Friday, December 5, 2014

Sheridan Sheds Tears for Middle East Christians 1

Uncharacteristically, the Australian's foreign editor, Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, hasn't uttered a word in defence of Israel for almost 6 months now, which must be some kind of record for him. Until now that is. His latest thumbs-up for Jewish State in the Levant (JSIL) comes in the guise of a lament for the plight of the Middle East's Christians:

"Pope Francis was in Istanbul this week to draw attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East. The Pope leads 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. With Bartholomew, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox, who leads 300 million Orthodox Christians, the Pope said: 'We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians who have professed the name of Jesus there for 2000 years.' You would think the world might take notice of this. If so, you would be wrong. This week the Catholic Church has dedicated itself to making society aware of the dire straits in which their co-religionists suffer in the Middle East. Yet there has been no interest in Australia." (We can but mourn for the voiceless Christians of the Middle East, 4/12/14)

So who's to blame here? Why, Edward Said, of course! But let Sheridan explain:

"The nonsensical Edward Said popularised the idea that the West dehumanises the 'other' by making it exotic. Thus we are warned in every part of our culture not to demonise the other. That is quite right, so far as it goes. But this translates into a weird reflex in which any group at war with the West is presumed to be, at least in part, virtuously the 'other'. We demonise ourselves, and we especially demonise anything which smacks of Western civilisation in any part of the world which was once colonised. Middle East Christians suffer from this prejudice in the West. Israel does, too. As part of Western civilisation, it earns whole layers of extra hostility. Hating Israel is part of hating Western civilisation, the default position of the inheritors of the detritus of Marxism in successor ideologies like the Greens."

OK, so if I've got him right, the Catholic Church, Middle Eastern Christians and Israel, are all representatives or extensions of what he calls "Western civilisation" vis-a-vis Said's Muslim 'other'. Now let's, for the sake of argument, assume he's right, OK? Wouldn't that make them all, so to speak, family then? One big, happy Judeo-Christian family?

Since Sheridan's introduced the subject of Israel, let's explore the above idea in relation to Palestinian Christians.

As the representatives of 'Western civilisation' already in Palestine when those exemplary agents of 'Western civilisation', the Zionists, first arrived, wouldn't you have expected them to put out the welcome  mat?

Well, guess what? The buggers failed dismally to stick to Sheridan's script:

"On behalf of my brethren, the Christian heads of the different Arab Christian Communities, I speak in the name of the Arab Christian Churches in Palestine. I am an Arab and my connections with the Byzantine Church do not deprive me of being an Arab with Arab blood running in my veins - just as an Englishman is English whether he is Roman Catholic or Anglican. We have confined our statement to three main points: 1. The Christian Arabs in Palestine have everything in common with their Moslem brethren. Religious beliefs do not in any way make them two peoples. They cherish the same hopes and fears and they strive for one goal - freedom and independence. 2. Zionism is a menace to the Christian as well as to the Moslem population in Palestine. A Jewish state in Palestine would result in a gradual decrease in the Arab population and as a consequence the holy places will become lifeless skeletons of stones guarded by monks and devoid of believers. 3. Lastly, the claim of the Zionists to Palestine is based on Biblical promises in the Old Testament. These promises were abrogated by the New Testament; and all promises given to the people of Israel in the Old Testament have been annulled by the advent of Christ." (The Melkite Archbishop of Galilee quoted in the Report of the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry, Palestine, 1946)

And once the new Judeo-Christian dispensation known as Israel was established in Palestine in May, 1948, wouldn't you have expected church bells to begin ringing throughout the land? Jews and Christians dancing together in the streets? Inter-faith celebrations lasting well into the night?

Alas, only if, like Tony Abbott, Sheridan's your 'Suppository of All Wisdom':

"Yaacov [Herzog, head of the department of Christian Communities in the Ministry of Religious Affairs] had to devote much of his time to an unpleasant problem that arose during the War of Independence - namely, the desecration of churches and monasteries by IDF soldiers, the looting of their properties, and offensive misuse of their premises. Such abuse had occurred in many places throughout the [1948] war..." (Yaacov Herzog: A Biography, Michael Bar-Zohar, 2003, p 90)

"The neighborhoods of West Jerusalem that were once predominantly Christian - including the German Colony, Talbiya, and Qatamon - were seized by Israel in the war in 1948. The families that fled the fighting were never permitted to return. After the armistice agreement, their homes were seized by Israel's 'Custodian of Absentee Property,' and the Jewish Agency turned them over to new Jewish immigrants." (The Body & the Blood: The Middle East's Vanishing Christians & the Possibility for Peace, Charles M. Sennott, 2001, p 24)

"During the Arab-Israeli war last June [1967] there was much concern about the fate of the holy places in the Old City of Jerusalem. In fact, apart from the church of St Anne, damage to Christian shrines was slight. This was not, however, the case with other Christian property in the Israeli-occupied sector of Jerusalem, belonging to the three major sects, the Latins, Greeks and Armenians. The annexation of the Old City to west Jerusalem, and the return of buildings and cemeteries belonging to them on Mount Sion after a lapse of 20 years, has revealed that these have been extensively desecrated by the occupying forces, and have fared far worse than anything in the Old City during the war. These Christian properties are on the summit of Mount Sion, just outside the city walls to the south. From 1948 until 1967 they were technically in Israel, but the general public was forbidden access to them, and they were under the direct control of the Israeli army.

