George A. Sprecace M.D.,
J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New
ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
Israelis and Palestinians: Win Together or Lose Together
Caritas General-Secretary in Jerusalem on Christians in Jesus' Land
ROME, DEC. 2, 2011 (Zenit.org).- According to Claudette Habesch, the
general-secretary in Jerusalem, the problems of the Holy Land are
land-related, not religious. But Israelis and Palestinians face the
choice: There is no victory for one people and defeat for the other,
We either win together, Israelis and Palestinians, or we lose together.
Habesch spoke with Mark Riedemann for Where God Weeps in cooperation
to the Church in Need about the situation in the Holy Land, and
the plight of Palestinian Christians.
Q: The Holy Land is the place where the Prince of Peace walked. Despite
peace has yet to come, and terrible divisions continue to divide the
of Palestinians and Jews …
Habesch: Well, maybe my first comment would be the real issue is not
Palestinians and Jews. It is Palestinians and Israelis, and that is a
difference for us. Our problem is not a religious problem. It is not
Palestinians versus Jews. It is a political problem, a problem of land
Q: You are a Roman Catholic Palestinian. You were a child refugee. Can
us a little bit about your story?
Habesch: When I was very young I was made a refugee. I lost my home, I
bed, I lost my thoughts. My parents took us for safety to our winter
Jericho and we never came back. As a child the real problem for me was
could not understand why I could not get back to my home, why I could
my clothes and my toys ...
Q: Did this childhood experience engender bitterness or anger?
Habesch: No, because I was brought up in a family that made sure that
happy children. I have great admiration for my parents. I do not think
bitterness. Because my parents made sure we got the best education, we
best family home. But I really wanted to see my family home again. I
hope that justice will come one day. Unfortunately it is more than 60
and justice has not been done.
Q: So you can forgive, but you cannot forget?
Habesch: Exactly, I do forgive. But, I cannot forget. I say I cannot
because I do not want to forget. I believe I have a right and justice
restored. Thank God that I am a mother. My daughter lives some six
from my home. It is in Jerusalem, but there is the famous checkpoint
call the Checkpoint of Humiliation, the Kalandia checkpoint. Coming
her home to my home, it sometimes takes three hours to travel six
when I look in the face of those young soldiers who are manning the
checkpoints, when they scream at you, I look at them and I forgive,
am a mother. And I think, my God if this is victory please God do not
to my children. I would not want to see my children in the place of
Q: It is always like this?
Habesch: Yes, for example, when I travel through the Ben-Gurion
Airport -- and I do agree about security we need security for all of
need it for the Israelis, but also we need security for the
Palestinians -- at
the airport under the banner of security our bags go through the
is acceptable to me, but then automatically because I am Palestinian I
to go to another checkpoint, which takes a good one or two hours
check every single thing in your bags. After they check your bags, they
you to a special room where they ask you to take off your shoes, to
your jacket. Even this is ok. But sometimes the way they search you is
right … it seems that they are trying to find a bomb under my skin. For
example, when you wear pants, if there is a zipper, the alarm rings.
off your pants. Sometimes they ask you to strip completely. Do you know
humiliating this is when it is a girl who is the age of your chil
dren, or maybe younger?
Q: I want to address a little bit the situation of the Christians,
have the impression that the Christians are caught between two stools:
side the nationalist Jewish parties and on the other an increasingly
fundamentalist Islam. Would you agree with this assessment?
Habesch: This is a very interesting question. Why do you presuppose
Christians are discriminated, or persecuted? You are not the first one
me this question, and many journalists do the same. I am a Palestinian
Christian Arab. This is who I am. And whatever befalls the Palestinian
is the same for me. There is no difference. But, do I look as if I am
persecuted; do I look as if I am afraid? If I were afraid, I would not
sitting here and talking to you. The fact is that we are not
have access to the same rights as everybody, all the other Palestinians.
Q: But why then are so many people leaving the country?
Habesch: Yes, there is emigration, and unfortunately the ones
young people ... and they are middle class. Christians emigrate, but
Muslims emigrate, but, because we are so few in number today, it is
obvious when we leave -- we leave a void.
Q: I would imagine that young Christians are leaving because they see
their children, their future looks pretty bleak.
Habesch: The future looks a bit bleak for all of us Palestinian people,
wonder if the international community is really interested in bringing
this land. This is why they leave, not because of other issues. I have
children; the three of them studied in the United States, they
graduated with honors,
they could have succeeded in the United States. They chose to come back
Jerusalem. They are Jerusalemites. They care. They care about their
and you know they could have stayed in the United States and they would
had a much easier life. But, I believe that as Christians from the
Church, it is a privilege to live in Jerusalem. It is the most
in the world. But, it carries a lot of weight, a lot of responsibility.
not want Jerusalem to become a museum. This is why we stay.
Q: What roles do Christians play between the Jewish and the Palestinian
Habesch: Christians play a role. Because I am part of this people, a
Palestinian Christian, but also because of my belief of tolerance, of
forgiveness, and hopefully reconciliation, I think we have a message --
role is to give hope.
Q: Ultimately you are hopeful for the future?
Habesch: My belief, my faith does not allow me not to hope. Yes,
see people have lost hope. They are desperate. You see it drawn on
But, thank God, I have never lost that hope, and this is why I stay.
why I do the work I do -- to accompany those who need to be
my faith, I believe that this is possible, and don't forget that this
Land of Peace. This is where it all started, the message of peace.
started this message of peace, but I also remember that Jesus cried
Q: The first tears…
Habesch: Yes, you know our Patriarch always said: This is the Church of
Calvary. It is true we are the Church of the Calvary, but do not forget
the Church of the Resurrection, we are the Church of the victory of
death, we are the victory of hope over desperation. So, definitely we
we will continue our mission and peace is possible, but, we need you to
us. We need the international community to realize that alone we cannot
peace; we need the United Nations to implement the resolutions. We need
respect for the Geneva Convention; we need to have respect of
law. We need to have respect for human rights.
Q: Even Jesus needed Simon to carry the Cross.
Habesch: Yes, and we need you. We need all of you. We need the
community to step in and help these two peoples to recognize one
respect one another, because, at the end of the day, there is no
one people and defeat for the other. We either win together, Israelis
Palestinians, or we lose together.
* * *
This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for Where God Weeps, a
television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television
conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church
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