Palestinian Christians hope for Statehood

Palestinian Christians Hope for Statehood

Mahmoud Abbas Requests Sovereignty at the U.N.

by Michele Chabin, Middle East CorrespondentMonday,  Oct 17, 2011 9:47 AM

JERUSALEM — Salim Manarious, a retired former school headmaster, believes  there will be a sovereign Palestinian state in his lifetime.

“I believe it because I’m a Palestinian,” the 72-year-old Orthodox Christian  said Sept. 23, the day Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas  applied for full membership in the United Nations.

Palestinians currently have observer status at the U.N.

The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to hold preliminary talks  on the Palestinian application. The United States has pledged to veto the  proposal if it comes up for a vote in the Security Council. The U.S. has called  for a return to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as a way to resolve the  issue.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s No. 2 State Department official,  called Sept. 27 for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in  remarks delivered in New York, according to Catholic News Agency. He  insisted that “if we want peace, courageous decisions have to be made.” Archbishop Mamberti, whose official title is secretary for relations with  states, encouraged “the realization of the right of Palestinians to have their  own independent and sovereign state and the right of Israelis to guarantee their  security.” He also insisted that both states be “provided with internationally  recognized borders.”

But Manarious, whose family fled Ramle, a town in what is now Israel, in  1948, isn’t overly optimistic his clan will be able to reclaim their home.

“The house is still there. I’ve visited it twice, but I don’t think I’ll get  it back, even though it’s my right,” Manarious said in the shady garden of his  home in the Old City of Jerusalem just prior to Abbas’ speech.

Now that the “Palestine” issue is front and center at the U.N., Palestinians,  including Christians, are grappling with what a future Palestinian state might  mean for them.

Hanni is the father of three grown children, and he lives in Beit Sahour, a  largely Christian town next to Bethlehem. In his case, an independent  Palestinian country could bring his oldest son, a physician who moved to France  in 1993, back home.

“If there is peace and a job, I think he’ll come back and work in a  Palestinian hospital,” Hanni said hopefully as he shopped in a Beit Sahour  hardware store. The 63-year-old Greek Catholic did not want his last name  published. “He left because he couldn’t find work in the West Bank, and the  Israelis wouldn’t issue him a permit to work in Israel.”

Israel began severely limiting the number of work and visitor permits it  issues at the start of the first intifada (Palestinian uprising) in  1988.

Bassam, a father of three who also requested anonymity (“I don’t want the  Israelis to withhold a travel permit”), said Palestinian sovereignty is  synonymous with freedom.

Chain-smoking during an interview at the modest housewares store he owns,  Bassam said freedom means “we will have enough work and that we won’t have to go  through checkpoints everywhere. It means being in control of our own water  resources.”

Bassam, whose family has lived in the Bethlehem area for generations, blamed  both the Israeli and Palestinian governments for the West Bank’s chronic water  shortage.

“First, the Israelis give water to the settlers, and whatever’s left over  goes to us,” he asserted. “And I suspect that the Palestinian Authority gives  more water to ‘important’ people than to the rest of us.”

The Israeli government says it provides essential services to the best of its  ability.

‘Times Have Changed’

Despite this criticism, Bassam is convinced that the Palestinian leadership  is ready to run a country.

“The only reason our leaders aren’t leading a Palestinian state is because  the Israelis don’t let them,” he said.

Angry though he is at the Israeli government, Bassam does not advocate armed  struggle against the “occupation.”

“Twenty years ago I was a follower of George Habash,” founder of the militant  Palestinian group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. “Today I have a  family and a future,” Bassam said.

Nizreen Manarious, Salim’s daughter-in-law, also believes violence will only  hurt the Palestinian cause.

“Times have changed. I think as Palestinians we shouldn’t fight in a violent  way. Violence only serves the Israelis’ needs,” said Nizreen, who is 34 and  pregnant with her third child, as she watched her two young sons chasing each  other around the olive tree in the family’s garden.

Nizreen said she has experienced violence throughout her life. She was born  and raised in the West Bank town of Beit Jala near Bethlehem. During the  Palestinian uprisings, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants waged many  battles.

“In 1988, Israeli soldiers shot my father dead during a peaceful  demonstration in Beit Jala at the beginning of the first intifada,” Nizreen  recalled. “He was a peaceful activist. We saw someone being shot but didn’t know  it was him until later.”

“We tried armed resistance against the Israelis, and it didn’t work,” agreed  George Manarious, Nizreen’s husband, the resource manager of the Latin  Patriarchate in Jerusalem.

Lubnah Shomali, an officer for the Beit Sahur Municipality, was 5 years old  when her parents moved the family from the West Bank to the United States.

Shomali, a Catholic with three children, moved back to the West Bank with her  Palestinian husband and their children three years ago “to give my children  their cultural identity.”

The young couple also wanted their children “to see what is really going on,  as opposed to what others say. I wanted them to see that Palestine really does  exist.”

Like other Palestinians, Shomali doesn’t expect a Palestinian state to be  born overnight.

“We are growing as a government and as a nation, reaching closer to  independence every day,” Shomali said. “I think we’re heading down the right  path.”

Michele Chabin writes from Jerusalem.

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