14 May 2013
Life in Gaza weighs heavily on children, and often one sees this reflected in their eyes. CNEWA-sponsored psychosocial activities at NECC kindergartens in Gaza City provide an opportunity for children to unload their pent-up frustration. (photo: CNEWA-PMP)
Sami El-Yousef is CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel. He paid a visit to Gaza in late April. Below is an excerpt from his report on that visit. The full report can be read here.
It was a pleasure to return to Gaza to check on our various projects there and, more importantly, to show solidarity with the people and to affirm they are not forgotten.
On a rather positive note, there are no longer long lines at gas stations, as the supply of fuel is steadier. We did not hear many complaints about the shortages of basic food or medical supplies or building materials. Other aspects of life seem unchanged. The electric company still provides about 10 hours a day of electricity, while noisy, inefficient, polluting makeshift diesel generators offer power the rest of the day to homes and institutions.
On the other hand, there are still travel restrictions that neither Israel nor Egypt has eased; most of the population continues to complain about the “prison-like” environment in which they continue to live. On the political end of things, few in Gaza believe that the much-talked-about “reconciliation efforts” between Hamas and Fatah are leading to anything meaningful. They remain very skeptical about any such discussions. Most feel that neither party is ready for real reconciliation and that it will not happen anytime soon. There is also a deep distrust between Israel and Hamas and a sense that both sides may be planning the next offensive. Many believe it is only a matter of time and that the civilians will again pay a hefty price. Let’s hope I picked up the wrong signals, and that peace will prevail. Keep Gaza and its people in your prayers, especially the small, brave Christian community.
Though recent measures are not specifically directed against the Christian community, it is this community with its relatively liberal orientation that is directly affected. Here are a few measures and incidents that will illustrate the general mood:
The Hamas government recently put into practice the “education law” that forces the segregation of boys and girls in all educational institutions starting at the fourth grade level (age 9 and beyond). It further mandates that female teachers should not teach boys and vice versa.
As far as trade is concerned, Hamas has also mandated that in clothing shops, it is illegal for men to sell women’s clothes and for women to sell men’s clothes, again segregating the sexes.
Male teenagers who have long hair or wear fashionable clothes are now arrested, reportedly beaten, forcibly shaved and sent back on the street with stern warnings to abide by “decent” appearance.
Students who attend the public school system are subjected to weekly classes in fundamentalist Islamic indoctrination, with students being drilled and raised with no tolerance toanything that is not Islamic — a truly sad dimension of life in Gaza under Hamas, and certainly not an environment based on respect, human rights, tolerance and acceptance of the other.
For more, read the entire report on the trip to Gaza here.
19 November 2012
Tags: CNEWA Palestine Gaza Strip/West Bank Israeli-Palestinian conflict CNEWA Pontifical Mission
Leave a comment
Palestinians on 19 November gather around the remains of a house destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (CNS photo/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Reuters)
Just three weeks ago, when I last visited Gaza, I reported on some positive developments there. It is amazing how, in the absence of a true and just peace in our region, a situation can turn upside down practically overnight.
This morning, and for the third time since the beginning of the current military violence in Gaza since 14 November, I have made phone calls to all of our partners there to check on them and show our solidarity. The messages I received were unanimous. There has not been a building or an open field that has been spared from missiles launched by F-16 fighters or warships in the Mediterranean or shells from tanks across the border. Anything that moves is a target, and people have locked themselves in their homes. Most, if not all of our Christian institutions, have sustained some damage, in most cases broken glass, blown out windows and doors. Everyone with whom I have spoken has also said the attacks this time around make the 2008 war in Gaza look like child’s play. It is clear that given the unexpected surprise of the various rockets launched from Gaza that reached deep into Israel — including Tel Aviv and Herzliya — Israel was determined to unleash its war machine at unprecedented levels with no concern for human casualties.
And who is paying the heaviest price? Civilians, especially children and the elderly.
The photographs of children, women and senior citizens being shared on various satellite channels as well as through the social media networks are simply outrageous. The killing of 11 members of the Dalou family on Sunday when their three-story residential building was struck by an F-16 missile was heartbreaking. Many other attacks on open fields, cemeteries, soccer fields and parks seem so senseless and unwarranted.
