Martin de Jong
5 April 2012
As the Church prepares to commemorate Christ’s passion and resurrection, Caritas Jerusalem secretary-general Claudette Habesch says Christians in the Holy Land cannot visit such holy sites as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on Golgotha where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, 2000 years ago.
Permits are in the form of day passes given only during religious holidays, such as Christmas, and Easter and they expire at sundown.
‘During Easter, tradition calls for all Christians to gather in and around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Orthodox Holy Saturday to wait for the holy light to come out of the tomb of Jesus.
‘Candles and lanterns are immediately lit and spread to homes and all Christian localities and abroad announcing the resurrection of Jesus. On such a significant occasion, Israel closes entrances to the old city of Jerusalem, choosing who enters.’
Though now in her 70s, Claudette Habesch still explains the injustice of life as a Palestinian in the Holy Land through the eyes of a child – her own eyes. As a seven-year-old she and her family were expelled from their Jerusalem home in the 1948 War of Independence for Israel or Naqba (the catastrophe) as Palestinians term it.
‘I felt the extent of loss when my father was unable to explain to me who deserved to sleep in the comfort of my bed and hug my only doll more than me,’ she says.
Claudette Habesch visited the Wellington and Palmerston North dioceses during Lent as a guest of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand.
She addressed several hundred people at liturgies for peace held in both cathedrals, and a public meeting in Wellington. She also spoke to school students in both dioceses and at a Justice Leadership Day for senior high school students in Palmerston North.
The pain Claudette felt for herself and for her people was evident, but she was adamant that a peaceful solution was the only way forward for the troubled Holy Land– one that respected the rights of all to live in peace and dignity.
Claudette spoke of the injustice of living under the illegal Israeli occupation for the past 64 years – the longest occupation in recorded history – and of the continued failure of peace talks.
‘Furthermore, I feel that we have failed the younger generation. This is how my 17-year-old grandson introduced himself to one of the universities in his application essay.
A Palestinian Christian from Jerusalem, I was born close to the birth of the Oslo Peace Accord (September 1993) and grew up with the hope of a just solution and prosperity. I witnessed the disappointing collapse of peace talks and now I will graduate from high school under the cloud of a political stalemate and internal Palestinian strife.
Claudette does not believe the task ahead is difficult. The Palestinian people recognised the State of Israel in 1988 ‘and today we have accepted and acknowledged the fact that an independent Palestinian state has to co-exist alongside Israel based on the two-state solution on 22 percent of historic Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital’.
Believing in a sacred responsibility to build a prosperous and secure country, ‘President Mahmoud Abbas went to the United Nations General Assembly last September to prove to the world that Palestine is ready and willing to exist peacefully alongside its neighbours’.
Claudette spoke of her concern that the Christian population in the Holy Land has dwindled to a mere 2.25 percent from the 19 percent recorded in 1945.
‘The percentage of Palestinian Christians living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza is 1.7 percent of total population, while some studies show that this figure is as low as 1.2 percent.’
For Christians, their uninterrupted presence in the Holy Land for the past 2,000 years is of the utmost importance.
‘Christianity was born in the Holy Land and the people of this land were the first to bear witness to the message that reached the end of the world.’
She challenged listeners to use their voice throughout the country and at the United Nations.
‘I was touched by the campaign in New Zealand to support the recognition of the Palestinian state at the UN. Your genuine and honest commitment makes a difference to us.’
Stressing that no party wins when there is also a loser, Claudette said that there would be no peace without justice and security. Nor would reconciliation be possible.
‘I feel that the international community bears a responsibility towards achieving justice for the Palestinian people so that peace can prevail.
‘In this time of Lent, we see a new dawn rising. As Christians, we all bear witness to the birth of an amazing power, the power of resurrection and life. Our Saviour has shown us that death does not win, that there is always hope.’
‘I believe in the power of solidarity, of sharing our prayers together. Now you are also witnesses of the fate of the Palestinians. Do not let injustice silence us, but stand with us in your prayers and your acts to bring peace to the Holy Land.’
See also From Jerusalem to Hiruharama – making the links
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand