Friday, May 15, 2009

A Personal Word from a Palestinian Doctor

Dear Friend,
Arab and Israeli "extremists" work to derail meaningful conversation to end the stalemate. Below is a "letter" from a Palestinian general practitioner, who wants to say something to President Obama. Thanks to TIKKUN for bringing his blog to our attention.

It is no longer acceptable that people on one side scream "Death to Arabs" and from the other, "Death to Israel".

At least one Israeli has expressed his contempt for the "good" doctor (in the comments section), but the doctor's words go to the heart of the issues that need to be addressed and resolved. I hope you agree and continue to act and pray, pray and act. JRK

An Open Letter to Presideent Barak Obama
April, 6, 2009

Dear President Obama,

In approaching the task of addressing you directly about a personal issue, I feel daunted by the abyss that separates the two of us in status and power. I am a retired public health physician, attempting to maintain a hold on his sanity and physical health by puttering around his garden in a Palestinian village in Galilee. You are the president of the nation most of humanity envies and desires to join, burdened with the task of saving the world from economic and political chaos and now from nuclear war.

Yet I find enough shared experiences between us to embolden me to speak to you as an equal in humanity if in no other regard. Like you, I am a product of Hawaii, where I attended university at the time your late parents did, and of Harvard, where we both received our professional training. I subsequently returned to my village and worked among my people to treat their illnesses and improve their wellbeing physically, mentally and socially with varying degrees of success and frustration. Unlike you, I came up fast against the glass ceiling set very low for Palestinian citizens of Israel like me. I have written a book of memoirs (see last below) that documents my professional struggle over three and a half decades. It would be a great honor for me if you were to read it as part of your education on the issues of my community and of our potential as a bridge for peace in the Middle East.

Now to the subject of my message, Mr. President: The newly-elected prime minister of Israel, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, and his foreign minister, Mr. Avigdor Lieberman, plan evict me from my home and to take away my garden. These two persons and their fellow ministers were democratically elected to their positions and will use ‘democratic’ means at their disposal to legitimize my disenfranchisement as have previous Israeli governments done in the past. The difference is that the current leaders are explicit and aggressive about disadvantaging me based on my ethnicity. They have devised a way to blame me for my victimhood. They intend to ask me to sign an oath of allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state, a state that defines itself as exclusive of me and my people.

Democracy, Mr. President, may be the best political system, but, alas, it is no guarantee of justice and equality when it is abused to give unrestricted power to an exclusivist majority. My community, citizens of Israel since its establishment, makes up a fifth of the country’s population but owns a constantly shrinking share of the land that currently stands at 3% of the total. Our towns and villages receive 3-5% of municipal budgetary allocations. Our infants and children die at over twice the level of our Jewish co-citizens -- and the relative ratio is rising of late. Our two communities continue to live in racially segregated residential areas often separated by walls and barbwire. Mr. President, I am not writing of the West Bank or Gaza but of neighborhoods in ‘mixed cities’ within the Green line.

You are the lead protector and promoter of true democracy in the world. As such, I call on you, Mr. President, to stand up to such corrupting practices presented to the world under the guise of sound democratic principles.

And as a fellow human being, I ask you, Mr. President, to put yourself momentarily in my position and consider how I should react to the racially-based transfer designs of these politicians. Here, in the person of Avigdor Lieberman, is another presumably equal co-citizen of Israel who calls openly for my disqualification from our shared citizenship because I want to be equal to him under the laws of our common country. He insists on having me step down from our presumed common stand of equality and kowtow openly to his privileged status as the son of a certain race and religion. Would you do that, Mr. President, were it to be demanded from you by a fellow American citizen, be he Anglo-Saxon, Hispanic or Asian immigrant, or even a Native American?

As an alternative, Mr. Lieberman wants me transferred out of the country though I have lived on land I inherited legally from forefathers who almost surely have better claim to descent from the ancient Hebrews than his. And mind you, Mr. President, my residence in the home he wants me evicted from predates the establishment of the state he wants to appropriate as his, and his alone, while he is a recent immigrant from Moldova. Would you, Mr. President, take a loyalty oath confirming your second-class status?

Mr. Lieberman’s best-case scenario for tolerating my existence in his vicinity is to have the homes of the likes of me re-zoned into one of the Bantustans he envisions, to be created and run by remote control from behind an ethnic separation wall. Would you succumb gracefully, without protest, to such a scheme, Mr. President?

You have to understand, sir, that I speak here of life-and-death issues for me and my family. Mr. Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister, attained his impressive status through an openly racist election campaign that featured mass rallies at which calls of “Death to Arabs” were standard. Would you trust such a man with your future in the international arena, Mr. President? I surely hope not: but the majority of Israeli citizens seem to have done exactly that.

