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Interview with Patriarch Twal – “Christians against the current”

FouadTHOLY LAND (OASIS) – In Jordan, the Patriarch  participated in meetings between the leaders and representatives of the Churches of the East. The issues addressed were fundamentalism and the persecution of Christians, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis that is never really addressed, and the “winds of war” in Syria, with the risk of a post-conflict that is even more explosive.

“We’re going against the current. It is a constant effort, but it requires the search for truth.” Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, was in Amman for a meeting between the leaders and representatives of the Churches of the East, convened by the King of Jordan to reflect on the challenges that Arab Christians face today and which are a matter of grave concern for King Abdullah II.

“The major urgency now is to set straight the religious discourse of so many Imams  who, from within their mosques, preach violence against non-Muslims.  Furthermore, the  constitutions of certain countries, which do not acknowledge equal rights for Christians  as other citizens, should be modified.”

Meanwhile, the Middle East is being emptied of Christians who continue emigrating. 

We Christians are a bit spoiled. “Right at the first signs of danger it is easy to pack the suitcases, knowing that we will be welcomed in Western countries. Certain factors encourage us to do that, namely, that other Christians have succeeded economically in the diaspora. But let me repeat that  if the land of the Middle East is really dear to us,  it should be for better and for worse.”

How do you see, from Jerusalem, the internal conflict of Muslims which tears apart the Middle East ? 

It is a source of pain for me. We are dramatically concerned about the US threats to attack Syria. The Syrian Bishops emphasize that the persecution of Christians by rebels is an objective reality. But to this pain is added another. The focus of attention is displaced. Nobody talks anymore about the Israeli military occupation, about the Wall, about the lack of freedom to reach the Holy Places. Meanwhile, our situation is not getting any better. From being exceptional it has become commonplace.

Over the last months, the US Secretary of State attempted to launch peace talks.  But on which basis will this dialogue, and a subsequent understanding, be based?  

I have recently met with King Abdullah, and he was optimistic.  In his view, if no agreement is reached during Obama’s term, then there is no hope of getting one.  However, I would like to stress again that the dialogue is not an end in itself, but a means to start a solution.

A two-state solution, backed by the Holy See, seems to have become impossible in the wake of building new Israeli settlements. Some would suggest therefore one single State.  What do you think?

I would not say that the hypothesis of two States is past.  To Israel we say: if you want two States, give the necessary space to do it.  If not, let us work for one State, a democratic one.  Of course, there is the risk, within a number of years, that there would be a Palestinian President. But it seems to me that the Israeli government prefers to manage the conflict rather than solve it.

Would the situation in Syria explode this “management”  by Israel?

Israelis are afraid of Assad, but they are more afraid of what might happen after him.  I am sure of that.

What scenarios do you see for Syria ?

It is an illusion to think that the US plan of targeted strikes would be performed surgically.  A war would give yet more strength to the mercenaries – Jihadist and Salafist.  I emphasize, therefore, my “No” to war, and “Yes” to a political solution.  In the Arab countries, what brings about the downfall of a government is usually not the rebels, but rather the army.  Up till now, 100,000 deaths are recorded, let alone  thousands of refugees, in order to overthrow a leader who is still healthy.

Jerusalem remains always the heart of historical events.

The Jerusalem that I know is one that unites all believers worldwide  and, at the same time, divides them.  It is a city of contradiction.   Perhaps my successor will see peace. I will not!

Marialaura Conte, Martino Diez (Oasis Center)