Many of my contacts there have not been able to sleep at night as a result of the constant explosions throughout the night. One told me that after the field next to her home was bombed and all windows of her home were broken and doors and shutters blown out, she took refuge at her cousin’s home for the night. There, she was surprised that the building next to her cousin’s home was also shelled, causing the windows to break and glass to hit her in the face, hospitalizing her. I guess there is no place to hide anymore in Gaza, especially since there are no air raid sirens to warn people and buildings are not equipped with bomb shelters. Another friend who lives on the seventh floor of an apartment building in the center of Gaza City surveyed all the buildings that were demolished surrounding her home. She said she felt that she was living on an earthquake fault line that had all of a sudden become active; her building sways with each shelling.
On the political front, there seems to be a lot of pressure on both parties to reach some sort of a ceasefire soon, hopefully within the next 24 hours. Some of my friends in Gaza were optimistic and were actually praying that things will move in this direction. Others were very pessimistic about reaching some sort of an agreement and said that each party has an agenda that will not allow them to reach an agreement anytime soon.
The agenda for Israel seems to be very much tied to the upcoming Israeli elections in January. Anything that will be perceived less than a total victory for Israel will cost precious votes. Hamas, whose rockets have struck targets deeper into Israel than at any time in the past, wants to affirm that they are the party that will change the rules of the game with Israel. They also have their terms for reaching a ceasefire.
The alternative appears to be an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. This will involve Israel calling some 75,000 reservists to get the job done. Should this happen, Israel will enter the “quicksand” of Gaza and will probably be there for a very long time. It will be quite easy to enter Gaza, but certainly not as easy to leave it. The damage, destruction and loss of life will be something one can only imagine in nightmares and not in real life.
Please pray for sanity to return to the politicians on both sides in order to avoid this, and, more importantly, pray that a just and lasting peace is reached so that Israel and Palestine can live in security and peace as good neighbors in the future. Only then will these never ending cycles of violence stop.
With each phone call to our partners, I end my conversation with a promise to visit Gaza as soon as the security situation allows in order to be in solidarity with the people and to assess the damage and the needs first hand. Unfortunately, yet again, CNEWA is forced to shift into emergency humanitarian relief. When will this madness stop?
22 October 2012
Tags: CNEWA Palestine Gaza Strip/West Bank
Leave a comment
In this image from December of 2011, Msgr. John Kozar, left, meets the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Torkom, center. On the right are Archbishop Aris Sheverian and Sami El-Yousef.
Sami El-Yousef is CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel.
His Beatitude Torkom II, Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Jerusalem, was laid to rest at the Armenian cemetery at Mount Zion just outside the walls of the Old City today. The funeral was attended by many religious leaders, as well as Palestinian and Israeli officials. His Beatitude died on 12 October at the infirmary of the Custody of the Holy Land in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Franciscan friars, who run the infirmary, had been caring for the elderly patriarch since falling into a coma earlier this year.
Patriarch Torkom was born in Iraq on 16 February 1919. In his early years, he moved to Jerusalem to attend the Armenian Seminary of St. James. He was ordained a deacon in 1936 and a priest in 1939. Between 1939 and 1946, he served in various capacities in Jerusalem before moving to Philadelphia to serve the Armenian community there. Since then, he has served in various capacities in the United States and in Jerusalem, including the Armenian Apostolic archdiocese based in New York. In 1990, he was elected the 96th Armenian Apostolic patriarch of Jerusalem.
The patriarchate appointed Bishop Nourhan Manogian as caretaker on 30 January as the patriarch’s health began to fail, and he continues to assume this role until the election of a new patriarch. This will take place after the traditional 40-day mourning period is completed, most likely sometime in December.
I was privileged to visit His Beatitude in December of last year during Msgr. John Kozar’s visit to the Holy Land. Despite the patriarch’s frail health, he received us and reflected on the situation in the Holy Land and the importance of the Christian presence and of closer relations between the various churches. Little did we know that his health would deteriorate dramatically shortly thereafter. He suffered a stroke on Armenian Christmas, which was celebrated on 18 January. The stroke left him paralyzed and in a coma until his death.
May he rest in peace!
5 September 2012
Tags: Jerusalem Israel Armenia
Leave a comment
Surrounded by religious leaders, Archbishop Moussa El-Hage enters Jerusalem for the first time as Maronite patriarchal exarch. (photo: CTS/N. Asfour)
A festive mood charged this weekend as Archbishop Moussa El-Hage was received as the new Maronite patriarchal exarch in Jerusalem. Archbishop El-Hage replaced Archbishop Paul Sayyah, who assumed the duties of patriarchal vicar general in June 2011. The Patriarchal Exarchate in Jerusalem serves the Maronite community in Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
A number of heads of churches in Jerusalem, representatives of religious congregations and civic leaders lined up along with the small Maronite community at Jaffa Gate — the main entrance to the Christian Quarter of the Old City — to welcome Archbishop El-Hage and escort him to St. Maron Church. Boy scout troops led the colorful procession, which was followed by a Divine Liturgy of thanksgiving and a reception.