That is where I sense danger, sir; in the assigning of my fellow countrymen of responsibility for our common future to fascist and untrustworthy representatives. Past injustices, and those were many and massive against my people, were never so clearly foretold as the ones the current Israeli government threatens to perpetrate against me, my family, my village and my people. It is with this clearly articulated plan of my transfer in mind that I call on you to use the undeniable prestige of your office to stop such plans from being implemented. I ask you, sir, to reassure me that you will never permit such schemes to be on any agenda discussed in the presence of representatives of the United States of America. I need that in order to be able to sleep, Mr. President.

With my best wishes for a peaceful and happy Easter for you and your family and for all of humanity, I remain,


Hatim Kanaaneh , MD , MPH
Author of 'A Doctor in Galilee : the Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel ', Pluto Press, 2008
Active Blog:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Arab Christians in Palestine/Near East

Dear Friend,
An article on Arab "Christian" presence in the "Near East" in light of the Pope's visit there now. JRK

Christian Arabs and 'peace and justice'

By Daoud Kuttab

The Jordan Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Jordan and Palestine is a perfect opportunity to review and declare the role of Christian Arabs in the peace process.
To begin with, it is important for all to know that Arabs have been in Palestine and Jordan before Islam and Christianity. References to the word “Arab” and its derivatives are mentioned hundreds of times in the Old and New Testaments. The Biblical figure of Job is said to be Arab and Arabs were among the many attending the sermon on the day of Pentecost by St. Peter when 3,000 (among them Arabs) became Christians. Acts 2 refers to Arabs having heard the sermon in their own tongue.

Arab Christians have, therefore, been an integral part of Palestine and the Middle East region since at least the Day of Pentecost. The role of Arab Christians in modern Arab nationalism was best reflected in George Habib Antonius’ book “The Arab Awakening”. Antonius (1891-1941) was one of the first historians of Arab nationalism. Born of Lebanese-Egyptian parentage and a Christian (Greek Orthodox) Arab, he served in the British Mandate of Palestine. His 1938 book “The Arab Awakening” was written as Palestine was slipping from Arab control.

Antonius traced Arab nationalism to the reign of Mehmet Ali Pasha in Egypt. He argued that Arab nationalism was a product of the West, especially of Protestant missionaries from Britain and the United States. He saw the role of the American University of Beirut (originally the Syrian Protestant College) as central to this development.

The number of Arab Christians vary. Wikipedia states that Christians today make up 9.2 per cent of the population of the Near East. In Lebanon, they now number around 39 per cent of the population, in Syria about 10 to 15 per cent. In Palestine before the creation of Israel estimates range up to as much as 40 per cent, but mass emigration has slashed the number still present to 3.8 per cent.

Israeli Arab Christians constitute 2.1 per cent (or roughly 10 per cent of the Arab population). In Egypt, they constitute between 9 and 16 per cent of the population (the government figures put them at 6 per cent).

Around two-thirds of North and South American and Australian Arabs are Christian, particularly from Lebanon, but also from Palestine and Syria.

While the number of Christian Palestinians in Jerusalem and the occupied territories has dwindled over the years, they are still a key component of the Palestinian and Arab peoples of the region. Activists blame violence, occupation and uncertainty, coupled with opportunities (or lack thereof) for work and emigration, as the main reason for the flight of Christian Palestinians to the Americas, Australia and Europe.

While the world looks at the Arab-Israeli conflict from an Arab-Israeli point of view, or a Jewish-Islamic one, the role and contribution of Arab Christians cannot and need not be ignored.

Unlike followers of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, Christians have no religious attachment to physical locations. Scholars refer to the response of Jesus to the Samaritan woman’s question about whether to worship in Jerusalem or in the Sumerian mountains. Jesus replied to her: “Neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Christian Arabs, however, believe that a lasting resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict must both address the national aspirations of the Palestinians (of which they are part) and provide for the spiritual needs of the faithful, including Christians.

In this regard, Palestinian Christians are perhaps angriest with a radical but effective group of Christians who try to give Biblical support and legitimacy for the Israeli aggression against Palestinians. An entire industry that has been well endowed has cropped up in the West, attempting to hijack the Christian theological debate in favour of what is now referred to as Christian Zionism.

Right-wing governments in Israel and the US seem to be natural feeding grounds for these fundamentalists. Palestinian Christians have forcefully rejected this position and some established evangelical voices have also come up to debunk these myths and insist on the need for justice as an integral part of any peaceful resolution in the region.
The visit of the Pontiff has stirred plenty of interest in the contributions Christians can make to the peace process. Israel’s attempts to ban the Aida refugees in Bethlehem from erecting the stand for the visiting Pope by the 28-foot-high wall is perhaps the most glaring worry the Israeli occupiers have about the visit of the Pontiff. They fear precisely what Arab Christians insist on: that a truly Christian position on the Israeli-Arab conflict will not be merely satisfied with a call for peace, but will necessarily also include a call for justicefor Palestinians.

“Peace and justice” is the message of people of faith from the entire world, and is certainly the focus for Arab Christians.

The writer is director of media NGO Community Media Network in Jordan and Palestine. He comes from a Palestinian Christian family that traces its ancestry in Jerusalem 600 years. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.