29 July 2014
Smoke rises from Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike on 29 July. Violence escalated the previous night after an attempted unofficial truce for the three-day Eid ul-Fitr holiday crumbled. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
What is causing the wave of violence that seems to be overwhelming the Middle East right now? I explore that question and more this week in the pages of The Dialog, the newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington:
“The situation on the ground [in Gaza] is horrific. The attack on the Shajaia neighborhood yesterday [July 20] was very ugly and left 50 dead (including 17 children, 14 women and 4 senior citizens) as well as 210 wounded and 70,000 displaced. … “Those who visited the neighborhood during the two-hour humanitarian ceasefire yesterday reported bodies of women and children scattered in the narrow streets. …
“The Latin and Greek Orthodox parishes have opened facilities to receive those displaced mostly from Shajaia. There has not been any human loss affecting Christians, and property damage is limited to broken glass and minor damage. Let’s hope it remains this way. The most serious damage to the community is clearly psychological.
“We are continuously assessing the situation and continue to pray for an end to this madness.”
In just a few sentences, Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in Palestine and Israel, describes the madness engulfing much of the Middle East, and the role of its Christian community as menders of the body and soul — even as some of its own members flee their homes.
What accounts for this wave of violence? Is there any hope?
The artificial geopolitical construct that is the Middle East, with its national borders drawn arbitrarily by the British and French after World War I, is collapsing. This is irrevocably and indiscriminately affecting the lives of millions ofpeople every day: Arab and Israeli, Jew and Christian, Muslim and Mandaean, young and old, male and female, urban dweller and shepherd, rich and poor.
In Iraq and Syria, the largest states created from the smoldering remains of the Ottoman Turkish Empire nearly a century ago, the powder kegs once controlled by strongmen have exploded, unleashing violent forces so extreme even Al Qaeda has repudiated the bloodletting.
Iraq, once awash in cash thanks to its oil reserves, is unraveling, its people exhausted by more than 30 years of constant war.
Syria, once the bedrock of regional stability, has disintegrated, its people maimed and displaced. Meanwhile, extremist Sunni Muslim militias have overrun vast swaths of territory and proclaimed a caliphate, an empire akin to those that once dominated the region for centuries. They have targeted minorities: As the extremists drive Christians from their homes and monasteries, they rob them of their few remaining possessions. If captured, members of the ancient Gnostic and synchretic sects of northern Iraq are executed.
In reports that sound eerily similar to the death marches of Armenians and Assyro-Chaldeans by Turkish soldiers 100 years ago, residents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul describe an exodus of Christians walking on foot in the summer heat, among them the elderly and the disabled.
“We’re providing people with shelter, food and water; people don’t have anything left and they can’t travel without the money to buy tickets,” Chorbishop Yosip Benjamin told the Telegraph as Mosul’s last remaining Christians gathered in the town of Tel Keif.
Read more about all this in The Dialog And to learn how you can help those who are so much in need right now, especially in Gaza, please visit our giving page.
