating way. I do not think security reasons have to do anything with it, especially since 62% of the wall is done. It is just an excuse to take more land illegally and separate Palestinians from each other.

EH: Israeli and the Western press is demanding that Hamas release Gilad Shalat, yet hardly anyone mentions the thousands of Palestinians held as political prisoners? Can you tell briefly the situation of Palestinian political prisoners?

AT: There are about 11,000 political prisoners in Israeli jails, a quarter of the Palestinian people at some point or another were in prison since 1967. This is a big number. It is sad that the international media does not bring it to light. These are people who fought for a just and right cause, and at the same time they are treated in the most inhuman ways a person can imagine. The duty of every free person in the world who believes in human rights, and who believes that all humans were born equal to stand beside them.

Not to mention the biggest prison in the world is the Gaza Strip. There are a million and a half living in Gaza. We pray and ask every free person in the world to work for the release of the people in Gaza.

EH: On May 31, Israeli commandos attacked the Gaza Freedom Flotilla killing 9 humanitarian activists, wounding over 50 and 17 activists are still missing. Can you share your thoughts on this recent attack?

AT: It is a very sad incident that we will never forget. The brutality of the Israeli forces is expected. Whenever people try to show the dark side of the Israeli Occupation and situation in Gaza, they try to shut their voices down. Our condolences and thanks for the Turkish government and people who stood a very brave stand toward our people.

The flotilla included several people from different nationalities and religions confirming that there are still people who believe in the values of justice and peace.

EH: For the past 62 years, Palestinians who were expelled from Palestine, have been living in refugee Camps in Gaza, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria waiting for the right to return to their homeland. What message of hope, would you give to these refugee’s.

AT: I say to all the Palestinian refugees they should still not give up their right of return. It is a right that could not be cancelled by time. It is a human right because every Palestinian refugee should return to his/her home.

Do not lose hope because our cause is a just one and the person who was wronged in a way or another should not be desperate, but we should still claim our rights where we hope that one day it will be soon “Enshaala” (God Willing) that every Palestinian could return to his/her home.

Elias Harb: Thank you Sayidna (Your Eminence).

See also the recent story: Israel Razes Christian Ancient Site in Occuppied Jerusalem


Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna Appeals to Churches Worldwide to Prevent Israeli Decimation of Historic Christian Sites

Dear Elie Wiesel: My Response to Elie’s “Musings” on Jerusalem