Archive for December, 2009

U.S. – led World Community Fails, Palestinians on Brink of Explosion

December 25, 2009

By Nicola Nasser*

“In the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope,” Palestinian Christian leaders, representing churches and church-related organizations, meeting in Bethlehem on December 11, concluded in their 13-page document titled “Kairos Palestine – 2009: A Moment of Truth,” enlisting Christians worldwide in proactive efforts to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Their “cry” symbolizes the popular mood of their people as well as the political status quo.

On both sides of the inter-Palestinian divide between the U.S. – backed presidency and the Israeli – hunted legislative, the Fatah – led West Bank (where the leadership of the Palestine Liberation organization (PLO) is committed to peace, direct negotiations and security coordination with the Israeli occupying power, but the 16 –year old “peace process’ has reached an impasse and the negotiations are deadlocked in a one –year old stalemate over the cancer – like expanding Jewish colonial settlements) and the Hamas – led Gaza Strip (where the Islamic resistance Movement (Hamas) is strictly committed to ceasefire save in self – defense while conducting indirect negotiations mediated by Egypt and Germany over an exchange of POWs), both political and military solutions for the century – old Arab – Israeli conflict have failed and aborted all prospects of peace, which have proved an elusive mirage, a stark failure of the U.S. led world community. An imminent explosion seems the only breakthrough ahead.

“There is no bilateral solution. The fastest road to the next round of violence is through another failed negotiation process … and it has zero chance. Next year … could be ripe for an explosion,” Gershon Baskin of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information told a Russian-sponsored debate on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea last week. The “dangerous standstill” needs a “rescue mission,” the speakers said, according to Reuters. Former Russian Prime Minister Evgeny Primakov warned that a “real crisis” could develop if the international community did not intervene, adding that the role of the so-called Middle East Quartet (the United States, United Nations, Russia and the European Union) was in default. On December 15, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the PLO Central Council in Ramallah: “Now the ball is in the international community’s court and in America’s court.”

But Abbas seems to knock at the wrong door. Barak Obama will go down in history as the first U.S. president who pushed a life – long Palestinian ally like Abbas to publicly pronounce the first ever pronounced Palestinian “disappointment” with the United States and its role as the mediator in the conflict, despite the Palestinian euphoria Obama invoked when he chose Abbas as the first foreign leader to give a phone call as soon as he set foot in the White House. The Obama Administration “made zero progress. Not only, of course, has it failed even to get negotiations going … but there isn’t the slightest shred of evidence to believe that anything is going to change in the rest of its term,” director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary university, Barry Rubin wrote in Global Politician on December 19.

Obama shot down the mission of his presidential envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, when he sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton early in March ostensibly on a mission to bring together Palestinian and Israeli leaders to resume their negotiations, but her mission was a resounding failure because she did exactly the opposite, which made her visit the milestone of her administration’s shift from what was believed by the Palestinians as an honest broker to a mediator who aborted his mediation by completely adopting the views of the Israelis.

The following U.S. – Israeli deal to kill the Goldstone report in the bud — allegedly because it created a “fairly substantial gap” between the two sides (Assistant U.S. Secretary of State P.J. Crowley on December 10) — indicated that Clinton’s failure was not a personal one but an official policy that should have been expected after Obama failed to back up his earlier demand for a “freeze” of Israeli colonial settlement as a pre-condition for the resumption of Palestinian – Israeli talks, a demand that misled Abbas to demand no less, and to become the hostage of an un-honored U.S. promise and of his own decision to put all his eggs in the American basket.

Obama and his administration show no regrets, but are following in the footsteps of the traditional U.S. – Israeli strategic alliance, dispelling whatever remains of Obama’s promises of “change’ to his voters. Last week Obama signed the foreign aid budget law for 2010, raising security aid to Israel by US$225 million the next year to US$2.775 billion, an aid which under a MoU is to rise from $2.55 billion in 2009 to $3.1 billion in 2013. Arabs, including Palestinians, view this aid as fueling the Israeli intransigence in the peace process. The $500 million allocated to the Palestinian Authority (PA), including $100 million to be used by US General Keith Dayton, practically boils down to a contribution to keep the PA floating as a collateral for Israel’s security.