Earlier, a farewell reception took place at the Notre Dame Center for Archbishop Sayyah, who served in Jerusalem for 17 years until His Beatitude Patriarch Bechara requested he return to Lebanon to serve as vicar general. A number of speeches were delivered at the reception highlighting the many contributions Archbishop Sayyah made during his tenure in the Holy Land. Particular focus was given to his work as a member of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land and his continued attempts to foster better relations between the various churches through the Middle East Council of Churches.
As the regional director of CNEWA-Pontifical Mission, I was privileged to attend each of these celebrations — both to extend our thanks to Archbishop Sayyah and welcome Archbishop El-Hage to his new position.
Archbishop Moussa El-Hage, left, concelebrates a Divine Liturgy of thanksgiving with outgoing Archbishop Paul Sayyah, right. (photo: CTS/N. Asfour)
30 May 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Holy Land Jerusalem Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai Maronite
Leave a comment
Archbishop Antonio Franco cuts the ribbon on the new wing of the Ephpheta Institute.
Sami El-Yousef is CNEWA's regional director for Palestine-Israel and advises the Sisters of St. Dorothy, who run the institute.
A few days ago, the Ephpheta Institute in Bethlehem — a program CNEWA has supported since its inception 40 years ago — celebrated the inauguration of a new expansion. The new three-story annex will host the 11th and 12th grades, in addition to a library, a new indoor play/educational room and additional storage facilities. The physical expansion of the school premises was a historic day for many reasons. Most significantly, the students at Ephpheta will no longer finish their education at 10th grade, but will complete a full educational cycle through the 12th grade, after which they will receive a high school diploma. Thus, there will be no graduation at the school this year; the 10th graders will proceed to 11th grade and will eventually graduate in 2014, much better equipped to either move on to a university education or to some other career track of their choosing. They will certainly be better equipped to meet life’s challenges with a high school diploma in hand.
Another reason why this was a historic event is that the full funding for this expansion project (around $600,000) came from a Palestinian Christian family originally from Bethlehem that now lives in the United States. These benefactors wish to remain anonymous. The family clearly did well financially in the diaspora and decided to give something back — to support this leading Christian institution, providing hope and a first-class education to over 150 deaf children in Palestine. We hope this will be encouragement to other Palestinian families to do the same.
Present at the ceremony were many dignitaries, including the Apostolic Delegate to Palestine Archbishop Antonio Franco, the mayor of Bethlehem, the Italian consul general, and representatives from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education and the governor’s office. All were most pleased with this development, but the people happiest of all were the students and their parents.
Congratulations to Ephpheta on this important milestone!
To learn more about the work of the Ephpheta Institute, click here. Other recent milestones include the celebration of the institute's 40th anniversary and a pastoral visit as part of CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar's journey to the Holy Land last year.
Sisters and teachers gather in the newly inaugurated wing. (photo: CNEWA)
8 May 2012
Tags: Education Jerusalem Donors Bethlehem
Leave a comment
The Holy Family School celebrates its 12th commencement ceremony. (photo: Sami El-Yousef)
In many reports and blogs on Gaza, the tone is often negative, reflecting the very difficult circumstances in Gaza — for instance, the gas shortage or the usual challenges associated with the blockade. But this time, I want to write about a very joyous celebration: the 12th commencement ceremony at the Holy Family School in Gaza. I was privileged to attend this along with his Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal.
This was no ordinary ceremony, as the 17 graduates — including three Christians — started their schooling in 2000, just as the second intifada was beginning. There has not been a stretch of quiet since they started their studies; they’ve had to contend with closures, travel restrictions, a blockade, a full-fledged war, violence and counter-violence, and swift and forceful Israeli air strikes. In short, these young men and women have not had a normal childhood or education. Yet, sitting there for the celebration, I couldn’t help but marvel: it was a grand, festive event with speeches full of hope and big dreams, just like any other commencement ceremony anywhere else in the world. Despite the bleak political situation, the valedictorian was full of energy and hope that tomorrow will be a better day.
