FaithWorld

Palestinians ask U.N. recognition for Bethlehem’s Nativity Church

nativity

(An Armenian priest in the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, January 18, 2008/Nayef Hashlamoun)

Unlike the Sydney Opera House or the Statue of Liberty, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the holiest places in Christendom, is not on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. It lies inside the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinians, with no state of their own, do not enjoy the full U.N. membership to secure United Nations recognition.

On Monday, they announced plans to rectify what the U.N. cultural agency agrees is a glaring anomaly that has placed the church — built 1,700 years ago over the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born — in international limbo.

“This step is part and parcel of our plan to end the (Israeli) occupation and establish a state,” said Palestinian Authority Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Khouloud Daibes, presenting a formal submission to the UNESCO heritage committee, which over the past 40 years has denoted more than 900 sites of “outstanding universal value to humanity.”

An estimated two million pilgrims and tourists are expected to visit the Church of the Nativity this year, bending low to enter by the Door of Humility to the basilica, whose rafters were donated by the 15th century English king, Edward IV. For Christian pilgrims it is as holy as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, a few kilometres to the north, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for 30 years.

Israeli rabbis tell Jews not to sell homes to Arabs, Netanyahu disagrees (updated)

settlement (Photo: A sign advertising apartments for sale in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim near Jerusalem March 2, 2009/Ammar Awad)

Dozens of Israeli rabbis, some of them civil servants, issued an appeal on Tuesday telling locals not to sell or rent property to non-Jews, drawing condemnation from lawmakers and human rights activists. The open letter underscored Jewish-Arab tensions that have deepened along with Israel’s deadlocked Palestinian conflict, as well as more recent demographic fears triggered by an influx of illegal African migrants.

“The land of Israel is intended for the people of Israel,” Yosef Shainin, chief rabbi of the southern port city of Ashdod and one of the 41 signatories, told Israel’s Army Radio when asked about the letter.

Obtained by Reuters ahead of its planned publication in synagogues and religious journals, the letter quotes warnings by ancient sages that living with non-Jews can lead to “sacrilege.” Other concerns for property values are also raised. Another signatory, Chief Rabbi Mordechai Nagari from the Maale Adumim settlement, said: “If you allow Arabs into Jewish neighborhoods, you are asking for feuds to ensue.”

Jewish settlers replace Korans burnt in West Bank

korans (Photo: Rabbi Menachem Froman (R) holds a Koran given to Palestinians after Monday’s attack in the West Bank village of Beit Fajjar near Bethlehem October 5, 2010/Ammar Awad)

Jewish settlers on Tuesday gave new copies of the Koran to Palestinians in a West Bank village whose mosque was burned in an attack blamed by Palestinians on militants in the settler movement.

Several copies of Islam’s holy book were scorched in the arson attack and threats in Hebrew were scrawled on the wall of the mosque of Beit Fajjar early on Monday. Suspicion immediately fell on settler militants opposed to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, in which some settlements would be turned over to a Palestinian state.

“This visit is to say that although there are people who oppose peace, he who opposes peace is opposed to God,” said Rabbi Menachem Froman, a well-known peace activist and one of a handful of settlers who went to Beit Fajjar to show solidarity with their Muslim neighbors.

Korans burnt in West Bank mosque attack blamed on Jewish settlers

beit fajjar 1 (Photos: Burned carpet in mosque above, burned Koran below, 4 Oct 2010/Ammar Awad)

Jewish settlers opposed to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians were accused of setting fire to a mosque in the West Bank on Monday, burning the Koran and scrawling threats in Hebrew on its walls. “Mosques, we burn,” said a warning scribbled at the door of the smoke-smudged mosque of Beit Fajjar south of Bethlehem on the day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed for cool heads to avert the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks.

The green-carpeted floor of the mosque was burned to a black crust in a dozen places where it was doused with kerosene and set alight at around three in the morning. A dozen copies of the Koran were scorched by the fire.  Palestinians said settlers were behind the attack. “The settlers’ message is: terrorize the Palestinian people,” said Mohammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who came to inspect the damage and talk to the locals.

A Star of David symbol and the words “Price Tag” were found scrawled over the mosque’s doorway.  Militant settlers coined the slogan to warn of the cost of any threat to their presence. It was the fourth such attack since December and “a very serious incident which we view with utmost gravity,” said Israeli military spokeswoman Lieut. Colonel Avital Liebowitz.

Jewish settlers claim biblical birthright to occupied West Bank land

settlers (Photo: Avraham Binyamin builds a sukkah, a ritual booth for the holiday of Sukkot, on the West Bank Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, south of Nablus, September 20, 2010/Ronen Zvulun)

Jewish settler Avraham Binyamin says any Israeli withdrawal from occupied land would be like severing a limb from his body. As one of some 300,000 Israelis living in enclaves built on West Bank land that Palestinians seek for a state, Binyamin expresses a view held by many that the area is a Jewish biblical birthright and must never be relinquished, not even for peace.