29 July 2014
Tags: Syrian Civil War Middle East War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Iraqi Refugees
Catholic sisters light candles spelling “peace” in Arabic in front of the altar during Mass in the Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 27 July. Parishes throughout the West Bank celebrated special Masses for Gaza, Iraq and Syria. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
29 July 2014
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Sisters Israeli-Palestinian conflict Catholic Middle East Peace Process
Christian refugees march against persecution by Islamic State fighters outside the U.N. compound near the airport in Erbil, Iraq, on 24 July. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)
Iraqi Christians brave heat to demand help from United Nations (The Catholic Transcript) Iraqi Christian refugees braved temperatures as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit to demand that the United Nations intervene to protect them from persecution by Islamist militants…
Forced from Mosul, centuries-old Christian community vanishes (Al Monitor) According to accounts by displaced Christians, at the beginning of its rule, ISIS managed to provide intermittent electricity and water services and regulated traffic at intersections. In an attempt likely devised to win hearts and minds, they even provided free public transportation at times. For local Christians, however, everything began to change dramatically around 14 July, with a campaign to identify Christian properties. Militants painted the letter “N” for “Nasrani” (Arabic for “Christian”) on properties owned by Christians and designated them as the “Islamic State’s estate…”
Iraq Catholic leader says Islamic State worse than Genghis Khan (Reuters) The head of Iraq’s largest church said on Sunday that Islamic State militants who drove Christians out of Mosul were worse than Mongol leader Genghis Khan and his grandson Hulagu who ransacked medieval Baghdad…
A humanitarian catastrophe unfolds in Gaza (Der Spiegel) Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip triggered a bloody war. Brutal images of dead and injured Palestinians have circulated widely, but a cease-fire still appears to be a long way off…
Eid offers no respite for war-weary Palestinians in Gaza (Christian Science Monitor) Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, is usually marked joyously. This year the only thing that seemed to elicit cheer in Gaza was rockets fired at Israel…
Palestinians say they were waiting to evacuate when U.N. shelter was hit (Los Angeles Times) Hundreds of people were crammed into a United Nations-run elementary school in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday when the converted shelter was hit by a series of explosions. At least 15 people were killed and more than 120 injured, according to local health officials…
In D.C., Syrian defector displays photos of regime’s crimes (Washington Post) A Syrian defector who smuggled out thousands of photos of mutilated corpses, showed some of those images in Washington on Monday and said they depicted prisoners who were tortured and killed by the security services of Syrian President Bashar al Assad…
Patriarch to France: We want to stay in our land (Daily Star Lebanon) Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Tuesday rebuked France’s offer to welcome Iraq’s Christians, saying the minority group is instead seeking international effort to help them remain in their land…
28 July 2014
Tags: Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians War Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Catholic Near East Welfare Association has launched a campaign to rush emergency assistance to tens of thousands of Christians forced to flee their homes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Ordered by ISIS extremists of the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate to convert, pay a special tax or die, Mosul’s Christians have instead fled to the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain — some just a few miles from Mosul — or to the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
“These Christian families have arrived with only their clothes, having fled the city on foot, forced to leave everything behind in Mosul,” said CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, Ra’ed Bahou. “At ISIS checkpoints, militants then stole whatever dollars they had in their pockets, even their passports and identification papers.”
Christian families have found refuge in churches, convents and monasteries, he added. With Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul and the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena — who themselves are homeless — the clergy, religious and villagers are trying to provide the basics. But the refuge, especially in the villages of Alqosh, Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), Bartella and Tel Kaif is tenuous at best, as ISIS has cut the electricity and water supply, and has announced its intentions to overrun the region. “These villages are in the hands of God,” Mr. Bahou said, “as ISIS says their next ‘gift’ will be the villages of the Nineveh Plain.”
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, announced CNEWA will rush support to the bishops, clergy and religious, “who in the frenzy are courageously providing water, food, mattresses and medicines to their flock,” wherever their flight takes them.
“We are witnessing, at the hands of extremist thugs, the eradication of a cradle of Christianity in the cradle of civilization,” Msgr. Kozar said. CNEWA’s emergency support will provide the “shepherds of this flock to tend their sheep, with the basics they need for survival now,” he continued. “We will help them even if their flock is dispersed, providing for their well-being, body and soul.”
Fewer than 150,000 Christians remain in Iraq from a high of more than a million before 1991.
An agency of the Holy See, Catholic Near East Welfare Association works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches, rushing aid to religious caring for orphaned and abandoned children; caring for displaced or refugee families; providing maternity and health care for the poorest of the poor; offering formation and catechetical programs for children and young adults; supporting the education of seminarians, religious novices and lay leaders; and assisting initiatives for the marginalized, especially the elderly and disabled.
CNEWA has been active in Iraq for more than 50 years, but redoubled its efforts among the vulnerable Christian population in 1991.
