Fact-finding priest laments the plight of Palestinians

Published February 1, 2001

Canadian Anglican priest Robert Assaly (right) speaks to an Israeli soldier

A CANADIAN Anglican priest has returned from a fact-finding visit to the Middle East with vivid memories of people covered in glass from broken car windows, of fields and olive groves bulldozed into the ground, and of water pumping equipment destroyed.

Rev. Robert Assaly returned to his three-point rural charge of Holy Trinity, St. Peter and St. Matthias in the Ottawa area eager to speak about the violence suffered by Palestinians.

Mr. Assaly is no stranger to the complicated problems in the Middle East. In his role as liaison officer for the Canadian Council of Churches and director of Jerusalem for the Middle East Council of Churches, he lived with his wife and three young children (there are now six) in the West Bank for three years, from 1992 to 1995. He still has many friends there, both Israeli and Palestinian.

In an interview on his return to Canada, he said that many Canadian Anglicans find media reports from the region confusing and that Palestinian suffering is not well enough understood.

His two-week trip, sponsored by Inter-Church Action for Development, Relief and Justice, had two purposes: to express solidarity with Christian partners there and to get the facts. Christian partners include the Ecumenical Centre for Palestinian Liberation Theology and the Middle East council , which represents all mainline churches. Their members have much to lose – Palestinian Christians are dwindling in number; driven off their land or fearful for their safety, many have simply left.

Mr. Assaly traveled to villages and spoke with local political and religious leaders. People there are stymied, he said, “because nobody gives a hoot. There is silence from the rest of the world.”

Although there are extremists on both sides of the conflict, he said there is palpable agony over the oppression of Palestinians, who are by far the worst off in the conflict against Israeli soldiers with state-of-the art weaponry.

“The Palestinian people are united regardless of their position, whether they are Muslim or Christian, that the Jewish settlers, there illegally, must go if there is to be any true peace. What was frightfully apparent was that there is no way the settlers and the Palestinians can live side by side.”

Asked about recent Palestinians acts of terrorism against Jews in the area, Mr. Assaly said, “The occupation creates resistance. I also believe that the ‘relatively minor’ Palestinian violence – there have been 12,000 Palestinians wounded by Israelis in the past three months – would evaporate as soon as the Israeli occupation evaporates, just as it did in Lebanon.”

Mr. Assaly said he witnessed many “criminal” acts against Palestinians. In Halamish, Jewish settlers cut down 189 olive trees on Palestinian farms in one night. In another town, the water pumping equipment, which serviced 1,000 Palestinians, was destroyed. Other villages see their water supply cut while settlers divert it to fill their swimming pools.

Transportation has become a nightmare. Soldiers close roads at random, preventing Palestinians from getting to work and school. Taxis cut through fields to get around army roadblocks, and drivers refuse to come to Palestinian villages after dark, fearing they will be shot in the darkness.

At one town, a Palestinian woman arrived at her home after Mr. Assaly got there, covered in glass. Her car had been stoned as she drove home from work.

Mr. Assaly’s conclusions are similar to those of an ecumenical peace delegation of U.S. church leaders that spent a week in the Middle East in mid-December. All want the Geneva Convention (which Canada signed) respected.

“What can Canada do? One thing we can do is to team up with other Nordic nations, separate ourselves from U.S. policy and devise a strategy to implement United Nations resolutions, which require that Israel withdraw from Palestinian territories it occupied in the 1967 war,” Mr. Assaly said.


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