Between each speech, there was a performance by the school’s Dabkeh team, featuring traditional Palestinian dance. It was the largest I have ever seen, with some 50 members of all ages. The team was fully synchronized and disciplined. It was a great joy to watch. These students were proud to be performing for us all — as if they were passing on a message that, despite all the difficulties of these past 12 years, they learned how to have fun and how to keep the culture alive.
Congratulations to the class of 2012! May the future be kinder to you than the past.
The school's Dabkeh team honors the graduates with a performance. (photo: Sami El-Yousef)
13 April 2012
Tags: Palestine Education Gaza Strip/West Bank
Leave a comment
Sami El-Yousef meeting with Christian university students. (photo: CNEWA)
Sami El-Yousef is CNEWAs regional director for Israel and Palestine.
After several months of endless waiting, uncertainty and waning hope, we were finally granted the permit to go to the Gaza Strip. Seven months have passed since our last visit in July 2011 as all our earlier efforts to get entry permits failed. It is still a mystery to me why they were not approved, but that is part of the challenge of doing business in the Holy Land; what is logical and makes sense anywhere else in the world does not make sense here.
Nevertheless, my colleague Gabi Kando and I were eager to get to Gaza to follow up on several ongoing projects, including the Pontifical Mission’s student sponsorship program for Christian students, and to launch our new project with four local institutions. This new project will provide hands-on training and short-term employment opportunities for hundreds of unemployed young Gazans who have very few prospects and who suffer from the current political situation and blockade.
We also had some surprising visits to new institutions, as well as other observations of the conditions inside the Gaza Strip.
We officially launched our training and short-term employment opportunities project soon after we arrived in Gaza, by signing four agreements. Two are with the NearEast Council of Churches, to train and offer employment for about 50 recentuniversity graduates, in addition to employment for around 100 graduates with vocational training. The third agreement was signed with the Ahli Arab Hospital to provide training and employment opportunities to about 70 health professionals, such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, as well as other administrative and support staff. The fourth agreement was signed with the Society of Women Graduates to provide training and employment to about 80 women graduates of various universities in Gaza. There was to be a fifth and final agreement with the Myrrh Bearers Society to set up an income generation tailoring factory that would also provide 10 permanentemployment opportunities. For technical reasons — and as a result of the election of a new board at the time of our arrival — it was not possible to sign this agreement. This will be completed as soon as possible, however.
Needless to say, our presence in Gaza and the launch of this important project — thanks to the generous support from Caritas Switzerland, Caritas Luxembourg, Secoure Catholique/Caritas France, Misereor Germany and CNEWA Canada — brought a ray of hope to our Gaza partners, in a place where hope is very difficult to find. All those we met were encouraged and thankful that we continue to consider Gaza a priority and that they are not forgotten. Thus, I feel a great obligation to return as soon as possible to listen, encourage and bring hope.
I cannot help but reflect on the many observations that I made as we drove through the crowded streets, spoke to many people and visited institutions both new andold.
It was very clear to us that a serious reconstruction effort is taking place in Gaza. Most of the sites of the 6,500 or so structures that were damaged during the war four years ago have been cleared and, in many instances, are completely rebuilt. Although some of the building supplies have been smuggled through the tunnels from Egypt, Gaza is still short of necessities that cannot be smuggled in — such as road asphalt, fuel and electricity. Fuel is one commodity that everyone relies on, yet it is severely in short supply. Gas stations either lie closed or have long lines of cars if they still have fuel. The availability of electricity continues to be one of the most serious problems, since the supply from the electric company does not exceed six to eight hours per day; the rest of the time, individuals and institutions (including hospitals andclinics) must rely on electrical generators. Moreover, these generators run on either petrol or gasoline; when those are in short supply, electricity grows scarce as well. A desperate situation, indeed!
We drove 40 minutes from Gaza City to the Near Council of Churches Vocational Training Center in Qarrarah near Khan Younis to inspect the works that were completed there as part of a grant from the Swiss Holy Land Foundation. During the trip, we observed the following details:
- There are many brand new cars on the roads with models not familiar to us in the local market. Our hosts explained that some come from Egypt, while many others were from Libyan dealerships, obtained at the height of the Libyan civil war. The tunnels evidently are alive and well, even growing in size, as they canhandle goods the size of a car.
- Many old orange groves and other types of agricultural land are quickly disappearing as open spaces between major cities are being replaced by new commercial, industrial and housing construction. With land prices beyond reach in Gaza City, and given the scarcity of land, people are expanding outward. A stripthat is already crowded is getting more so with each passing day.