A religious charity registered in the State of New York, all contributions are tax deductible. Donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org, by phone at 800.442.6392, or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195.
28 July 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees
Pope Francis issues new appeals for peace (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday made another urgent appeal for an end to the conflicts in the Middle East, in Iraq and in Ukraine. Speaking after his regular Angelus address to thousands of people gathered in a hot and sunny St. Peter’s Square, the pope spoke of the victims of war, in particular the children who die or are injured and orphaned by the violence…
Chaldean patriarch: ‘The situation is dire’ in Iraq (Vatican Radio) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I says the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate quickly. He said the country has suffered tremendously at the hands of the ISIS militant group, also known as Islamic State — extremist Muslim rebels, who one month ago declared a caliphate on the border with Syria and Iraq. With ISIS pledging to expand its control over the region, there is very little relief from the attacks in sight…
Palestinian sources: Israeli airstrike hits Gaza hospital (CBS News) The Gaza police operations room and a Palestinian health official say separate Israeli airstrikes hit the compound of Gaza City’s main hospital and a nearby park, causing casualties. The Israeli military had no immediate comment. Camera crews were prevented from filming the area of impact at Shifa Hospital. Health official Ayman Sahabani says several people were wounded in the strikes…
United Nations calls for cease fire in Gaza (Associated Press) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reinforced the Security Council’s call for “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire” in the Gaza war on Monday and demanded that Israel andHamas end the violence &ldquoin the name of humanity.” The U.N. chief accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal of being irresponsible and “morally wrong” for letting their people get killed in the conflict. He urged them to demonstrate “political will” and “compassionate leadership” to end the suffering of war-weary citizens. “Gaza is in critical condition” after pummeling by Israeli forces that has killed helpless civilians and raised “serious questions about proportionality,” he told reporters…
India’s largest Ramadan gathering held in Kerala (Arab News) Hundreds of thousands of believers gathered at the Swalath Nagar in the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district in the southern Indian state of Kerala overnight Thursday in what is claimed as the the world’s third largest Ramadan congregation. Organizers say some half a million people attended the annual prayer meet in the past two years and they expect similar or increased numbers this year…
25 July 2014
Tags: Israel Holy Land Kerala Chaldeans
Jordan’s Prince El Hassan bin Talal is pictured in an orange garden outside his palace offices in the Jordanian capital, Amman. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
In a region and world of increasing polarization and intolerance, Jordanian Prince El Hassan bin Talal has for decades been a beacon of tolerance and understanding in the Middle East. As founder and chair of the Royal Institute for Inter-faith Studies and co-founder and chair of the Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue, Prince Hassan has been the voice of conscience where conscience is being drowned out by religious extremism. He is also, not insignficantly, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims are often criticized for not speaking up against the atrocities that are being committed in the name of Islam. Such criticism, while understandable, seems totally unaware of the incredible work the prince has done for decades. Yesterday he issued a statement, co-signed by several other religious and secular leaders in the region, condemning violence in the name of religion:
In recent days, we have read with horror about Christians being asked to leave the city of Mosul within 24 hours. We have also heard about the desecration of Christian holy spaces and their symbols — the bombing of churches and a cross being removed from St. Ephrem’s Cathedral, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox archdiocese in Mosul.
These actions are an appalling blot on the proud tradition of pluralism in a region that has been home to Chaldeans, Assyrians and other churches of the East for more than 1,700 years. Indeed, the destruction caused by the violence has engulfed all of the diverse populations that make up Iraq — the Turkmens, the Yazidis, the Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and tens of thousands of Arab families who have been uprooted from the region in fear of their lives. These horrors continue to unfold on a daily basis and follow a brutal period of fighting in Syria. Today, the United Nations estimates that one out of every three Syrians is in need of urgent humanitarian aid. We cannot stand idly by and watch as the lives of the most vulnerable, our women and our children, are destroyed in the name of religion.