Even in the best of times, long before the inter-Palestinian division, the 2002 military reoccupation of the PA territory in the West Bank and the current tight siege imposed on Gaza, the PA has become dependent on donors since the PLO-Israeli “Declaration of Principles” (DoP) was signed in Washington DC in 1993, relieving the Israeli occupying power of its obligations under international law.

Grudgingly but gratefully the PLO accepted the donors money as a temporary arrangement, pending the end of the interim period in final status negotiations that were supposed to conclude by the creation of an independent Palestinian state living in peace and security side by side with Israel as promised by the U.S. – led international community first in 1999, then in 2005, again in 2008, and now within two years according to Obama administration.

Politically however the donors money have become a temporary permanent arrangement, relieving the budget of the occupying power of burdens it must be held responsible for, financing the unending military occupation, defusing the economic incentive for revolt against the occupation, and holding the PA and the PLO hostages to the political conditions attached to donors’ contributions.

Disillusionment with the role the donors’ money is playing is growing alongside the Palestinian disillusionment with the ‘peace process.” The Palestinians, who contributed substantially to regional state building and who still contribute to many regional economies are a resourceful and indignant people who have the capital, the expertise and skillful labor, the scientific and intellectual manpower, and the intelligence and the political will to build their own society once they are empowered with self – determination to gain liberty, freedom and independence. With the growing disillusionment, the donors political role is increasingly becoming suspicious, creating a sense of humiliation, exacerbating the national frustration, and could not any longer keep the lid tightly on the boiling refusal of the interim – turned – permanent status quo.

Palestinian sense of betrayal by the international community is as old as the United Nations General Assembly’s 1947 resolution No. 181 for the partition of their homeland into two states and its resolution No. 194 of 1948 for their return to their homeland. This same sense of betrayal has a strong vocal voice in the West Bank recently in the “disappointment” that Abbas, the signatory to (DoP), made clear by declaring his irrevocable decision not to run anew for presidency: “I found all ways blocked, then I decided not to rerun for another term. I am not optimistic and I do not want to have illusions.” he had told the London – based Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat. In the Gaza Strip, the latest chapter of the betrayal of the world community was voiced in Paris on December 22 by sixteen rights groups, including Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Christian Aid: “The international community has betrayed the people of Gaza by failing to back their words with effective action to secure the ending of the Israeli blockade … World powers have also failed and even betrayed Gaza’s ordinary citizens. They have wrung hands and issued statements, but have taken little meaningful action,” they said in a report.

This sense of betrayal is explosive given the political siege imposed under the direct Israeli military occupation on the PLO and PA in the West Bank and the Israeli military siege imposed tightly on the Gaza Strip. Conditions are ripe for a third Palestinian “Intifada” (uprising) in the West Bank and all indications refer to a renewal of Israeli military invasion of Gaza.

Abbas, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on December 22 warned of an imminent ‘Intifada.” True he pledged that, “As long as I’m in office, I will not allow anybody to start a new intifada. Never. Never. But if I leave, it’s no longer my responsibility and I can’t make any guarantees,” he said.

Meanwhile in the Gaza Strip, Hamas, on the eve of the first anniversary of the December 27 Israeli three -week invasion, is warning against an imminent Israeli new invasion. Their strongest indicator is a steel wall the U.S. Engineering Corps are building underground to block an estimated 1,500 tunnels that span the 14-kilometer Sinai-Gaza border. In January 2008 thousands of Arab Palestinians from Gaza swarmed the Egyptian – Gazan borders as an outlet into a compatriot Arab government who nonetheless proved no more compassionate to their plight under siege than the Israelis when they immediately after the episode closed their border crossings. The tunnels were the Palestinian alternative.

