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Church \ Church in Middle East

Abp Fitzgerald: Searching for signs of hope in the Holy Land

Unrest in the West Bank city of Hebron - EPA

Unrest in the West Bank city of Hebron - EPA

08/02/2017 13:17

Vatican Radio) Palestinian leaders have reacted angrily to an Israeli law which would retroactively legalise some 4,000 settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

The law, passed on Monday, is backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition but has raised tensions within the government and drawn international criticism. Israel's attorney-general has said it is unconstitutional and that he will not defend it at the Supreme Court.

In Washington a White House official said U.S. President Donald Trump "will withhold comment on the legislation until the relevant court ruling." Last week the Trump administration said the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing ones “may not be helpful” in achieving peace.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, former head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and former Vatican envoy to the Arab League, currently lives in Jerusalem. He talked with Philippa Hitchen about the increasingly bleak situation for young Palestinians today:

Listen: 

Archbishop Fitzgerald says most people in the occupied territories are “a bit despondent” because “there doesn’t seem to be any solution, there’s really no hope”. As Christians, he says, “we have to keep up hope” but at a practical level, things keep getting worse.

The frustration, he notes, flares into sporadic instances of violence which is “part of the desperation of young people who don't see what can be done” so they attack “people who are signs of the occupying authority”,  losing their lives in the process. He says he doesn’t think there’ll be another war in the region now, but people are losing hope in their politicians, he insists, “so there may be a new intifada”.

Reacting to the new White House administration’s declared intention to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Archbishop Fitzgerald describes it as a “very dangerous” and “highly symbolic” move.  He notes there’s already a law in Congress requiring that, every six months, the president has to say it’s not the right time to move the embassy, but if President Trump decides the time is right, he believes “that would arouse some violent manifestations”. He says it’s particularly difficult when “the occupying country doesn't follow the regulations of the United Nations”.

Archbishop Fitzgerald says the continued building of Israeli settlements on occupied land, while denying permission for Palestinians to build, is a major obstacle to peace. While the Holy See continues to support the ‘two state solution’, he notes that some observers say the settlements are making this impossible. Israel’s refusal to stop building new settlements, as a condition for direct negotiations with the Palestinians, makes it “very hard to see any real solution to this question”.

Asked about signs of hope amidst this bleak situation, Archbishop Fitzgerald mentions Bethlehem University which provides a Christian education to a majority of Muslim students. It has kept going despite all the difficulties, offering opportunities for Christians and Muslims to meet and work together. Secondly, he welcomes the statements from various Muslim leaders endorsing the presence of Christians in the Middle East.

Thirdly, he speaks of the interest of many young Muslims in learning about Christianity. He mentions Muslims from Cambridge who come to study and attend services in Rome, as well as a programme organised by the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem together with Muslim institutes in Germany to hold joint theological discussions. “That for me”, he says “is a sigh of hope”. 

08/02/2017 13:17