An open letter from the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon to Patriarch Rai.
Your Eminence Patriarch Beshara al-Rai,
We were surprised by your decision to visit the Holy Land under Israeli occupation as part of a papal delegation between May 24 and 26 for “pastoral reasons.” We would like to draw your attention to the following questions in the hope that you would think about them thoroughly:
Is visiting an imprisoned flock, and blessing its members in their prison the only way to care for them?1-Is visiting an imprisoned flock, and blessing its members in their prison the only way to care for them? Or can it be done more effectively by working to liberate them from their prison through various means, including non-violent means that have been adopted by ecclesiastic activists throughout history?
Moreover, doesn’t modern technology, such as Skype, provide means to communicate with the imprisoned flock without having to go through the oppressive jailer?
2- Won’t your visit flout the call issued by the majority of Palestinian civil society organizations (numbered 170) in the summer of 2005 for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it a) ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantle the Wall, b) recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to be treated as equal citizens, and c) respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194. Won’t your visit undermine a document entitled “A Moment of Truth” or the Kairos Palestine document signed in 2009 by Jerusalem’s patriarchs and church leaders? This document was signed, as you know, by His Beatitude Theophilos III of the Greek Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal of the Latin Church, His Beatitude Patriarch Torkom Manougian of the Armenian Orthodox Church, H.E. Archbishop Dr. Anba Abraham of the Coptic Orthodox Church, H.E. Archbishop Mar Swerios Malki Murad of the Syrian Orthodox Church, H.E. Archbishop Abba Mathaious of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, H.E. Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayah of the Maronite Church, Bishop Munib A. Younan of the Lutheran Church, H.E. Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey of the Greek Catholic Church, Bishop Suheil Dawani of the Anglican Church, Bishop Gregor Peter Malki of the Syrian Catholic Church, Bishop Raphael Minassian of the Armenian Catholic Church, and Reverend Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custodian of the Holy Land.
“Palestinian civil organizations, as well as international organizations, NGOs and certain religious institutions call on individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation. We understand this to integrate the logic of peaceful resistance... We see boycott and disinvestment as tools of non-violence for justice, peace and security for all... We call for a response to what the civil and religious institutions have proposed, as mentioned earlier: the beginning of a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel...”
3- Within the church context itself we ask you, did the previous Maronite patriarchs’ unwillingness to go on such a visit amount to the neglect of the interests of the Maronite community in occupied Palestine? Or perhaps they had valid reasons that are consistent with the interest of the [Maronite] community, other Arabs, and with international resolutions that oppose Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem specifically? Why didn’t any of them draw a distinction between pastoral care and political normalization as those promoting your visit are doing today?
As another example, we ask you, did the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt infringe on the interests of its members when it prevented them from traveling to the Holy Land? The more serious question in this regard is, won’t your visit encourage some Lebanese (and non-Lebanese), to use religious justifications to visit holy places under occupation in order to engage in political and business activities that benefit the enemy state? And won’t this create more friction within our societies that are already rife with sectarian tensions? We hope you remember the position of the late Coptic Pope Shenouda III, especially when he said: “It is difficult to rescind the decision to ban the travel of Egyptian Copts at this stage ...Because allowing them would prompt hundreds of thousands to visit the Holy Land, and this would promote the Israeli economy and harm the relationship between Copts and their Arab brethren.” This is also the position of Pope Tawadros II, whothreatened to deprive all Egyptian Coptic pilgrims who go to Jerusalem of taking communion for a period ranging from six months to a year.
Doesn’t your visit constitute an implicit recognition of the authority of the criminal entity over the Holy Land, especially that you cannot avoid Israel’s official and security procedures to enter occupied Palestine?4- Doesn’t your visit constitute an implicit recognition of the authority of the criminal entity over the Holy Land, especially that you cannot avoid Israel’s official and security procedures to enter occupied Palestine?
5- Won’t your visit violate the decisions of the global BDS movement, which was established in 2006, calling for boycotting Israel, divesting from it and imposing sanctions on it. It is a campaign that now includes thousands of ecclesiastics, trade unionists, academics, artists, scientists and novelists? In other words, does the interest of this or that community supercede the interests and blood of the people of Palestine and Lebanon and the positions of a growing number of world activists, including prominent ecclesiastics such as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu who was one of the heroes of his country’s liberation from apartheid?
6- You know that a significant part of our war with the Zionist enemy is in essence media related. Won’t the Israelis and their supporters take advantage of your visit to holy sites to “whitewash” Israel’s image and depict it as though it is a state that welcomes all people including its Lebanese victims? Won’t they try to market your visit to promote the lie of “freedom of access to holy places” while you know very well that holy sites - in Jerusalem specifically - are “forbidden to many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and even to Jerusalemites themselves on holidays.” In addition, some Arab priests are “forbidden from entering Jerusalem normally.”
7- Surely, you are not going to board the Israeli El Al plane with the pope, like the rest of the accompanying papal delegation. It is almost certain that you will enter occupied Palestine with a non-Lebanese passport. And certainly, unlike the pope, you won’t meet the butchers Peres and Netanyahu. Most likely, and hopefully, you will not go with him on his visit to the Holocaust Museum, which for decades has become one of the propaganda tools used to justify the successive massacres against the Palestinian and Lebanese people. But all of that will not erase the damage that the visit is going to inflict on the Palestinian and global movement calling for boycotting Israel. It might actually cause a crack in the traditional Christian position - the Lebanese specifically and the Arab generally - that is opposed to visiting the holy places under occupation.
Do not go to the Holy Land while it is under occupation. Your concern for your flock should not be seen as a violation of the consensus of Palestinian civil society organizations and the decisions of the global boycott movement. Do not allow the enemy to exploit this false distinction between politics and religion while it continues its occupation, crimes and racism. Be loyal to the struggle of the Palestinian people who are crucified, like Christ, every day but who rise again every day and resist their enemy and boycott it.
The Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon is part of the global boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel. Started in 2002 after the massacre in the Jenin refugee camp, they are the first country based BDS organization that documents, exposes, and protests Lebanese companies dealing with Israel .
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
Published in Al-Akhbar English on May 5, 2014
عنوان: بيروت - لبنان
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