"Amongst the buildings is the Armenian church of St Saviour, by tradition built on the house of Caiaphas; it is a 15th-century structure... It belongs to the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, which is also located on Mount Sion, but within the walls of Jerusalem. Since 1948 the prelates of the Armenian church have been unable to visit St Saviour's either from Jordan or Israel. Some years ago a UN truce supervisor was asked about the church, but was unable to get inside it. At the time, he expressed the private opinion that it was being used as an advanced Israeli machine-gun post. "The evidence of recent photographs and reports has proved this conjecture to be correct. The monastery buildings around the church were fortified by the Israelis, and the walls between individual cells demolished to make a continuous passage; the windows were filled with sandbags, and wooden gun emplacements. It is clear that they attached considerable importance to the site, as it commanded the south-west angle of the Old City.

"Less comprehensible was the behaviour of the Israeli soldiers during 20 years of occupation of the buildings. The courtyard of the church of St Saviour is the traditional burying-place of the Patriarchs of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem, and at least 14 of the venerable tombs were smashed open, and their contents desecrated. Two were demolished and excavated to a depth of 6 feet below the ground. "The interior of the church of St Saviour is a scene of total devastation. The carved and gilded altar has been wrecked, and an altar painting lies destroyed on the floor below. The oil paintings that decorated the upper part of the north and south walls have been torn out of their frames leaving only tattered shreds of canvas. Many of the Kutahya tiles, brought specially from Turkey by Armenian pilgrims in the early 18th century, have been ripped from the walls; those that have not been stolen lie smashed on the ground, along with a tangled mass of broken church furniture. The valuable collection of old church vestments has completely disappeared. "So has the well-known Byzantine mosaic, which was in the basement of the monastery. Pere Vincent, the distinguished French scholar, once described it as 'une tres belle mosaique... du IV/V siecle'. It has been expertly lifted and removed. It is common knowledge that the Israeli Minister of Defence, General dayan, has an amateur interest in antiquities; some of his troops would seem to have emulated him.

"Adjacent to the Armenian church is the Greek Orthodox cemetery on Mount Sion, which to judge from the photographs now resembles a film set for the Resurrection. Practically every tomb in the cemetery is smashed. Fragments of marble crosses, angels' wings, and inscriptions lie inextricably mixed with human bones, blackened tree stumps, and the remains of rockets and shells. In contrast to the sack of the Armenian church, the damage could conceivably have been the result of the two wars, in 1948 and 1967, rather than systematic pillage. However, there is no doubt that the cemetery was also occupied by Israeli soldiers; there are well-beaten paths between the tombs, and one of the outhouses is labelled NIGHT CLUB. More graffiti, in Hebrew and English, must have been added by other soldiers to while away their time.

"The state of the third cemetery on Mount Sion, belonging to the Latin church, has been described in a recent issue of the Catholic journal, La Terre Sainte, by the Very Reverend Father Andres. Procureur-General in the Holy Land since 1962, he speaks with authority as he has had the task of supervising the repairs to the damaged cemetery. He begins by deploring the overthrowing of Jewish tombstones by the Arabs of the Mount of Olives - the subject of a recent Israeli White Paper - but observes that they did not, as far as is known, actually drag the corpses out of the tombs, as happened with so many Christian graves. He published several macabre photographs, showing smashed tombs in the Catholic cemetery, with the remains of coffins and the deceased strewn all around. In conclusion he rightly asks why these acts of profanation by the Israelis were not also mentioned in the White Paper.

"As the non-Arab Christian communities are by no means involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict, one wonders what possible reason there can have been for the desecration of their cemeteries and churches. It is clear that the pillage and destruction was carried out over a period of years, suggesting that the soldiers' misconduct was condoned by successive generations of Israeli officers. Since the war the Israelis have made it quite clear that whilst some of the recently occupied territories might possibly be negotiable, the Old City is excluded from any bargaining and that they intend to stay. This must give pause for thought to the three major Christian sects in Jerusalem, in light of what has happened to their property during 20 years of occupation; they must surely view the future with apprehension, however much the Israeli government may attempt to reassure them of its benevolence." (The Desecration of Christian Cemeteries & Church property in Israel, Basic Documents Series No. 5, The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1968)

To be continued...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ve-ry interesting! why have I never heard about this in almost 80 years on this planet and a decade or so of Australian tertiary education?