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Christians ask Maronite patriarch to reconsider Jerusalem visit
Published Saturday 10/05/2014 (updated) 13/05/2014 14:42
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Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai leads a mass at the Saint George
Greek Orthodox cathedral in Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 14, 2013
(AFP/File Anwar Amro)

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A prominent Palestinian Christian activist group has urged the Lebanese patriarch to reconsider an upcoming trip to Jerusalem, as controversy mounts over what could potentially be the first visit of a Maronite religious leader to the holy city since Israel's creation in 1948.

Palestinian group Kairos released a statement on Friday warning Patriarch Beshara al-Rai that his plans to accompany the Pope on a Holy Land visit May 24-26 could be misused by Israeli authorities to "whitewash" the occupation.

"We as Christian Palestinians are eager to see and meet with our religious guides and leaders," the statement said, but it stressed that the group would prefer to meet with him in "prayer of the spirits, and not in the presence of the Israeli occupation."

The group also expressed its desire to "prevent the formation of any moral, ethical, or religious cover" for the occupation, highlighting their fears that Israeli authorities would misuse the patriarch's visit to distract attention from crimes perpetuated against Palestinians.

"This step may delight the occupation state, not because it believes in the right of religions to express themselves and to practice their rituals, but because it serves its policies and whitewashes its face," the statement continued.

The Kairos statement comes only two days after President Mahmoud Abbas telephoned the patriarch to say that he "appreciated, respected, and welcomed" the news of his visit.

"This visit contributes to preserving the Arab identity and the resistance of Jerusalem and Palestine," he told the patriarch on Wednesday according a statement.

"Your visit is not a normalization (with Israel) as those with personal agendas are claiming. They seem to be surrendering to reality by rejecting your visit to Palestine and Jerusalem, explaining that these territories are under occupation," he said at the time.

'We want to pray with them'

General Coordinator of the Palestinian Kairos group Rifat Kassis told Ma'an that the group was not condemning the patriarch nor telling him not to come, but trying to ensure sure that he understood the ramifications of his visit and the position of Palestinian Christians.

"You are coming to a visit a besieged city where the owners are not allowed in," he said.

Although Palestinian Christians appreciated the visits of religious leaders from abroad, "we want to pray with them," he added, noting that Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement meant that tens of thousands of West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinian Christians are restricted from reaching Jerusalem.

"Israel will say: 'despite the fact that we are in enmity with the Lebanese we allow the patriarch to visit the shrines,' when the irony is that most Palestinians cannot," he added.

Kassis also said that Christians will "lose more than they benefit" from the trip, as the patriarch's position as an Arab Christian leader meant that Israel would use the visit to "market itself as a savior of Christians" even while it occupies their lands and prevents their freedom of worship.

"This is not a church internal affair. It is highly controversial," he said, stressing that the trip sets a dangerous "precedent."

Palestinian Christians march in Bethlehem ahead of Easter on April 19, 2014

'I'm going to Jerusalem to say this is our city'

Beshara al-Rai is the patriarch of the 3.5 million strong Maronite church, which is based in Lebanon and has long maintained a stance of anti-normalization with Israel, similar to other major Arab Christian denominations. The Egyptian Coptic popes, for example, have for decades forbade church members from going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem while it remains under Israeli occupation, even after the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace accord.

Al-Rai has stressed that he will not meet with any Israeli officials and that the trip is purely religious, adding in comments to Reuters earlier this week: "I'm going to Jerusalem to say this is our city, and Jerusalem is Arab."

The patriarch, however, has been blasted by the media in Lebanon, which is still technically at war with Israel and suffered extensive damage during a month-long 2006 Israeli assault. Many in Lebanon consider any visit to lands occupied by Israel a form of "normalization," or acceptance of Israeli control over Palestinian lands.

The Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon, an activist group linked to the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel movement, also called on the Patriarch not to visit, stressing in a statement that it would constitute an "implicit recognition of the authority of the criminal entity over the Holy Land."

"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 statement continued.

The controversy comes amid a wave of hate crimes against Christian churches and property in Israel in advance of the Pope's visit, as suspected Jewish extremists have targeted Christian religious sites and property across Jerusalem including an attack on the Roman Catholic Notre Dame complex that involved graffiti reading "Death to Arabs and Christians and to everyone who hates Israel."

After the attack, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem expressed its concerns "about the lack of security and lack of responsiveness from the political sector," as well as their fears of "an escalation of violence" in anticipation of the Pope's visit later in the month.

About 200,000 Palestinian Christians live in the Holy Land, split between the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and inside Israel proper.
1 ) Eugene / Sweden, Lebanon & Palestine
10/05/2014 19:00
The duty of a shepherd is to be with his sheep & cattle, to look after them and see to their needs.

2 ) Robby / USA
10/05/2014 19:27
No one treats the Palestinians worse then the Lebanese. If they want him to make a stand they should start there.

3 ) JoeFattal / USA
10/05/2014 20:04
Even the Pope need to reconsider his visit. Israel probably will make it as a political move from all the religious groups visiting Jerusalem. Obviously you won't expect a radical attack on any Churches or Mosques during their visit. That unless a Synagogue get smeer instead by radicals Jews. Israel is been playing religion and, or politics for many years, if one fails they turn to the other one. No wonder it takes so long to come out with any peace agreements.