We have also viewed with concern the ongoing situation in Gaza and Israel, and leaving aside the horror of that situation for a moment, have been particularly distressed by how the name of religion has been invoked to justify the murder of ordinary people. Statements posted by young people on social media justifying the taking of innocent lives as “commandments from God” are a testament to how the pressure of living under the threat of violence can cause the minds and moral compass of not just the military and seekers of power, but also that of ordinary civilians, to atrophy. We should do all that we can to end the violence even as the numbers of casualties rise on a daily basis. Now, more than ever, we should all remember the quote of Malachi 2, verse 10: “Have we not all one father?”
In these troubling times, when we bear witness to a moral crisis of unparalleled dimensions, we should recall the Islamic concepts of “haq el hurriya” and “haq el karama,” the rights to freedom and to human dignity that are to be enjoyed by people of all faiths. To quote the words from the Quran: “We have honored the children of Adam and carried them on to land and sea” (Quran 17:70).
Read the entire statement here.
25 July 2014
Tags: Jordan War Religious Differences
Pope Francis eats with Vatican workers during a surprise visit to the Vatican cafeteria on 25 July. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Workers at the Vatican got a surprise visitor today at lunch:
Taking the chef completely by surprise, Pope Francis unexpectedly showed up to eat with the Vatican’s blue collar workers at their cafeteria in the tiny city-state’s “industrial park.”
“He showed up, got his tray, silverware, he stood in line and we served him,” the cafeteria’s chef, Franco Paini, told Vatican Radio on 25 July.
He acted “normally, like the humblest of the workers,” Paini said, his voice still trembling from the thrill. “Please forgive me, I’m still excited, you know?”
Wearing his white cassock and zucchetto, the pope grabbed an orange plastic tray and chose what he wanted from the array of prepared foods.
He got a plate of pasta without sauce; a portion of cod; a whole wheat roll; some “au gratin” vegetables; a few French fries; an apple; and a bottle of spring water -- but not the fizzy, bubbly kind, witnessed reported.
“I didn’t have the courage to give him the bill,” said Claudia Di Giacomo, who was sitting behind the cash register.
Paini said the pope made everyone feel at ease. “We introduced ourselves, he asked how we were, what it was like working there, he paid us compliments; it was really nice.”
The cafeteria in the Vatican’s “industrial area” serves employees who work as technicians, electricians, plumbers, metalworkers, craftsmen, but also employees of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
The pope sat down to eat at a table with workers from the Vatican pharmacy’s warehouse. Wearing dark blue uniform polo shirts, the men spoke to the pope about their jobs and the pope talked about his Italian heritage.
Table talk also included soccer and the economy, the Vatican newspaper reported.
CNS has more.
25 July 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Rome Cuisine
An Israeli soldier prays in front of a tank at a military staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip on 24 July. Fighting pushed the Palestinian death toll over 700. (photo: CNS/Nir Elias, Reuters)
Israel-Palestine conflict: The voice of reason silenced by the blast of weapons (VIS) Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See permanent observer at the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, spoke at the 21st Special Session of the Human Rights Council dedicated to the question of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem, which took place on 23 July. “As the number of people killed, wounded, uprooted from their homes, continues to increase in the conflict between Israel and some Palestinian groups, particularly in the Gaza Strip, the voice of reason seems submerged by the blast of arms. … The perpetration of injustices and the violation of human rights, especially the right to life and to live in peace and security, sow fresh seeds of hatred and resentment. … Demonizing others, however, does not eliminate their rights. Instead, the way to the future lies in recognizing our common humanity…”
‘Appalled’ by attack on U.N.-run school in Gaza, Ban urges halt to fighting (U.N. News Center) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he is “appalled” by the news of an attack on a United Nations-run school in Gaza where hundreds of people had taken refuge from the ongoing hostilities, adding that the incident underscores the need to stop all fighting immediately. Media reports say at least 15 people died in the attack on the school in Beit Hanoun, which was run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). More than 100,000 Gazans — 5 percent of the total population — have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities since the conflict began over two weeks ago…