Now the U.S. – made 18 – meter steel slabs, which were tested in U.S. laboratories to resist bombs, melting or cutting and meant to reach 30 meters underground, threaten — in addition to disrupting and contaminating the underground water flow — when the project is completed, reportedly in eighteen months, to deprive them of sixty percent of their basic needs, according to the UNRWA American Commissioner – General, Karen Koning AbuZayd, who told a forum organized by the American University in Cairo that the steel wall is more secure than the Bar Lev Line, built by Israeli military along the eastern coast of the Suez Canal after it occupied the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in 1967.

No people or country in the world would tolerate such a “defensive” wall on their borders, a first worldwide, or view it as not an act of war. The steel wall serves only Israeli political and military goals, notwithstanding the fact it is “U.S. – made” — according to AbuZayd — and the labor as well as the guarding soldiers are Egyptians. As such the wall is viewed as part of the Israeli occupation and as an integral part of the Israeli siege mechanisms, and accordingly, from a Palestinian point of view, its targeting is legitimate. However, Palestinians, at least in Gaza strip, are in a state of war with Israel, but not with Egypt. Consequently, any expected violent flare up which the wall could ignite would be Palestinian – Israeli hostilities. Hamas argues that Egypt cannot risk the expected angry Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and international outcry against the collective punishment of one and a half million Palestinians in Gaza unless Cairo is expecting an Israeli invasion that would make such an outcry short-lived.

Israel is diverting attention away from the Palestinian imminent explosion and away from both its political siege of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and its military siege of the rival Palestinian leadership in Gaza by highlighting as a priority an Iranian nuclear threat, which has yet to be vindicated. All indications are that the Obama administration has subscribed to the Israeli agenda, dragging with it its European satellites. All other Middle East regional conflicts could wait, it seems, even the explosive Arab and Palestinian – Israeli conflict.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli – occupied territories.

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Christians of Palestine Decry ‘Absence of All Hope’

December 18, 2009

By Nicola Nasser*

“In the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope. We believe in God, good and just. We believe that God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persist in our land. We will see here ‘a new land’ and ‘a new human being’, capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters,” concluded a document (“Kairos Palestine Document”) released by Palestinian Christian leaders on December 11, 2009.

Full text of the Kairos Palestine Document:

In Arabic

http://www.oikoumen e.org/fileadmin/ files/wcc- main/2009pdfs/ Kairos Palestine_Ar. pdf

Auf Deutsch

http://www.oikoumen e.org/fileadmin/ files/wcc- main/2009pdfs/ Kairos Palestine_Ger. pdf

En français

http://www.oikoumen e.org/fileadmin/ files/wcc- main/2009pdfs/ Kairos Palestine_Fr. pdf

Palestinian Christian leaders, representing churches and church-related organizations, meeting in Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus Christ, which is under the Israeli military occupation since 1967, have launched a “landmark campaign” aimed at enlisting Christians worldwide in proactive efforts to end the occupation of Palestinian territories. The unprecedented initiative, called “Kairos Palestine-2009: A moment of truth,” appeals to churches worldwide to treat Israel in the same way they had treated the erstwhile South African apartheid regime.

The authors of the 13-page document include such religious leaders as Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan, Archbishop of Sebastia Atallah Hanna from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, as well as the heads of various other denominations.

“We, Palestinian Christians, declare in this historic document that the military occupation of our land is a sin against God and humanity and that any theology that legitimises the occupation is far from Christian teachings because true Christian theology is a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed and a call to justice and equality among peoples,” reads the document.

The authors said they hoped that the document would raise the conscience of Christians worldwide on the enduring Palestinian plight. “We hope, as Palestinian Christians, that this document will be the leverage for the efforts of all peace-loving peoples in the world, especially our Christian sisters and brothers. We hope that it will be welcomed positively and will receive strong support, as was the case with the South Africa Kairos document launched.”

