new haven schull Jerusalem in the Palestinian Cultural and Political Consciousness (journal article)

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Jerusalem in the Palestinian Cultural and Political Consciousness

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Article/book #: 124162
Title: Jerusalem in the Palestinian Cultural and Political Consciousness
By: Rifat Odeh Kassis   Alternative Information Center staff (interviewer)  
Published in: Alternative Information Center
Date of issue: Friday, 26 February 2010
Topic(s) addressed: Timeline event(s) mentioned in this item:
   11 Dec 2009:Palestinian Christians launch The Kairos Palestine Document and call for a boycott of Israel

Commentary (by a person who is not a member of the UCC Palestine Solidarity Campaign ):

Important interview.

»AIC: We think that we should begin talking about Jerusalem by stating the difficult fact that you, a Palestinian who lives only few kilometers from Jerusalem, cannot enter the city. What led to this situation?

Kassis: Jerusalem for me, as for all Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike, is the city we love most and the city we visit less. My personal connection to Jerusalem goes back to even before the occupation; I still remember the trips which I used to take with my father using the very old road. It used to take us hours due to the "no-man zone" that forbade us from going directly to the city. At that time, I remember going to Jerusalem to be a very pleasurable event; going to Jerusalem meant that you will eat the sweets that you cannot find in your village and visit the holy places that we only heard about in school and church. It also meant that you are sick and you need to go and see a doctor, because at that time most of the doctors were based in Jerusalem. This is the sentimental relation I have to Jerusalem.
I used to work in Jerusalem during the 1980s. At that time I used to go driving my car to my office in the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association]. However, when the first Intifada broke Jerusalem became completely closed for us since we needed to have special permits in order to enter to the city. It is since that time that I stopped being able to visit Jerusalem legally. I couldn't obtain any permit because of my past as a political prisoner, which meant that to the Israeli authorities I was on some blacklist. After that I did manage to enter the city from time to time. However, with the construction of the Separation Wall, visiting Jerusalem is now an impossible task and all entrances to the city as closed for me. Since 2002, I have never been to Jerusalem.
This is a great loss to me personally and to my family. I have a son, a young man who is now 25 years old, who has never been to Jerusalem (even though he probably has been to half of the world). Not going to Jerusalem not only has a sentimental effect on me, but also a psychological one; this is a place where people should go and should have the right to go, but I'm unable to go there.«

»AIC: What are your thoughts regarding the notion of "dialogue between religions" and the different programs and organizations the pretend to promote it? Do you support such programs, and if you do, what are the postulates according to which they should be constructed?

Kassis: I don't have anything against the so-called dialogue between civilizations and religions. However, in our reality, the construction of such dialogues bears a different meaning, and consequently they should have a different essence. Dialogue between different religions in Australia is completely different than dialogue between the religions here in Palestine. The issue here is justice and injustice. You cannot make a dialogue here with the purpose of understanding and harmonizing each other's religion without approaching the main essence of the conflict that is in need of a dialogue. The issues of justice, injustice, and the military occupations should be the core of any dialogue, even the religions one. In principle I don't have any problem in dialoguing with different religions as long as the core issue of justice is not neglected. I am against dialogue which leads to normalization. If we dialogue under the umbrella of occupation without breaking the foundation of its injustice and oppression, then this is not a dialogue. It is the occupier normalizing with the occupied. We need to differentiate between the different dialogue programs that exist. There are ones that talk about the core issues, and there are others that serve the only purpose of feeling good about each other and convincing ourselves that there is a way out by talking people to people. The latter leads to normalization, because the environment continues to be the same. I support dialogues that only shake the foundation of oppression.«

»AIC: Now we ask you to talk to us about the Kairos Palestine Document, which was recently issued by the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem in December last year and which you have coordinated. What is the importance of having a Palestinian Christian call to end Israeli colonization of Palestine?

