News Fall 2000

Church leader accuses Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians

Archimandrite Theodosios Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has accused Israel of practicing “ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians, and has appealed for solidarity from Christians and churches around the world.

Speaking at the Geneva headquarters of the World Council of Churches on October 19, Fr. Theodosios said that Palestinian Christians “are suffering, because they are Palestinians and they want to stay in their homeland in Palestine.”

The delegation also included Dr. Marwan Bishara, a Nazareth journalist who is a research fellow at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

The delegation was accompanied by Georges Tsetsis, member of the WCC’s central and executive committees, and former representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the WCC headquarters.

Fr. Theodosios said: “Israel is practicing ethnic cleansing against Arabs – Muslim and Christian. Everyone thinks that there is a conflict between Arabs and Israelis. It is not a conflict between Arabs and Israelis, but an occupation by Israel.” He entreated churches to hold special prayers “to make visible the suffering of the Palestinian people” and to support their struggle “for a just peace that guarantees all their rights … The Palestinian people should be enjoying all the rights of any other nation and should be enjoying their independence in their own state, the capital of which is Jerusalem.”

The recent “excessive use of lethal force,” said Dr. Bishara, had turned the expression of Palestinian frustration “into a much wider confrontation, engulfing not only Palestinians in the occupied territories, but also Palestinians inside Israel.”

The idea of a peace process as a slow, cumulative process “no longer works,” said Bishara.

“It is now essential for the parties to move toward physical, geographic, but, most importantly, legal separation between two sovereign, independent states. This is the only way we can stop the violence.”

Bishara said the conflict was not a religious conflict between Jews and Muslims, “but a racist and colonial conflict touching Christian communities as well as Muslim communities.”

Human Rights report shows Israeli pattern of excessive force

On October 17 Human Rights Watch released results of an investigation that condemned Israeli police and security forces of “a pattern of using excessive, lethal force in clashes with demonstrators over the past two weeks.”

HRW also criticized the failure of the Palestinian police to act consistently to prevent armed Palestinians from shooting at Israeli soldiers from positions where civilians were present and were thus endangered by the Israeli response.

HRW called on Palestinian and Israeli authorities to take urgent steps to stop their own civilians from using lethal force against other civilians – an increasingly serious problem. HRW also condemned the brutal killing by a Palestinian mob of two Israeli soldiers in the custody of the Palestinian police.

HRW said its investigation of clashes in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and northern Israel showed repeated use by Israeli security forces of lethal force in situations where demonstrators posed no threat of death or serious injury to security forces or others. In situations where Palestinians did fire upon Israeli security forces, the IDF showed a troubling proclivity to resort to indiscriminate lethal force in response. At least 100 Palestinians have been killed and 3,500 injured in clashes with Israeli security forces. HRW also expressed concern at the IDF’s use of munitions meant for penetrating concrete and other hard surface barriers.

The organization also noted the repeated apparent targeting of emergency medical personnel and facilities by the IDF, as well as stoning attacks by Palestinian and Israeli civilians on ambulances.

“Both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, share an obligation to protect lives,” said Hanny Megally of HRW staff. “Israeli and Palestinian leaders should condemn these acts publicly and without equivocation, and instruct security personnel to stop these attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice,” he said.

IOCC initiates emergency response to victims in the Holy Land

Emergency assistance to victims of the conflict in Israel-Palestine through a special project of International Orthodox Christian Charities was announced October 20 at IOCC headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. IOCC said it would dispatch emergency medical supplies, food and other aid to children and families affected by the turmoil in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, the West Bank and Gaza. Distribution will be through seven hospitals and community organizations.

“Over 3,600 people have been injured in the hostilities that began September 28 with casualties mounting each day that the fighting continues,” said IOCC staff member Mark Hodde. “Many of the injuries, according to our Jerusalem representative, Nora Kort, have resulted in head, neck and chest trauma. Tragically, many of the injuries have resulted in permanent disabilities, she reports.”

The St. John Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem, which has seen patients seeking treatment for eye injuries, is one of the institutions that will receive assistance from IOCC. Marwan Khader, the Hospital’s Administrative Director, described the needs of over 20 young people who have sought treatment, including some who have lost their sight and another patient requiring an eye transplant.

“We appeal to the conscience of the world to help us alleviate the suffering of these innocent people,” said Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. “It pains me beyond measure to witness the ongoing uncivil war in Palestine and Israel. Please pray for peace in the Middle East.”