One author of the landmark document, Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna, told the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly (17 – 23 December 2009) that the main aim of the initiative was to alert Christians worldwide to the critical situation in occupied Palestine. “We are a peaceable people, we are not terrorists because we first and foremost are victims of Israeli terror. We love freedom, we love justice, we love our country, we love Jerusalem and we insist on living with human dignity.”

Rifat Kassis, a spokesman for “Kairos Palestine-2009,” told Al-Ahram: Christian leaders in occupied Palestine have been deliberating the initiative for several months. “Ultimately we hope that Christian institutions, including churches around the world, will endorse this document and act on it in the same way churches related to the anti-apartheid regime in South Africa in 1985. In the final analysis, apartheid can’t be wrong in South Africa and right in occupied Palestine.”

Asked by Al-Ahram why the initiative is being launched now, Kassis said the situation in occupied Palestine had reached a crossroads. Quoting from the document, Kassis said: “… because today we have reached the dead-end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it. What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and the Arab world doing? What is the church doing? The problem is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the church.”

In Christian theological terminology, the word “kairos” means “moment of truth” or “time for action.”

On the eve of Christmas, the Christian leaders decried that their “Religious liberty is severely restricted, the freedom of access to holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Israeli settlements ravage our land in the name of force, controlling our natural resources, including water and agricultural land, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.”

“Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, a symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the apartheid wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, the city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace,” they lamented.

Following is the text of the document:

A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering

Introduction

We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and an exchange of opinion, cry out from within the suffering in our country, under the Israeli occupation, with a cry of hope in the absence of all hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God’s divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land. Inspired by the mystery of God’s love for all, the mystery of God’s divine presence in the history of all peoples and, in a particular way, in the history of our country, we proclaim our word based on our Christian faith and our sense of Palestinian belonging – a word of faith, hope and love.

Why now? Because today we have reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it. The hearts of the faithful are filled with pain and with questioning: What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and in the Arab world doing? What is the Church doing? The problem is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the Church.

We address ourselves to our brothers and sisters, members of our Churches in this land. We call out as Christians and as Palestinians to our religious and political leaders, to our Palestinian society and to the Israeli society, to the international community, and to our Christian brothers and sisters in the Churches around the world.

1. The reality on the ground

1.1 “They say: ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). These days, everyone is speaking about peace in the Middle East and the peace process. So far, however, these are simply words; the reality is one of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, deprivation of our freedom and all that results from this situation:

1.1.1 The separation wall erected on Palestinian territory, a large part of which has been confiscated for this purpose, has turned our towns and villages into prisons, separating them from one another, making them dispersed and divided cantons. Gaza, especially after the cruel war Israel launched against it during December 2008 and January 2009, continues to live in inhuman conditions, under permanent blockade and cut off from the other Palestinian territories.

1.1.2 Israeli settlements ravage our land in the name of God and in the name of force, controlling our natural resources, including water and agricultural land, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and constituting an obstacle to any political solution.

1.1.3 Reality is the daily humiliation to which we are subjected at the military checkpoints, as we make our way to jobs, schools or hospitals.

1.1.4 Reality is the separation between members of the same family, making family life impossible for thousands of Palestinians, especially where one of the spouses does not have an Israeli identity card.

1.1.5 Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem.

1.1.6 Refugees are also part of our reality. Most of them are still living in camps under difficult circumstances. They have been waiting for their right of return, generation after generation. What will be their fate?

1.1.7 And the prisoners? The thousands of prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons are part of our reality. The Israelis move heaven and earth to gain the release of one prisoner, and those thousands of Palestinian prisoners, when will they have their freedom?

1.1.8 Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.

1.2 Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt. Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights’ organizations, the injustice continues.

