Zoughbi Zoughbi on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Zoughbi Zoughbi is the Director of Wi'am, the Palestinian Conflict Resoluton Center in Bethlehem.

Wi'am is a grassroots organisation working within the wider Palestinian community to promote peace by training people on both sides of the Palestine-Israel conflict in peaceful relationship-building, non-violent responses to injustice and conflict, and the promotion of human rights.

Christian Today spoke to Zoughbi about impact that the conflict is having on the lives of ordinary Palestinians and what the chances are for a sustainable peace in the region.

CT: You work with people of all faiths. Can you give an indication of what daily life is like for civilians in Palestine?

ZZ: The things you take for granted here in the UK, we are deprived of there in Palestine. We measure our distances in terms of checkpoints, not miles. In the past, we used to go anywhere. Now it is easier for me to come to the UK than to go to Jerusalem.

The wall is surrounding us, separating each area from the other. The occupation is evil and needs to be ended. We are struggling non-violently to get rid of the occupation.

So, it is not an easy situation there. The unemployment is skyrocketing - up more than 50 per cent, there is malnutrition among children, almost 80 per cent of our kids are exposed to trauma, and more than 76 per cent of the people live on less than £1 a day. It is a very serious situation.

CT: There was some speculation that the Hamas takeover of Gaza would make life harder for Christians there. Has that proved to be the case?

ZZ: The challenge for Christians is the same as the challenge for Muslims; it is the Israeli occupation. We are under occupation and are not allowed to go to Jerusalem to practice freedom of worship. Where the basic holy sites in Jerusalem and in the north, we are not allowed to go. We need a permit each time but many times no one will get a permit. So there is a denial of freedom by the Israeli occupation.

Regarding Muslims and Christians, as Palestinians we value the relationship. We have no conflict between Muslims and Christians because we are all under occupation. Hamas is not the issue for Christians, because it is the conflict between Hamas and Fatah and the different parties and ideologies. We as Christians are not so much a part of this. We would like to see more unity than division among the people. We, as Christians, work in the Middle East for unity, cooperation, justice and reconciliation.

CT: The Israeli Government is mulling over the possibility of an independent state for Palestine.

ZZ: Yes, I would like to take it seriously and I will give the Israeli Government the benefit of the doubt. We want a state void of settlements, and with a connection between Gaza and West Bank, with Jerusalem as its capital, and to be in a friendly co-existing relationship with the Israeli Government and the Arab world.

There will be no state where we live in a small separated island. We want Jews to live in Israel and Jerusalem and the West Bank on an equal footing but not to be above the law. Let us see actions more than words.

I am always for dialogue and I hope this dialogue will lead to something because we have signed many good agreements with the Israeli side and nothing has materialised. I hope and wish and pray that the wisdom between Israeli Government and Palestinian leadership under [President Mahmoud] Abbas will lead to a qualitative change, into an agreement that will have the Israelis leave the territories, to have co-existence, to have freedom of movement, to release the prisoners, to stop the settlements, and have reparations. We would like to deal with the hot issues in a more creative and innovative way.

We need to inject people with hope. People are hopeless now and don't trust anyone. So we will see if these talks come to anything.

CT: There are reports that Christians are experiencing persecution under Palestinian authorities.

ZZ: Our numbers have dwindled from 20 per cent to 1.8 per cent as a result of the political instabilities. In 1948, 60 per cent of the population were kicked out by the Government of Israel. So Christians have suffered a lot because of the occupation - not because they are Christians but because Israel would like the land without the people.

Among the Palestinians we are not suffering, we are having a relationship. And we hope together we will enhance a healthy atmosphere and for civil society to look for peace and justice. We are looking for a time when Jews, Muslims and Christians will build peace hand in hand. It doesn't mean that we don't have differences or problems.

As Christians we are persecuted as a result of the Israeli political injustices, and many times I feel we are working at the station of the Cross on a daily basis. But at the same time it will lead us to the Holy Sepulchre where Christ was resurrected. And we would like to celebrate the resurrection and life in Christ, not only on a theological level but to have it as the symbol of the overcoming of Christ over injustices and to celebrate it inclusively. I would like to see Jerusalem as a symbol of both systems, of peoples living together. And we hope that the Christians who have lived here for 2000 years will continue to live there and work for restorative justice.

CT: Do you feel supported by the church outside of Palestine?

ZZ: We appreciate the prophetic voice and prophetic action of the churches. We hope they will work more for justice. There are the more right-wing Christians in the West who are not aware of the Palestinian Christians and who are driving towards Israel blindly. And this will not be healthy for any dialogue - not between Eastern Christians with Western Christians, or Muslims and Christians in terms of inter-faith dialogue.

We hope the churches and their followers here and there will look at Christ as their example for peace and justice.

CT: Do you have a message for the church here in the UK?

ZZ: I am here to enhance partnerships and to let people know that we are a non-violent movement looking for a better future; that we are in an oppressed situation. And of course we hope that in the long-run the UK's foreign policy will be more even-handed towards Palestinians.

I think 2000 years ago we made a mistake. We said there was no room at the inn. Now we say please come, there is plenty of room. We would like them to come and see and stay the night in Palestine and tour the Holy Land because the Holy Land and the people there are like the fifth gospel. So, we need people to come and visit and we hope to have exchange with them and think about the relationship and social conservation, moving towards peace and justice.