4 ) @ "Christian" Activists / Jewish "Activists"
10/05/2014 21:21
-1- Remember Who Will Curse You, For Cursing His People, and that -2- ISRAEL'S "OCCUPATION" OF IT'S OWN ancestral LANDS, since before the birth of Christ, and the Roman, Babylonian, & Assyrian invasions * NEEDS NO "WHITEWASH", and also in contrast -3- The Invasion of Israel by 5 Arabs states in 1948 & 1967, - the decades of Terrorism by the PLO & other Arab groups, and - the 1,000s of rockets launched at Israel's civilians by Hamas, * NOTHING COULD EVER "WHITEWASH" ARAB ACTIONS.

5 ) Mel / USA
10/05/2014 21:55
#2:LOL! You're blaming the Lebanese for Zionism's/Israel's invasion & military occupation of Palestine? Yes sure! It was the dastardly Lebanese who persecuted Palestinians &shoved them into GOY ghettoes,in S.Lebanon,Syria etc. Not the Jewish fascists?Riiiiight! Lebanon has harbored Palestinians from Zionists,like Sharon,who used the Maronites(Phalangists)to attack refugees by lying to them about Gemayal's assassination!Where was this"shepherd"#1,during Sabra/Chatilla war crime,by his "sheep"?

6 ) Sherri Munnerlyn / US
11/05/2014 03:19
#4, Israel came into existence in 1948, deal with reality and not Zionist fairy tales. Zionist fairy tales do not justify the last approaching 70 years of Zionist human rights abuses in Palestine. And none of the Arab wars with Israel but one were started by Arab nations. Zionist lies are always brought into the Light and exposed for the lying filth they are.

7 ) George / Palestine
11/05/2014 05:16
Although I respect the Palestinian Christian initiative "Kairos" but I don't think this position is wise, the Lebanese Patriarch has to come, the world is more aware now, whitewashing the occupation is irrelevant here, boycotting Jerusalem by religious figures will only benefit the occupying power “Israel”, Kairos please reconsider your position

8 ) Hanna / Palestine
11/05/2014 05:24
hello # 4: do you still think that the world is stupid, the myth of 5 Arab countries attacking Israel is a joke now, take it easy, Israel was build on the bones and bloods of the Palestinian people including many Christian villages that was swept off the map, the world can differentiate now between biblical Israel and the racist country that is called now "Israel", wake up

9 ) Khader / Palestine
11/05/2014 05:35
hey #4: The biblical "spiritual" Israel is very different than the occupying Israel now, using the old testament to justify racist acts is a dying business now, respectable Jews know that very well, in addition churches all over the world are more aware than even about this big lie and distortion

10 ) Robby / USA
11/05/2014 05:51
5 ) Mel / USA - Did you read what I wrote? I said "No one treats the Palestinians worse then the Lebanese.". Israel does not force the Lebanese to deny just about all rights to Palestinians. Israel does not force Lebanon to keep them in "camps".

11 ) Mel / USA
11/05/2014 16:52
#10:Robby:Yes,I read every word!You conveniently forget,Israel may WANT Palestinians to assimilate,settle,permanently in Lebanon,Jordan,Syria etc while Zionism expels/expands.But the right of return for 6 MILLION regional Palestinian Muslims&Christians,under international law/Geneva,UN human rights,still stands!Zionism's Arab neighbors shelter refugees temporarily,even with their own national probs,because of USG! But Israel's pluralistic neighbors also know that PAL Right of Return,will HAPPEN!

12 ) @ Sherri-6 & Hanna-8 / Reality & Myths
11/05/2014 16:58
Drop your own Fairy Tales & Myths, and "Deal with Reality", where: -6- IF "Israel came into existence in 1948", try explaining facts like a correct Bible's geography, 3,000 year old Hebrew Scrolls at the Dead Sea, and ancient Hebrew mosaic floors all over the land. -8- IF it's a "myth of 5 Arab countries attacking Israel", try explaining facts like four 1949 UN Armistice Agreements, that Egypt, Jordan, Syria, & Lebanon all co-signed with Israel.

13 ) @ Khader-9 / Then & Now
11/05/2014 17:12
At least you acknowledge some truths, like the existence of a "biblical old testament spiritual Israel", and where "Israel is very different", with Kings & Prophets biblically, compared to Democracy & Parliament since 1948. However, the rest is very similar Then & Now, with: - The Same Jewish people, - The Same God-given lands, previously ruled by Canaanites or Turks, & - The Same hostile, often invading neighbors. Honestly, very little has changed, and very little is likely to either !!

14 ) Tom / USA
11/05/2014 22:09
As terrible as Palestinian refugees position is in Lebanon, it should be noted that Lebanon has lived within the letter of international law regarding "countries of first asylum." Countries that border conflict areas are not required to extend citizenship or national rights to refugees that cross their borders seeking asylum from conflict. The law is written thus to insure that those fleeing slaughter will in fact be allowed to cross borders to escape murderous regimes, like zio-terrorists.

15 ) Robby / USA
13/05/2014 06:42
11 ) Mel / USA - Sounds like you agree with Lebanon's apartheid methods of dealing with 3 generations of Palestinians if they can blame someone else? You support the Lebanese military denying construction materials into some camps? You support the denial of high-paying jobs. You support the pathetic education and healthcare they receive? You support dangling cruel "right of return" fantasy as an excuse to keep them living in squalor. Sure glad my country doesn't do that to "refugees".
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