1.2.1 Palestinians within the State of Israel, who have also suffered a historical injustice, although they are citizens and have the rights and obligations of citizenship, still suffer from discriminatory policies. They too are waiting to enjoy full rights and equality like all other citizens in the state.

1.3 Emigration is another element in our reality. The absence of any vision or spark of hope for peace and freedom pushes young people, both Muslim and Christian, to emigrate. Thus the land is deprived of its most important and richest resource – educated youth. The shrinking number of Christians, particularly in Palestine, is one of the dangerous consequences, both of this conflict, and of the local and international paralysis and failure to find a comprehensive solution to the problem.

1.4 In the face of this reality, Israel justifies its actions as self-defence, including occupation, collective punishment and all other forms of reprisals against the Palestinians. In our opinion, this vision is a reversal of reality. Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation. However, if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity. This is our understanding of the situation. Therefore, we call on the Israelis to end the occupation. Then they will see a new world in which there is no fear, no threat but rather security, justice and peace.

1.5 The Palestinian response to this reality was diverse. Some responded through negotiations: that was the official position of the Palestinian Authority, but it did not advance the peace process. Some political parties followed the way of armed resistance. Israel used this as a pretext to accuse the Palestinians of being terrorists and was able to distort the real nature of the conflict, presenting it as an Israeli war against terror, rather than an Israeli occupation faced by Palestinian legal resistance aiming at ending it.

1.5.1 The tragedy worsened with the internal conflict among Palestinians themselves, and with the separation of Gaza from the rest of the Palestinian territory. It is noteworthy that, even though the division is among Palestinians themselves, the international community bears an important responsibility for it since it refused to deal positively with the will of the Palestinian people expressed in the outcome of democratic and legal elections in 2006.

Again, we repeat and proclaim that our Christian word in the midst of all this, in the midst of our catastrophe, is a word of faith, hope and love.

2. A word of faith

We believe in one God, a good and just God

2.1 We believe in God, one God, Creator of the universe and of humanity. We believe in a good and just God, who loves each one of his creatures. We believe that every human being is created in God’s image and likeness and that every one’s dignity is derived from the dignity of the Almighty One. We believe that this dignity is one and the same in each and all of us. This means for us, here and now, in this land in particular, that God created us not so that we might engage in strife and conflict but rather that we might come and know and love one another, and together build up the land in love and mutual respect.

2.1.1 We also believe in God’s eternal Word, His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent as the Saviour of the world.

2.1.2 We believe in the Holy Spirit, who accompanies the Church and all humanity on its journey. It is the Spirit that helps us to understand Holy Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, showing their unity, here and now. The Spirit makes manifest the revelation of God to humanity, past, present and future.

How do we understand the word of God?

2.2 We believe that God has spoken to humanity, here in our country: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom God appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds” (Heb. 1:1-2).

2.2.1 We, Christian Palestinians, believe, like all Christians throughout the world, that Jesus Christ came in order to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and in his light and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we read the Holy Scriptures. We meditate upon and interpret Scripture just as Jesus Christ did with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. As it is written in the Gospel according to Saint Luke: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Lk 24:27).

2.2.2 Our Lord Jesus Christ came, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was near. He provoked a revolution in the life and faith of all humanity. He came with “a new teaching” (Mk 1:27), casting a new light on the Old Testament, on the themes that relate to our Christian faith and our daily lives, themes such as the promises, the election, the people of God and the land. We believe that the Word of God is a living Word, casting a particular light on each period of history, manifesting to Christian believers what God is saying to us here and now. For this reason, it is unacceptable to transform the Word of God into letters of stone that pervert the love of God and His providence in the life of both peoples and individuals. This is precisely the error in fundamentalist Biblical interpretation that brings us death and destruction when the word of God is petrified and transmitted from generation to generation as a dead letter. This dead letter is used as a weapon in our present history in order to deprive us of our rights in our own land.