“The national being of any people, particularly the Jewish people, is like a body, you cannot give up parts of your body,” said Binyamin, 25, a teacher from Yitzhar, a settlement known for its tense relations with neighboring Palestinian villages. The question of settlements has come to the fore at the peace negotiations as a partial freeze on Jewish building in the West Bank ended on Sunday.

The religiously devout father of two says the 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank should be relocated to neighboring Arab lands. “I can sometimes very much understand their pain and their need,” he says. “But from the national perspective, it’s either me or them — and I prefer it to be me.”

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Giving no quarter, Jerusalem’s Armenians keep flame alive

armenianThe rare sense of space and calm that marks out the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City is both its blessing and its curse. The acquisition of the land, and construction of the beautiful St. James Cathedral at its heart, speaks volumes for the abilities of this small ethnic diaspora from the Caucasus to secure favour from the Ottoman sultans who partitioned the walled holy city in the hope of a bit of peace from religious rivalries.

But the limited, and shrinking population of the Armenians has made their Quarter an object of envy and desire for other groups, not least the fast-expanding Jewish Quarter next door, which has been massively rebuilt during 43 years of Israeli control after being ravaged during the period of Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967.

For a look at the issues, you can read our story and the accompanying factbox.

The Church itself, proud of a tradition that it was an Armenian king in 301 who first adopted Christianity as a state religion (some years before the Roman Empire), is  a solid fixture of Christian Jerusalem. The small ethnic Armenian lay community around it feels less sure of its future.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Jerusalem Power

holy fireTo spend the past few days in the crowded, narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City, among the multilingual throngs marking Passover or Easter, was to get an unforgettable sense of the power this place has over the minds of millions. It also gives an insight into some of the ways Jerusalem, and control of access to its holy sites, plays into global power politics.

For the majority of Palestinians who are Muslim, as well as for the Islamic world beyond, the Jewish state of Israel's hold on the city since its capture from Jordan in the 1967 war is a deep grievance. Sporadic violence around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque has flared again this year.

But with the confluence this year of the Easter calendars of both Western and Eastern churches, as well as the Jewish Passover celebrations, it was the issue of Christian access and the competing claims of different Christian denominations to the holy sites of Jerusalem, that was particularly in focus this past week. And if it was American-accented English that dominated among the visiting Jewish families crowding towards prayers at the Western Wall and which served as a reminder of the powerful alliance Israel enjoys, despite current turbulence, with the United States, it was the Russian spoken by many of the Christian pilgrims which indicated one of the main trends changing the balance of power within that fractured religious community.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Turmoil on Via Dolorosa

jerusalem1Hundreds of visitors to Jerusalem's old walled city got more than the tour of religious holy sites they had bargained for on Sunday, as violence between Israeli police and Muslims at al-Aqsa Mosque spilled over into some of the otherwise charming cobblestone alleys that frame the compound.

 

Eighteen Palestinians and three Israeli policemen were injured in the latest of a series of recent confrontations at the mosque, situated on al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), which Muslims regard as their third holiest site. Jews revere the area as the Temple Mount, a site where two ancient temples once stood. The Western Wall remnant to a Roman-era temple, one of Judaim's holiest sites, is right next door.

As the clashes ensued, tourists visiting a Christian holy site on a neighbouring Jerusalem street hurried on past as Israeli police scuffled with Palestinian protesters throwing stones, hurling an occasional firebomb and burning trash on an intersecting alley.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Palestinian Non-Alcoholic Beer

taybehThe fifth annual Palestinian Oktoberfest was held on October 3rd and 4th, at the mainly Christian town of Taybeh, West Bank. Located several kilometers north of Ramallah, Taybeh, is home to the first and only Palestinian beer - Taybeh Beer. Established in 1995, Taybeh Beer can also be found abroad, being sold and distributed in Germany, the United Kingdom and even Japan.

The two-day beer festival celebrates the town's now famed beverage and markets other local Palestinian products such as olive oil, honey, and embroidery to international visitors, as an effort to boost the Palestinian economy.

This year's Oktoberfest boasted a diverse program featuring Brazilian and Greek bands and traditional Japanese dancers. Organizers expected more than 10,000 visitors, a new record.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Clash of Islamists the talk of Gaza

Ibn Taymea mosque

Coming home on Sunday after a long day at work, there was still no rest. Several of my neighbours in Gaza were escaping the late evening heat of their apartments to sit outside our building chatting about the previous two days that had seen the bloodiest inter-Palestinian fighting in two years, between forces of the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza and gunmen of an al Qaeda-style group. It left 28 people dead.

Knowing I'ma journalist, and discovering that I had been at the scene of the clashes, down in the south of the Gaza Strip at Rafah, the neighbours started bombarding me with their questions. Most of them were confused about what exactly happened between these two groups, which both endorse Islam as a political ideology.

Some of them asked whether the clashes would have a backlash and whether they should keep a distance from Hamas police stations and even restaurants to avoid being blown up by followers of the Jund Ansar Allah (the Warriors of God), whose leader had been killed in the fighting with Hamas security forces.