In addition to those injured, the disturbances have begun to exact an economic toll on the population of the Holy Land, with many Israeli and Palestinian businesses forced to close and tourism, a mainstay of the economy, dramatically curtailed. The fighting has also come during the annual olive harvest that is a central cash crop for many Palestinian towns and villages. Even if efforts to restore the peace are successful, with the violence preventing many Palestinians from harvesting the olive crop, the effects of the skirmishes are sure to be felt for months if not years ahead.

IOCC will work with partners in the region to provide direct assistance to families and the elderly who have been adversely affected and are in need of assistance. Emergency provision of food, personal care items and medical supplies will be distributed in the West Bank.

IOCC is appealing for donations to provide emergency medical supplies, food and other relief aid. To make a contribution, visit the IOCC website at www.iocc.org or call toll-free (877) 803 4622. Gifts to the “Holy Land Crisis Relief Project” may also be sent to IOCC, Box 630225, Baltimore, MD 21263-0225.

A Church appeal for the missing in Serbia and Kosovo

Speaking at Gracanica Monastery in Kosovo on October 16, Bishop Artemije made an appeal on behalf of all imprisoned, missing or kidnapped persons. Lack of progress with this “most sensitive issue,” he said, “is seriously slowing down political dialogue and the establishment of mutual multiethnic confidence.” He said the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serb National Council “for months have been making efforts to resolve this issue but there has been no understanding from either the former state organs in Belgrade or from Albanian political leaders.”

He expressed confidence that the victory of democratic forces in Serbia has created the right conditions for the resolution of this issue in a just and generally acceptable manner. He called on Yugoslav representatives, Albanian political organizations and associations, as well as representatives of the UN mission in Kosovo, to examine all cases of Albanian prisoners and turn over to UNMIK “all Albanian prisoners who are currently being held in prisons on the territory of the Republic of Serbia and against whom there is no objective evidence that they have carried out concrete criminal acts.” He asked both state authorities and Albanian political parties and associations to provide information regarding all missing and kidnapped Serbs, Roma, Bosnians as well as all other persons missing either during the war or during the post-war period “in order to explain their fate and to make their families aware of the truth regarding their loved ones. If these kidnapped and missing persons are still alive, we ask for their immediate release.”

Russian church declares policy on world’s thorniest challenges

At the Council of Bishops in Moscow in August, the Russian Orthodox Church laid out its views on a string of issues, including contraception, homosexuality, divorce, nationalism, the death penalty and globalization. The church’s views are contained in a 100-page document adopted on the third day of the four-day meeting. Copies will be printed for all the church’s parishes and seminaries, and the document will be available on the church’s website (www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru).

The document on social doctrine was drafted over a six-year period by a commission headed by Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk of the Church’s External Relations Department.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which has been publishing statements on issues for the world at large for more than a century, the Russian Orthodox Church has no tradition of issuing statements on such matters.

In such cases as homosexuality and abortion, the document reaffirms biblical and canonical teaching. But on issues which were never even thought of when Orthodox teaching was formulated centuries ago, the social doctrine presents new moral viewpoints based on tradition.

The Orthodox position is sometimes similar to Roman Catholic teaching which also rejects abortion and euthanasia. The Russian church also criticizes cloning as “an undoubted challenge to the very nature of man” who is “the image of God.” Reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization are described as unacceptable – except for artificial insemination between a married couple, as this does not violate the sanctity of marriage.

However in other areas there are marked differences from Roman Catholic teaching. While the Vatican rejects contraception in all artificial forms, the Russian bishops state that, although contraception should be discouraged, contraception should not be “equated with abortion.”

The document also declares that marriages performed outside a church should not be considered as adulterous. Although the text states that “the church does not encourage second marriages at all,” it extends the list of legitimate reasons for a church-sanctioned divorce, adding cases where one partner contracts Aids or is a medically-proven alcoholic or drug addict.

The text regards homosexual acts as a danger to human nature which, like other “passions of fallen man,” can be overcome through penance, fasting and prayer. “Discussions about so-called sexual minorities in modern society tend to view homosexuality not as a sexual perversion, but merely as a ‘sexual orientation’ with equal rights for public display and respect,” the document states. “While maintaining its pastoral responsibility for people of homosexual inclinations, the church firmly opposes attempts to present this sinful tendency as a ‘norm’ and even worse, as a subject of pride and an example to be followed.”

While praising “active patriotism,” the bishops condemn “aggressive nationalism” which “turns the state into a god.”

