Bishop of Jerusalem, Christians Rally in Support of Palestine

Christians have demonstrated their solidarity with Palestine Tuesday evening as hundreds gathered to hear the Bishop of Jerusalem and other key speakers talk on the harrowing plight of millions of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

|PIC1|According to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) - co-organiser with the Amos Trust of the event in central London - more than two thirds of the world's Palestinians are refugees, expelled from their homes and land in 1948 and 1967 and who have not yet been allowed to return.

The Bishop of Jerusalem, the Rt Rev Riah Abu El-Assal, said that Palestinians were "entitled to the right of return" to their native homelands in the West Bank and Gaza or else should receive compensation.

Bishop Riah said that, "Palestinians are entitled not only to existence but life with dignity, very much like the other nations of the world," adding that "land swapping" was no solution to the protracted conflict.

He also criticised the road map for its failure to address the issue of boundaries, the issue of Jerusalem, the return of refugees and for failing to include any mention of 'independence' for Palestine.

The Bishop of Jerusalem called for the independence of the beleaguered nation, "not in Jordan but on Palestinian soil side by side with Israel in accordance with UN resolutions," before sharing his vision of the region coming together in peace based on the model of Switzerland.

"There is no way for peace until Palestinians are liberated from Israeli occupation," he said.

Speaking to Christian Today, Bishop Riah urged Christians in Britain to become better informed of the situation and to visit Palestine to see for themselves the situation.

|QUOTE|He also called on Christians in Britain to support the work of the different church institutions and to continue to pray for peace and justice in Palestine, as well as challenge the Government to take a different route to end the Israeli occupation.

"Help support the two communities to resolve the conflict and reconcile so that both will enjoy peace and security," he said.

Rev Garth Hewitt, founder of the Amos Trust and recently installed Canon of St George's Cathedral Jerusalem, voiced his concern particularly for Christians in Palestine.

"I believe if we don't deal with this issue soon we will lose the whole Christian presence in the Holy Land," he told Christian Today.

Rev Hewitt added, however, that continuing oppression only "exacerbates the pain of the Muslim world".

"If we don't pick this up and if the Christian community don't pick this up, then we will be guilty, complicit by our silence," he warned.

Other speakers at the meeting included the respected Prof Ilan Pappe of the University of Haifa, who spoke on his new book, the "Ethnic Cleansing of the Palestinians"; Dr Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian General Delegate to the UK; Rev Stephen Sizer, Campaign Coordinator for the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment (IMRI); Betty Hunter, General Secretary of PSC.

Hunter criticised the "failure of our leaders", saying they were complicit in punishment of the Palestinians.

She said that the tide is turning but stressed the importance of working together to bring an equitable solution to the Middle East conflict.

Rev Sizer concluded the presentations with a call for listeners to boycott Caterpillar and urge their local churches and NGOs to endorse morally responsible investment.