Wednesday, December 18, 2013

As-Safir Interviews Met. Atallah Hanna

Arabic original, by Amjad Samhan, here.

 As the bitter cold paralyzed Jerusalem, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia, Atallah Hanna, stood at the head of a Christian religious delegation inside the al-Aqsa Mosque. He cried out against the occupation, against its plans regarding the mosque, against its plans regarding the Islamic holy places. In the name of Palestine and her people he cried out, demanding that the world put a stop to the Israeli occupation and that justice be restored to his countrymen. As the bishop in council, you find him proudly stating, "I am a Palestinian Arab and I am proud that I am a Christian from the Middle East."

As-Safir met with the bishop when he was at the funeral for Nelson Mandela. His schedule was full and he had many events, all voluntary and national. His goal, as he explains it: "to strengthen the resolve of our people wherever they are found and to support the issues and rights of the Arab peoples, wherever they may be."

With his rationality and diplomacy, the bishop  repeats throughout the meeting: "Awareness, more awareness, rationality and dialogue are the way to solve our internal problems. Unity and resistance are the way to defeat the Israeli occupation."

as-Safir: How can the situation of the Christian community in Palestine be described?

Allow me to reject the form of the question. In my opinion, there are no sectarian communities in Palestine. The Christians here are not a sectarian community. They are an indispensable part of the indigenous Palestinian Arab people in its regional dimension and its national duties toward Palestine and the Arab countries.

as-Safir: But there are Christians in Palestine, some of whom say that they are a minority?

Such talk is never acceptable. I have lived here for 48 years and I have never acted on the basis of being a member of a minority, but rather on exactly the opposite basis-- my Muslim brothers here are always by our side, in our Arabness, in our nationalism, and in our Palestinianness.

as-Safir: What have Christians contributed to Palestine?

We, as Christians are a part of this people and this nation. We are proud to belong to Christianity, which first dawned in Palestine. We are proud of our Arabness, our Arab belonging, our Arab nationalism, and our belonging to a people that struggles, a people that has striven for decades to gain freedom. Believe me that I do not keep track of what Christians or Muslims have contributed. We in our country do not divide the martyrs into Christians or Muslims. All the martyrs are our martyrs. All those who struggle are ones who struggle for us. All of us have one goal, and it is to liberate Palestine.

as-Safir: Do Christians in Palestine suffer from any type of persecution?

If there is persecution, it is the practices of the Israeli occupation. Our history and our relations are complementary and participatory, and this is what sets us apart from other parts of the region. If incidents occur, they are isolated. Christians and Muslims here are brothers. These are not imaginary words. This is the truth.

As-Safir: What is your assessment of what is happening in the region, especially in Syria?

What is happening in Syria is not an natural to our people. Rather, it is the product of a discourse of extremism, a discourse of incitement, rejection and hatred. It is a discourse that has none of the characteristics of Islam, especially when we talk about those people who are doing beheadings and eating human livers. Here, in the name of Palestine, I proclaim our rejection of the killing in Syria, against our brothers. We speak out against those who promote sectarian strife and those who commit crimes in the name of religion, like what is happening in Maaloula. Those people are harming themselves and are harming us. Indeed, they are the enemies of religion. Half a million Christians have been displaced from Syria, and a million from Iraq. This is very sorrowing. We want Christians, wherever they are, to remain in their land because they are a part of the land and because we and the Muslims are brothers.

The meeting with Metropolitan Atallah, who was born in the village of Rama in Galillee in 1965, was characterized by great rationality. Amidst all that is happening and all that the Christians face, he becomes all the more rooted in his land and this makes him a beloved and universally respected figure among Christians and Muslims. However, the calm bishop was deeply pained by talk of Syria and the Arab blood that is being shed there disturbed his calm, as he has long believed that "Syrians and Palestinians are partners in suffering who face the same enemy."

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