In Bethlehem over 30 Franciscans of the Order of Friars Minor with four Franciscan old sisters have refused to leave the Church of the Nativity so as to stand united with the Palestinians and prevent anymore suffering upon them by the Israeli Occupation Forces.
Israelis have besieged the compound which is the very place where our Lord Jesus Christ was born and where the Angels chanted “Glory to God … and Peace to Earth.”
The Franciscans who refuse to leave the church are of the same order of those Franciscans who helped Jews in Assisi, Rome and many other European cities against Nazis who were trying to exterminate them.
Now, these same Franciscans are trying to save the Palestinians from Zionism. The Franciscans have chosen to be INSTRUMENTS OF PEACE AND JUSTICE, their founder St. Francis of Assisi have always called his followers to be: “INSTRUMENTS OF PEACE AND LOVE”.
The Friars courageously dared to expose the lies of the Israeli and American Media which stated that they were taken as hostages by the Palestinians.
They have openly declared that: We share with them everything, we love them, they love us, we stand with them. We shared food, water, electricity and medical aid. In fact the Franciscans have been friends with Muslims and Arab-Christians for centuries. They have parishes at the service of the Arab-Christians in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerischo, Cana and have been the custodians of the Holy Places for centuries.
To the dismay of the entire international community, the Israelis refuse to allow the Palestinians to properly bury two people–one Christian-Palestinian, the Bell ringer and another Muslim-Palestinian who came to extinguish the fire that Israeli bombs created in one of the Franciscan sections of the Church. The deceased have been placed in the coolest parts of the Cathedral, yet they are rotting away and the smell is overwhelming.
Colin Powell was unable and quite frankly to persuade Sharon to allow the Palestinians to bury the dead killed by the Israeli Occupation Army, or to permit them to get water, food, medical assistance or electricity. This makes the visit of Powell a real FAILURE. Powell’s failure showed the true face of American policy in the region. It is now clear to everyone that the United States is unable or unwilling to do anything about justice in the Holy Land. Instead America will every once and while make statements claiming to be “worried” about the atrocities being inflicted upon the Palestinians, only to placate moderate Arab leaders to further advance America’s interests in the region. We know that America is not as weak as Powell and Bush would have us believe. We know that America alone can reign in Sharon and put an end to the brutal assault on the Palestinian people.
This is the first time in the history of the Church of the Nativity that it has been under assault by an occupation army. Romans, Persians, Byzantine, Muslims, Ottomans have maintained power in the region prior to the Israelis, yet all of the above groups have always respected the holiness of the place.
Arab-Christians have celebrated Christmas for 2000 years at this holiest of places, now that is no longer true. One can no longer claim that this is a religious conflict between Israelis and Muslims, for Palestinian Muslims and Christians alike are more united than ever to fight for the liberation of their land, and to end the humiliation that they have endured together by Israel with the support of the USA.
The Franciscans will stay in the Church of the Nativity, they will continue their work as instruments of peace. And as they once told the world of their experiences saving Jews in the Second World War from the Nazis Holocaust, may they live to one day tell the world about their experiences in trying to save the Palestinians from Zionist Palocaust (Palestinian Holocaust).
Father Labib Kobti is affiliated with Arab-American Christians for Peace (AACP), San Francisco, USA.