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My band participated in the first anniversary celebrations of the accords, held in Norway’s capital city of Oslo, performing in front of 20,000 people, including Arafat and Shimon Peres. It was our first opportunity to play alongside Israeli musicians. One of the more touching moments was seeing Israeli, Palestinian and Norwegian children sing together for peace.

Is this when you joined CNEWA?
Yes, in 1993 I was hired as projects coordinator for CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission. My job, based in the Old City of Jerusalem, allowed me to see more broadly just what the needs of the Palestinian community were. And, for the first time of my life, I was challenged to contribute to long-term development and relief work.

How has the situation changed since?
Well, a lot has changed. In 2000, you had Camp David and the beginning of the second intifada. For Palestinians, there was frustration at the failure of the peace process to secure rights, such as Palestine’s borders, the status of Jerusalem, settlements and the right of return for refugees. We had the Palestinian Authority, but our lives weren’t improving.

What is the situation for Palestinians like you?
It’s getting worse. The frustrations continue to grow daily. It’s difficult to move around even in Palestinian areas. The West Bank has been separated from Jerusalem by the separation wall, and Jerusalem is where many Palestinian services are located.Why should I, whose family has lived in the area for generations, be checked by Israeli soldiers who have just arrived from Ethiopia or Russia? Last Christmas, I had to argue for one hour with a young Israeli soldier to allow my wife and me to go to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity. We cannot drive more than 30 minutes without hitting one of the hundreds of checkpoints, which paralyze traffic.

Traveling internationally is also humiliating. We are singled out and routinely checked. Once I had to remove my underclothes. My children are also searched thoroughly.

But aren’t such measures useful in preventing acts of terrorism?
It’s a good excuse to punish the larger Palestinian population for the misdeeds of the few. There will always be ways for people to carry out attacks, as long as the motive remains. Of course, Israel has a right to protect itself, but if you live here as a Palestinian you know firsthand that what you are being subjected to is not intended solely for protecting Israel. These measures not only humiliate ordinary Palestinians, they dehumanize us.

As the situation deteriorates, can Christians play a special role?
Well, let’s face it: This conflict is evolving into an interfaith clash, pitting Muslims against Jews. Of course Christian Palestinians are Palestinians — we also seek a Palestinian state — but if there’s some special role it would be as mediators, to help Muslims and Jews come together, to dialogue and to listen. Last year, I visited a synagogue for the first time. I was invited by some Jewish friends and it was an eye-opening experience. Until then, I never had understood how Judaism is a major source of our Christian faith.

Conflict makes people blind to the good things in others.

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Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Jerusalem Palestine Occupation Maher Turjman