Kassis: The importance of the Kairos Palestine Document regarding the issue of Jerusalem is that it stems from the international, Palestinian and human legitimacy. The position regarding Jerusalem and what it means to Christians, as it appears in the document, repeats that of the heads of churches in Palestine that was published in 1994 and again in 2006. Sometimes, people tend to think that Jerusalem is only important to Muslims and Jews, not so much for the Christians. This is a mistake. Jerusalem is as important to Christians as to Muslims and Jews. In the Kairos Document we also say that Jerusalem should be the place and model for reconciliation. However, Jerusalem now is the reason for our conflict. This is why we speak very clearly in the document that the issue of Jerusalem should not be postponed to the end. We should begin with Jerusalem, and it should not be left to the so-called final and later topics for negotiations. We should solve the issue of Jerusalem from the beginning, because this will provide a model for the two nations and even allow their aspirations for a just peace in this region to continue. Moreover, the document states very clearly that Jerusalem, and especially East Jerusalem, is an occupied city. In addition, we state that occupation is a sin against God and humanity. The occupation of Jerusalem is a sin against God's will and that of the international community. Many other issues are highlighted in the Kairos document. We refer to the biblical and theological justifications of the Israeli occupation that appear in the West. We believe these justifications are hearsays and they are far from the real Christian teachings. Another issue we highlight is the right of the oppressed to resist oppression. We call on Palestinian Christians all over the world to change the current reality, and that Israel must stop to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from Jerusalem through the demolition of homes and the confiscation of lands. As I said earlier, Jerusalem should be there place where God reconcile with his people and the creatures of God reconcile with each other. To conclude, Jerusalem is mentioned several times in the documents and it deserves all this weight. Only yesterday I happened to read an article by the Muslim scholar Muhammad Sammak in the Lebanese al-Mustaqbal newspaper, in which he states that a monopoly of Islam on Jerusalem in fact encourages the Judaization of the city because it excludes the Christians from participating in the struggle for Jerusalem. This is exactly what the Kairos document affirms: Jerusalem is equally important to Palestinian Christians; Jerusalem is sacred for the Palestinian people, Muslims and Christians alike. This is where the power of the document lies.«

»AIC: In the document itself you also endorse the BDS Campaign [Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions against Israel].

Kassis: The Palestinians and the international community are left with only two options: either to continue the war and bloodshed, or to exercise a serious pressure against Israel in order for it to comply with the international law and UN resolutions. There is no third option. Now, in the document we were very clear that when we boycott Israel, we do not boycott it out of revenge. We are boycotting Israel in order to help the Israelis to liberate themselves from the occupation. I can quote tens, if not hundreds of Israelis who support this line of thought. Neve Gordon, for example, who called on the world to boycott Israel academically for the future of our children on this land; another Israeli, Uri Avnery, calls on ending the occupation due to its corruption of Israeli society. I see the BDS campaign as a very legitimate, reasonable and non-violent method to stop this massacres and bloodshed here.
Many conceive boycott very negatively, drawing a relation between our slogan and that of boycotting the Jews during World War II. These are two very distinct contexts. Jews in Europe during the Second World War were the victims and the oppressed, and boycotting the oppressed is a crime against humanity. The persecution of Jews was a crime against humanity, and that’s why I still feel aligned to the Jews of Europe at that time.
When we call on boycotting Israel, we are not of course referring to the same Jews who were persecuted during the Second World War. We call on boycotting the oppressor who is stealing and occupying our lands. Now comes the question of what kind of boycott do we mean? Do we mean solely the occupation, or do we refer to Israel as a state? For us, our reality is clear; the occupation doesn’t work in a vacuum, and there is an occupying state that is practicing the occupation.
To be frank, boycotting Israel economically is not very promising when we consider the high subsidies that come from the United States. However, by boycotting Israel we are influencing the image of Israel as it chooses to express itself to the world: the only democracy in the Middle East in the midst of brutal and savage peoples. Boycotting Israel through the academy, sports and culture will open the eyes of the Israelis to the evil sin they are practicing against the Palestinians. After all, every single Israeli is benefiting from the occupation, and consequently every single Israeli should have the responsibility to stop the occupation. Our call comes out of love to the Israelis, asking them to open their eyes and look to the misery of the Palestinians. The Palestinians have already done their historical compromise, which is to accept the 22% from their land. What more is expected form us?«

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