- One cant help but notice that donkey carriages and motorbikes hauling large trolleys (better known in Gaza as “tuk tuks”) are becoming the main mode of transportation, since they need little or no gas.
- Halfwayalong our drive, we could see a crowd of a few hundred people (if not over a thousand) lined up in front of the offices of the Ministry of Social Affairs food distribution center, all pushing and shoving to get their ration of free food supplies. We could not determine who these people were, what criteria are being applied to receive the rations, or what is being distributed. But it was a very sad sight in this day and age.
- Drivingby the Rosary Sisters School, we noticed the construction of four new schools for UNRWA on the former site of the Preventive Security Forces that was bombed and completely leveled during the war.
Once we arrived at the training center, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the works completed.
Continue reading the entire report.
2 November 2011
Leave a comment
The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, celebrates Mass marking the 40th anniversary of the Ephpheta Institute in Bethlehem. (Photo: CNEWA)
A few days ago, the Paul VI Ephpheta Institute celebrated its 40th anniversary with a Mass in the institute’s chapel. The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, presided, assisted by the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Antonio Franco, and over a dozen priests. Some 250 guests were in attendance, including the mayor of Bethlehem, Dr. Victor Batarseh. CNEWA-Pontifical Mission has a long history in support of the institute, so I was proud to be there along with some of my colleagues to help mark this joyous occasion.
For those not familiar with this wonderful institution in the little town of Bethlehem, Ephpheta was created in response to the plea of Pope Paul VI during his historic 1964 visit to the Holy Land. He recognized the need for church institutions to be set up in education, health care and social services to serve the local Palestinian population. He encouraged the Sisters of St. Dorothy to establish a school to educate hearing impaired children. Six years later, in June 1971, Ephpheta began and admitted its first class of students later that year. The pope also asked the Pontifical Mission to assume a leadership role in ensuring the financial stability of the newly opened institution. Pontifical Mission has since faithfully supported the school financially through an annual subsidy to cover the operating costs. Today, Ephpheta serves 150 students, offering a first-class education and support to about 150 children through the 10th grade.
With the wonderful support of its donors, Pontifical Mission not only provides financial support but, through its board, provides support in whatever area that is needed, whether in financial management, administration, fundraising initiatives, relations with the public sector or what-have-you. The partnership that has developed between the Sisters of St. Dorothy and the Pontifical Mission is exemplary.
The school is now embarking on a major project to expand to the 12th grade. This will give students the opportunity to earn a high school diploma at the same school where they’ve done much of their studies. Construction of an annex to the existing building, to accommodate the needed physical facilities, started a few months ago and is expected to be completed in April 2012. The first 11th graders will be admitted the following September. Ephpheta will graduate its first students in June 2014. We are very proud to be part of this exciting development for the school; more importantly, we’re happy for the students.
As I was leaving the anniversary celebration, one of the sisters asked me to comment in the guest book. I will only share with you the first sentence I wrote: “It is not humanly possible for any one person to visit Ephpheta, see the children and not leave his heart behind.”
Every time I visit Ephpheta, I have the same feeling. I’m sure you will feel that way, too, when you visit this wonderful school, a place that gives hope to those most disadvantaged in Palestinian society, a place that offers them a new lease on life through the gift of hearing, speaking and communicating.
Sister Carmela and Mother Superior Sister Luciana, of the Sisters of St. Dorothy, mark the institute’s anniversary with Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Antonio Franco and Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel. (Photo: CNEWA)
For more information on the Ephpheta Institute, click here. To learn more about how you can support the work of the Institute, follow this link.
27 October 2011
Tags: Education Holy Land Bethlehem
Leave a comment
A camper learns to play the guitar at the Bethlehem Library run by the Teresian Association. (photo: Pontifical Mission )
Under the theme “From Memory to Commitment,” the Teresian Association is celebrating its first centenary in all 30 countries in which they have a vibrant presence. Founded by St. Pedro Poveda in the Spanish village of Covadonga in 1911, they began their work in the Holy Land in 1952. Shortly thereafter, they were asked by the Pontifical Mission to run the five Catholic public libraries that were opened to serve the youth in the Holy Land – specifically, in Nazareth, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Amman. Today, the Teresians continue to efficiently run the two remaining libraries in Bethlehem and Amman.