The bishops denounced the use of force in international affairs and called for the end of the death penalty. They criticized globalization, which is described as an attempt to unify the world on the basis of godless, consumer values.

Ecumenical issues: The Council also adopted a document outlining church policy on relations with Protestant and Catholic churches, reaffirming the need for and importance of ecumenical links.

The document stresses that the Orthodox Church is not just one church among equals but is the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” founded by Christ. The text rejects the theory which calls on churches to “make visible” an existing but hidden unity of the worldwide church. It also rejects the “branch theory,” according to which each church is simply another limb on the tree of Christianity.

The document says the Church cannot recognize an “equality of denominations … The existing dogmatic differences have to be overcome and not simply avoided. Errors and heresies are consequences of self-assertion and separation. Each schism leads to various forms of falling away from the fullness of the Church.” It adds that non-Orthodox churches “have never been considered by the Orthodox Church as fully deprived of Divine Grace.”

The document emphasizes the universal character of the Orthodox Church, which must not be considered simply as an “ethnic-cultural” aspect of the East. The faith preserved by the Orthodox Church cannot be compromised, the text states.

“The very concept of tolerance in the matters of faith is unacceptable,” the document declares, adding that Christ has called Christians to work for unity. “This is a task of the utmost importance for the Orthodox Church at all levels.”

To neglect the search for unity is a sin, the bishops said. They welcomed western interest in Orthodoxy and proposed the establishment of a joint research center, as well as exchanges of theological students and academics.

The statement sets out criteria for membership in international and regional Christian organizations. It specifies that membership is inappropriate if the organization’s regulations contradict Orthodox doctrine and tradition, and if the organization does not recognize Orthodox ecclesiology. The text states that the Church should not belong to organizations whose “procedures presume that a majority opinion is required” – a reference to organizations such as the WCC in which Orthodox churches are outnumbered by Protestants.

Active Christian Life: At the end of the Council, the bishops declared that after the initial period of “liberation from captivity” – which started with the fall of communism a decade ago – the church’s priorities should be shifted from physical reconstruction of church buildings to promoting “active Christian life” within the church. [Andrei Zolotov/ENI]

Catholic-Orthodox commission stumbles over Uniate issue

A joint commission of Roman Catholic and Orthodox clerics and theologians concluded a ten-day meeting near Baltimore, Maryland, in July, but was unable to resolve a controversy that has been brewing between the two churches since the end of the Cold War. The gathering was the eighth plenary session of the commission since its work began in 1980.

The meeting centered on the controversy over the Eastern Catholic churches linked to the Pope but using a liturgy similar to Orthodox rites.

A communique said that agreement could not be reached on “the basic concept of uniatism,” prohibiting a common statement on the issue. The communique said “it was felt necessary to continue the reflection by the Joint Commission in order to find common understanding on this extremely thorny question. … Despite all the difficulties the commission hopes that through this process it will be able to develop further its quest for full communion between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.”

Archbishop Stylianos of Australia said the leaders were saddened that they had been unable to create a common document, but felt they had “achieved a common knowledge of each other. We now have to wait a while to breathe.”

Another Orthodox participant, Fr. Alexander Webster, commented: “Ironically, the demise of communism in Eastern Europe – a common scourge of both Catholics and Orthodox for decades – has rekindled in that region a spirit of rivalry, or at least a mutual suspicion. The re-emergence of the Catholic Churches of the Byzantine Rite, particularly in Ukraine, Romania, and Slovakia, where they were virtually liquidated by the Communist regimes with the tacit approval of the respective Orthodox hierarchies, has emboldened their largely embittered leaders against their Orthodox countrymen. For their part, the Orthodox fear a resurgence of ‘uniatism’ – Rome’s classic strategy of co-opting Orthodox churches individually by offering them an ersatz identity as ecclesial entities ‘in union with’ (under the final authority of) Rome, while retaining their Byzantine liturgical traditions and canon law. So profound is this concern among the Orthodox that it has drastically undermined the international dialogue.”

Fr. Hilarion Alfeyev, who represented the Russian Orthodox Church at the meeting, said: “We do not call for the destruction of the Greek Catholic ecclesiastical structures. We are calling for a peaceful, nonviolent solution of the conflicting situation. What the atheistic forces did to the Greek Catholics in 1946, forcing them into catacombs, is a historical injustice. But one should not attempt to correct one injustice with the aid of another injustice. One must not attempt to reestablish the pre-war status quo without taking into account that during the past fifty years it is the Orthodox Church which became the spiritual mother for several generations of people in Western Ukraine and they are not at all inclined to turn to the Unia.”