World’s top Muslim leaders condemn attacks on Iraqi Christians (Vatican Radio) Two of the leading voices in the Muslim world denounced the persecution of Christians in Iraq, at the hands of extremists proclaiming a caliphate under the name Islamic State. The most explicit condemnation came from Iyad Ameen Madani, the secretary general for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the group representing 57 countries, and 1.4 billion Muslims. Meanwhile, Mehmet Gormez, Turkey’s top cleric and the spiritual successor to the caliphate under the Ottoman Empire, also touched on the topic during a peace conference of Islamic scholars…
Pope Francis calls Patriarch in solidarity with Iraqi Christians (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has reassured the patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church, Ignatius Joseph III, that he is following news out of Iraq with concern — particularly the dramatic situation of Christians in Mosul who have been threatened with death and seizure of their homes by Islamic militants…
Italy tries to cope with crush of migrants seeking refuge in Europe (Los Angeles Times) An estimated 71,000 people have made the dangerous 350-mile voyage to Italy this year from the Libyan coast. The number already exceeds the total for all of the previous record year, 2011, at the height of the “Arab Spring” uprisings. Chaos in Libya, traditionally a staging point for would-be émigrés trying to reach the European Union, has turned the operation into something of a free-for-all…
India: Salesians open child assistance center in Bangalore (Vatican Radio) A new child assistance center was inaugurated in Bangalore Railway Station under the direction of Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota (BOSCO) on 9 July by Mr. Anil Kumar Agarwal, Divisional Railway Manager, Southern Western Railways. The Child Rescue Booth, which will start functioning from Platform Four of Bangalore City railway station, aims to rescue the scores of children who arrive there daily, and to protect child rights in general. It is estimated that 50-60 runaway children arrive daily in the city of Bangalore, mostly at the railway station and Bus station…
24 July 2014
Tags: India Iraqi Christians Christian-Muslim relations United Nations Migrants
Looking for the latest news and insight on the Middle East? CNEWA’s Communications Director Michael J.L. La Civita will be on Relevant Radio later today to discuss the worsening crisis for Christians in the region.
You can hear him on “A Closer Look” with Sheila Liaugminas at 6:30 EST.
To find a station near you, visit this page. Or click this link to listen to the program online.
24 July 2014
Tags: Middle East Christians Middle East Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Holy Land Christians
Displaced Christians wait for humanitarian aid 20 July at a church in the Iraqi town of Hamdaniya, east of Mosul. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
The announcement that the caliphate was restored was issued by the extremist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) on 29 June. I have been told by friends in the Middle East that the response of some young people was “What is the caliphate?” If that is the case with Muslims, how much more is it the case with non-Muslims throughout the world. What is the caliphate? What is the significance of it being restored? Is this something that should worry us?
I tried to answer a few of these questions in an essay published this week in America magazine:
For most people in the West the caliphate is an unknown. It sounds exotic — like something out of A Thousand and One Nights, a topic more suitable for National Geographic than The New York Times. However, ISIS and the newly proclaimed caliphate have taken over large sections of northeastern Syria as well as large sections of Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city. With efficiency and startling brutality ISIS has terrorized the Iraqi population, thrown the army into chaos and is marching on Baghdad where it threats to slaughter Shiites en masse.
Clearly the caliphate is back on the world stage. Contemporary information about the caliphate, mediated through the Western media, is a mixture of what ISIS thinks the caliphate was/is/should be, coupled at times with a historical reflection. As is the case in many ideologically motivated recreations of a historical past, the caliphate of ISIS relies on an idealized past, which, if it ever existed, did not exist for a very long time. While it is fair to say that the caliphate started with the death of the Prophet Muhammad in June 632 and continued until it was abolished by Atatürk in 1924, its form, authority and success differed greatly from place to place and time to time.
Read the full article, “Contesting the Caliphate,” in the current edition of America.
Tags: Syria Iraq Islam Sunni Shiite