As we all know, with the technological advances of recent years, the role of a traditional library has become obsolete. This is not so for the Teresians, who have transformed the concept of a public library to meet the needs of the local populations – especially the youth. The Bethlehem library has become a vibrant community center, holding summer camp programs, yearlong workshops and various other learning opportunities. The library extends its services not only to youths, but also to women, the elderly and others seeking involvement within the community. The unlimited dedication of the Teresians helps to make this possible.
As an example, recent summer camp programs at the Bethlehem library catered to over 112 youths, organized into four age groups. Participants took part in a wide variety of activities including interreligious and intercultural dialogue, computer education, guitar lessons, Palestinian traditional Dabke dancing, storytelling, the formation of values, reading appreciation, art and drawing lessons, personality development and much more. Though this summer camp session has concluded, many of these activities will still be offered throughout the year.
In addition to their work at the library, the Teresians work locally to make available language education programs and to provide support for Bethlehem University. Internationally, they are active in schools and universities, usually involved in pastoral work, mass media, health care and research.
During the centenary celebration in Jerusalem, a number of local Palestinians young and old gave personal testimonies highlighting how the Teresians have touched the hearts of so many with their contributions and their quiet humility. I for one could not help but stand up and thank the Teresians for opening up their home to the entire neighborhood in Jerusalem during the 1967 war, providing shelter and hospitality for over 50 people of all walks of life. Those six nights I slept on the floor in their warm home shall never be forgotten.
We at the Pontifical Mission are proud of our long-term partnership with the members of the Teresian Association and look forward to continued collaboration, especially through the Pontifical Mission libraries.
19 October 2011
Tags: Palestine Holy Land Jerusalem Socioreligious programs
Leave a comment
In this photo taken from the playground of the Latin Patriarchate School in Ain Arik, you can see the Latin parish church on the left and the minaret of the local mosque on the right.
In our effort to visit towns and villages in the West Bank where there is a strong Christian presence — especially where there are a few vibrant institutions of the church serving the local communities — we paid a visit recently to the town of Ain Arik, a few kilometers to the West of Ramallah. The town has about 1,700 inhabitants, 33% of whom are Christians. Despite the fact that Christians are no longer in the majority, by presidential decree the head of the local council must be a Christian and the majority of seats in the council are reserved to Christians. Ain Arik is similar in this regard to 10 other locations on the West Bank where the mayor or head of the local council must be a Christian to ensure there is good Christian representation at various levels of the government. The other 9 locations are Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Ramallah, Zababdeh, Aboud, Jifna, Birzeit, and Taybeh.
This was a wonderful visit for many reasons. Ain Arik has not witnessed any major waves of emigration of its Christian population in recent years, except for a few young families who moved to other parts of the West Bank for better job opportunities. Land ownership of Christian families seems to be stable, and most importantly, the relations between the Christians and Muslims in the town are nothing but exemplary. Everyone we met was proud to highlight this and how the two communities have great respect for each other and live like a one big family. They described in detail the traditions the town has developed during religious holidays, both Christian and Muslim, and during weddings and funerals. In particular, the local custom followed to this day is that when a Muslim family loses a loved one, the Christians of the town provide the food to feed the many mourners. The reverse is also true: when a Christian family loses a loved one, it is the Muslim women that do the cooking to feed their Christian neighbors in mourning. What a way to build community together and nurture common respect.
Though we have not provided any grants to institutions in the town in recent years, I was proud that the Pontifical Mission had its footprints deeply ingrained in the three main institutions we visited. When we visited the Latin Patriarchate School serving some 170 Christian and Muslim students, the principal was quick to point to the big sign at the entrance that acknowledges and thanks the Pontifical Mission for the renovation works at the school a few years back. During our next stop at the office of the village council, the head pointed out that the renovation work to their quarters was a result of a grant from the Doty Foundation through the Pontifical Mission. Finally, when we paid a courtesy visit to the Greek Orthodox Church, Father Nicola started by thanking us for the grant that allowed them, a few years ago, to restore the church built in 1860 and bring it back to its original beautiful stone architecture. A true work of art!
I left Ain Arik a very proud man — not for anything I've done, since all the works predated my time at Pontifical Mission, but for being affiliated with an organization that does great work in communities where it is needed the most. Needless to say, I also came back with a number of requests for help! It will be a joy trying to raise funds for new projects in this great little town near Ramallah!
Sami El-Yousef is Regional Director for Palestine and Israel. To read George Martin's 1994 report on the village, click here.
Tags: Middle East Christians Palestine Christian-Muslim relations Funding Religious Diversity
Leave a comment