Bartholomeos emphasizes human side of Greek-Turkish ties

Speaking in Athens October 19, Patriarch Bartholomeos renewed his appeal for improved Greek-Turkish relations. Noting that he has attempted with all his energy “to tear down the barriers and to bridge the chasms and achieve cooperation” between the two countries,” Bartholomeos emphasized the potential contribution of bilateral trade. “The resulting benefits are not merely narrowly economic. They broaden and warm relations between people and serve to cultivate a climate of peace and of the friendly resolution of differences which arise from time to time. Non-economic benefits are not less significant than the financial ones. Indeed, they are more important, as the most important achievement of humankind is not economic gain, but rather the realization of a higher level of humanitarianism. Everything falls under a hierarchy of values, whether financial gain, art, charity or anything else.”

War veterans to rebuild Iraqi water-treatment plants

Veterans for Peace will go to Iraq to help rebuild water treatment facilities destroyed by US and British bombers or rendered inoperable by sanctions. “Waterborne diseases account for most of the child fatalities caused by sanctions, at least 4,000 per month under the age of five years old,” said a spokesman. “We hope to restore water-cleansing capabilities and provide ten years of maintenance to four water-treatment facilities in Abul Khaseeb, a suburb of Basrah. This area has been ravaged by two wars, sanctions, ongoing bombings, as well as poisoned by the aftereffects of depleted uranium weapons and ammunition use. About 70,000 people will have access to clean water once the plant is repaired.” The project co-sponsored by Life for Relief and Development.

America outpaces Russia in prison population

Summer 2000 saw Russia give up its longtime world lead in prison population to the United States, scaling down to 655 prisoners per 100,000 of the population as against America’s more than 700. Russia had been the permanent leader in this area since the Stalin era, says human rights campaigner and former prison inmate Valery Abramikin, head of Russia’s Center for Penitentiary Reform. Russia’s prison population has been reduced by 117,000 over the last four months, said Abramikin, a rate unprecedented since 1987-88, the heyday of the Gorbachev rule.

Disarmament appeal backed by bishops and retired officers

Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Archdiocese in the US and Metropolitan Theodosius of the Orthodox Church of America were among signers of an appeal for the reduction of nuclear weapons published in August. The statement was supported by many US religious leaders plus retired senior military officers.

“We believe,” they said, “that the long-term reliance on nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nuclear powers … is morally untenable and militarily unjustifiable. They constitute a threat to the security of our nation, a peril to world peace, a danger to the whole human family. Historically, military and religious leaders have not always been in agreement on these issues, but now a consensus is emerging. National security imperatives and ethical demands have converged to bring us to the necessity of outlawing and prohibiting nuclear weapons worldwide. … We also believe that reliance on a nuclear deterrent in the long run calls into question our stewardship of God’s creation. In the short run, effective diplomacy may well require reciprocal and phased reduction of nuclear weapons over some period of years. While we have a variety of perspectives on the language and ethics of nuclear deterrence, none of us would support any role for nuclear weapons except possibly to deter the use of nuclear weapons by others. … We say that it defies all logic to believe that nuclear weapons can exist forever and never be used. The opportunity is at hand to do away with this danger, to do away with our capacity for self-destruction… As the creator of these weapons and the preeminent military power in the world, the US and its people bear a special obligation to lead the way.”

For the full text and list of signers, see: www.cathedral.org/cathedral/nuclear

11,000 species said to face extinction

More than 11,000 plants and animals risk extinction, according to the most comprehensive analysis of global conservation, the World Conservation Union’s 2000 Red List of Threatened Species. The report, released September 28, examined 18,000 species and subspecies around the globe. But scientists acknowledge that even this study only scratches the surface. There are an estimated 14 million species, but only 1.75 million have been documented.

“Global society would be horrified if someone set fire to the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum, or if someone blew up the Pyramids or the Taj Mahal,” said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International in Washington. “Yet every time a forest is burned to the ground in Madagascar or the Philippines, the loss to global society is at least as great.”

“Conservationists estimate that the current extinction rate is 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than it should be under natural conditions.

Deforestation, agriculture and fishing pose significant threats to bio-diversity. In the past 500 years, 816 species have disappeared, some permanently, while others exist only in artificial settings like zoos

The extinction crisis that we’ve all been talking about for a long time looks as if it is fast becoming a reality,” said Craig Hilton-Taylor, of the World Conservation Union. (The full report is available on the Internet at www.redlist.org.)