(Based on a letter written by Dr. Munir Fasheh to Pope Benedict XVI)
I received holiday greetings in February. The hefty envelope had been neatly slashed and left open but the contents, a card and a pamphlet appeared undisturbed.
It was sent by my friend who lives in Bethlehem, the Palestinian territory currently occupied by Israel. I examined the envelope with his neatly printed handwriting; studied the stamps and the postmark – January 8, 2017. There were two stamps; one dated 2012 had a brightly colored Christmas tree with “Merry Christmas” written in script below it. The other, stated ‘State of Palestine,’ in Arabic and English and pictured the star of Bethlehem as it appears inside the nearby Church of the Nativity: many Christians believe it to be the exact spot where Jesus, “Prince of Peace,” was born.
Inside the envelope was a pamphlet and a picture post card showing an aerial view of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock at the center and a view of the Wailing Wall in the left corner. On the back, my friend had written in bold type: Prayer For 2017: and a quote of the ‘Serenity Prayer’: God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the Courage to change the things I can; and the Wisdom to know the difference. Printed in English and in Arabic, he gave its attribution to Reinhold Niebuhr and followed it with his own simple thought: “In Hope is Life” – Remembering Palestine – and scrawled his initial.
The enclosed pamphlet intrigued me. I read it over several times before realizing that had inspectors read and understood it, I would likely not have received it. The nineteen page booklet, written by Dr. Munir Fasheh, was written in the form of a letter addressed to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI as a response to a lecture the Pope gave at the University of Regensburg on September 12, 2006.
The lecture was titled: ‘Faith, Reason and the University – Memories and Reflections,’ and during his delivery, the Pope quoted 14th Century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II:
“Show me what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
Dear Pope Benedict, the letter began, I am writing you as a Christian Palestinian. “When did I become Christian? Since the days Jesus walked on the land of Palestine. I belong to the only indigenous Christian community in the world, which makes us a very special and precious community”
Dr. Munir Fasheh continues, telling about his mother who did not know how to read and write and wouldn’t be able to recite scripture; “Yet, she beautifully embodied the spirit of Jesus in her life…” And asked about what Jesus said, her answer was ‘love one another.’
How, he asks in his letter, did my mother get this knowledge, the ability to embody Christ’s spirit without words in texts or brought by missionaries? His answer is by belonging to the precious indigenous Palestinian Christian community, which carried the spirit of Jesus in their hearts and in daily living as it passed from generation to generation.
Unlike organizations, which are created rationally by professionals through institutions, planning and budgets, our people’s community Christianity is not a mind creation. “Thus, I know very well the difference between people’s Christianity and institutional Christianity. They are worlds apart.”
This spirit was felt in the Jerusalem home where Fasheh grew up; and lost in 1948 when his city became occupied “by civilized democratic” European Jews who were promised my homeland (including my home) by “civilized democratic Christian” Britain. His letter extends an invitation for the Pope to visit his present house in the Palestinian city of Ramallah and to experience the “spirit” and feel the difference between “my mother’s Christianity and “western Christianity.”
The disappearance of Palestinian Christian communities started with the creation of Israel in 1948. Helped and supported by “Christian” Britain and US, Muslim and Christian Palestinians were driven from our lands and homes.” The scattered Christian families remaining in Jerusalem lost the spirit of community he knew in his childhood. Groups such as SABEEL in Jerusalem and Dar an-Nadwa in Bethlehem work to keep the spirit of Jesus alive within the shattered remains of the community, he says, “Once we disappear as a community – it is not possible to re-create it.”
“Never did I meet one missionary who came to Palestine to learn from this special and precious community. Imprisoned by words, symbols and images, they all came to preach and convert us with facts from “area studies” learned in Universities but seemed unaware of the special Christianity embodied in his parents’ way of living. and do not learn the special and radically different Christianity that existed. The assumption that one can understand through words and concepts is a myth of the modern world. To understand another world, one has to experience it, “enter it without prior concepts and thoughts.”
“I was lucky to live, feel, and experience this spirit in my home, but at the same time I am a product of institutions.”
Referencing the Pope’s quotation, he says he could excuse Manuel II for what he said about Muhammad in the 14th century – he probably didn’t know any better but “this is not your case, he admonishes, especially in light of what is happening in the world at the “time you repeated that statement in Germany without qualification and with apparent approval.”
Not to acknowledge the current bloody and brutal destructive wars waged by “Christian” and “Jewish” countries against mainly Muslim peoples and communities, failing to see the decades old military occupation and how Israel, the US, Britain, and EU are literally starving a whole population… The crimes in Gaza are the making of the “Jewish” state with full support from “Christian” US, Canada, EU, and Britain, claims supported by Mr. John Dugard, UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights on his fact finding mission to Gaza. Instead, to recite an ugly and false statement of ignorance and hatred said by an emperor more than 600 years ago is “pulling the church out of this world and rendering it irrelevant to those who suffer -Incomprehensible – to say the least!”
Continuing, Fasheh’s letter says, that during the past 200 years, there is no Arab or Islamic country in the region that was not bombarded by either “Christian” or “Jewish” armies. Ignoring facts, accusers revert to the 14th century falsehood of Islam describing it as being a religion of the sword, hatred, out to destroy “peace loving Christians and Jews…” Dismissing history, churches and governments further add insult by disrespecting the intelligence of the people.
He recalls the words of Black Hawk, a Sauk chief who in 1832, said, “How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong and wrong look like right.”
It’s easy when you never lived under military occupation as Fasheh had for most of his life. The word doesn’t mean much to people who have not experienced daily terror and insecurity of living under occupation. People in the West are ignorant and unaware of the horror caused by their nations to inhabitants of five continents for five centuries that have often wiped out whole civilizations!
“Occupation of Iraq is another type of Holocaust where instead of burning people in furnaces, they are burned in their homes by smart weapons!”
“I wish you had followed Jesus’ wisdom, he admonishes with a biblical passage – “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Mathew 7: 3-5). “I wish you had followed Jesus’ wisdom and said that you want to try to take out the planks that fill Christian eyes, …” and hopes others would do the same so all would see each other more clearly and humanly – it would have created dialogue and been in harmony with Christ’s message and spirit.
If Christians remain silent in the face of what is happening to peoples in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan then the very stones would cry out. The attempt to silence Palestinians and Lebanese summons another lesson: when the Pharisees wanted to silence the disciples, Jesus was told, ‘teacher, rebuke thy disciples!’ Jesus replied,’ if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19: 39-40).