Al-Rahi Rejects 'Spring that Comes via Destruction', Calls for Palestinian State with 'at Least' E. Jerusalem as Capitalإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi announced Tuesday from the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour his rejection of the “spring” that comes through “weapons and destruction,” condemning the Israeli separation barrier that limits the Palestinians' freedom of movement.
“We thank the Lord because all the eyes of the world are focused on the land of Palestine and on the Holy Land and because the entire world has realized that this cause is a sacred cause,” al-Rahi said in his sermon as he presided over a mass in the Palestinian town.
Beit Sahour lies east of Bethlehem and it is under the administration of the Palestinian National Authority. It was occupied by Israel from June 1967 until December 1995.
The population of around 12,500 is 80% Christian, mainly Greek Orthodox, and 20% Muslim.
“You are one of the peoples that have endured and suffered the most and whose wounds are still bleeding. We in Lebanon are witnesses of the dire situation of the Palestinian people,” al-Rahi added.
“It's time for this Palestinian people to rise from its death and pains to life and peace,” the patriarch said.
In an apparent reference to the Arab Spring uprisings, al-Rahi added: “We are speaking of spring, but spring will only come when we acknowledge that the human has sanctity, and any spring that comes through weapons and destruction becomes an attack against God and human.”
“This land is our land. Our history is here, our identity is here and our message is here. We thank you for preserving the Holy Land. We support your demand to have an independent state with at least east Jerusalem as its capital,” al-Rahi added.
Earlier on Tuesday, al-Rahi celebrated mass in the Church of the Resurrection in the Old City of Jerusalem to pray for peace in the Middle East.
On Monday, al-Rahi visited a parish in central Israel, becoming the first Lebanese religious leader to go to the Jewish state since its creation in 1948.
Cardinal al-Rahi's critics have said the pilgrimage implies normalization with Israel at a time when the two countries remain formally at war.
Al-Rahi said his journey, tied to a visit to the region by Pope Francis, celebrates the roots of Christianity in the region. In a veiled response to his critics, he said his motives were misunderstood.
"With all the difficulties that you heard about, with all the explanations that are not related to our visit, with all the understandings that have nothing to do with our thoughts, we came here for the goal of strengthening our belief," he said.
Bishop Boulos Sayyah, a senior Maronite cleric, added that al-Rahi's visit is purely religious. He said it is not linked to "the regrettable situation that exists between Lebanon and Israel."
Israel has invaded Lebanon several times, occupying part of the country's territory for 18 years until it withdrew in 2000 following armed resistance. In 2006, a 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah left 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis dead.
Lebanon bars its citizens from visiting Israel or having business dealings with Israelis. However, Maronite clergy are exempt from the ban to enable them to stay in touch with the faithful in the Holy Land.
About 11,000 Maronites live in Israel.
The cardinal is on a weeklong visit to the Holy Land. He spent the first two days in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, but on Monday ventured into Israel for the first time.
The cardinal began his day on Monday at a monastery west of Jerusalem. He was flanked by clergy and a scout troop that played musical instruments. Inside, al-Rahi led a small group in prayers.
From there, he made his way to a Maronite parish in Jaffa, an ancient port that has been incorporated into Israel's second largest city, Tel Aviv. Police blocked off roads in front of the church to clear the path for his convoy. Inside the church, al-Rahi blessed worshipers who reached out to touch him and take pictures of the cardinal with their phones.
Later in the week, al-Rahi plans to meet with parishioners in northern Israel and celebrate Mass for Lebanese Christians who fled to Israel in 2000 after having fought alongside Israeli troops during Israel's occupation of south Lebanon.
Al-Rahi's visit overlapped with a Holy Land pilgrimage on Sunday and Monday by Francis. Al-Rahi accompanied the pope during his tour of biblical Bethlehem in the West Bank on Sunday, but followed a separate program on Monday when the pontiff's itinerary included meetings with Israeli leaders.
Pro-Hizbullah Lebanese media outlets have portrayed al-Rahi's visit to Israel as a "historic sin."
But the cardinal was embraced by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who awarded him the "Star of Jerusalem" medal for visiting the city and strengthening its links to the Arab world.