19 November 2005

Three days in November

By Marguerite Finn

"Only connect - - Live in fragments no longer".

British novelist, E M Forster tells us to "only connect" and it is true that seemingly disparate events can sometimes be interconnected in surprising ways.

On 7th November, this paper ran a story about the discovery of early Christian mosaics in what may be the Holy Land's oldest church. The mosaics are part of the floor of a church in Megiddo, dating from the third century, before the Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity. Israeli officials are delighted, no doubt anticipating a booming trade in Christian tourists flocking from all over the world to witness the unique evidence of the developing Christian Church portrayed in these ancient stones.

On 8th November, I received an appeal for help from the Parish Priest of Aboud, a small Palestinian village near the recently uncovered mosaics. He was asking the international community to help stop the destruction of the community of Aboud. The Israeli government is building a separation wall through the village, despite the specific ruling of the International Court of Justice in 2004 that the wall was illegal.

10th November was the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. After decades of failed efforts to resolve the question of Palestine, this is no cause for celebration. Rather it is a call to civil society to redouble our efforts.

Aboud is a pretty village 30 kilometers north-west of Ramallah. Stone houses blend into rocky hills covered in age-old olive trees. The population of 2,500 is equally divided into Christians and Muslims, who have co-existed peacefully for centuries. The village has been on this site for three thousand years and is believed to have received the faith from Christ himself. Ruins of the ancient Messiah Church mark the location where Jesus is said to have preached. Close to the village is the Roman road the Holy Family would have used when travelling between the Galilee and Jerusalem.

There are remains of nine Byzantine churches in and around Aboud. Every 17 December the villagers venerate St. Barbara, an early Christian martyr and patron saint of the village. On a hillside facing the village are the remains of St. Barbara's Monastry, including a small sixth century church which was in use until 31st May 2002, when, without warning, it was blown up by the Israeli army.

Aboud is hemmed in by the Israeli settlements of Beit Arye and Ofarim - built on village land in defiance of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, plus a string of UN Resolutions, including Nos. 242, 338 and 465. On 2nd October 2005, an Israeli military officer issued further land confiscation orders, with maps showing the proposed route of the separation wall.

This wall would be a death sentence for Aboud - a village steeped in the history of Christianity, a village where in all probability, Christ himself walked.

It would separate villagers from over 35 percent of their agricultural land - a main source of income.

It would swallow up many ancient, religious sites that characterise the village - in particular, it would prevent access to the little shrine of St. Barbara, painstakingly rebuilt following its demolition by the army.

It would separate Aboud from villages to the north and west, with detrimental affect on the social, economic and educational aspects of village life.

It would place under Israeli control Aboud's underground water aquifers (currently supplying 20 percent of the West Bank's water).

On 7 October, Israeli settlers raided a farm in Aboud, uprooting 500 grape vines, part of a unique project in environmental farming supported by Birzeit University. In the last five years, 4000 olive trees have been similarly uprooted.

It is ironic that Israeli officials should celebrate the discovery of Christian mosaics at Megiddo while at the same time deliberately crushing the life out of a real life Christian community a few miles up the road. Why is the world more interested in the 'dead' stones of Megiddo than the 'living' stones of a Christian Palestinian community whose future is threatened?

This question concerns Norwich in several ways. Links were forged between Norwich, Israel and Palestine at the Conflict Resolution Conference at UEA this October and also between Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups here in Norwich. United Nations Association (Norwich) has received a request from the Israeli Embassy in London for their representative to come and speak to us about the relationship between Israel and the UN - a God-given opportunity to speak up for the endangered Palestinian Christians of Aboud. We must not fail to do so.

More information at: www.leics-holyland.gothere.uk.com or www.sacredheart-stives.org.