Our land has a universal mission

2.3 We believe that our land has a universal mission. In this universality, the meaning of the promises, of the land, of the election, of the people of God open up to include all of humanity, starting from all the peoples of this land. In light of the teachings of the Holy Bible, the promise of the land has never been a political programme, but rather the prelude to complete universal salvation. It was the initiation of the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

2.3.1 God sent the patriarchs, the prophets and the apostles to this land so that they might carry forth a universal mission to the world. Today we constitute three religions in this land, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Our land is God’s land, as is the case with all countries in the world. It is holy inasmuch as God is present in it, for God alone is holy and sanctifier. It is the duty of those of us who live here, to respect the will of God for this land. It is our duty to liberate it from the evil of injustice and war. It is God’s land and therefore it must be a land of reconciliation, peace and love. This is indeed possible. God has put us here as two peoples, and God gives us the capacity, if we have the will, to live together and establish in it justice and peace, making it in reality God’s land: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Ps. 24:1).

2.3.2 Our presence in this land, as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, is not accidental but rather deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land, resonant with the connectedness of any other people to the land it lives in. It was an injustice when we were driven out. The West sought to make amends for what Jews had endured in the countries of Europe, but it made amends on our account and in our land. They tried to correct an injustice and the result was a new injustice.

2.3.3 Furthermore, we know that certain theologians in the West try to attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights. Thus, the promises, according to their interpretation, have become a menace to our very existence. The “good news” in the Gospel itself has become “a harbinger of death” for us. We call on these theologians to deepen their reflection on the Word of God and to rectify their interpretations so that they might see in the Word of God a source of life for all peoples.

2.3.4 Our connectedness to this land is a natural right. It is not an ideological or a theological question only. It is a matter of life and death. There are those who do not agree with us, even defining us as enemies only because we declare that we want to live as free people in our land. We suffer from the occupation of our land because we are Palestinians. And as Christian Palestinians we suffer from the wrong interpretation of some theologians. Faced with this, our task is to safeguard the Word of God as a source of life and not of death, so that “the good news” remains what it is, “good news” for us and for all. In face of those who use the Bible to threaten our existence as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, we renew our faith in God because we know that the word of God can not be the source of our destruction.

2.4 Therefore, we declare that any use of the Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people on another, transform religion into human ideology and strip the Word of God of its holiness, its universality and truth.

2.5 We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God. It distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation. We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war in the name of God Almighty, subordinating God to temporary human interests, and distorting the divine image in the human beings living under both political and theological injustice.

3. Hope

3.1 Despite the lack of even a glimmer of positive expectation, our hope remains strong. The present situation does not promise any quick solution or the end of the occupation that is imposed on us. Yes, the initiatives, the conferences, visits and negotiations have multiplied, but they have not been followed up by any change in our situation and suffering. Even the new US position that has been announced by President Obama, with a manifest desire to put an end to the tragedy, has not been able to make a change in our reality. The clear Israeli response, refusing any solution, leaves no room for positive expectation. Despite this, our hope remains strong, because it is from God. God alone is good, almighty and loving and His goodness will one day be victorious over the evil in which we find ourselves. As Saint Paul said: “If God is for us, who is against us? (…) Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long” (…) For I am convinced that (nothing) in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:31, 35, 36, 39).

What is the meaning of hope?

3.2 Hope within us means first and foremost our faith in God and secondly our expectation, despite everything, for a better future. Thirdly, it means not chasing after illusions – we realize that release is not close at hand. Hope is the capacity to see God in the midst of trouble, and to be co-workers with the Holy Spirit who is dwelling in us. From this vision derives the strength to be steadfast, remain firm and work to change the reality in which we find ourselves. Hope means not giving in to evil but rather standing up to it and continuing to resist it. We see nothing in the present or future except ruin and destruction. We see the upper hand of the strong, the growing orientation towards racist separation and the imposition of laws that deny our existence and our dignity. We see confusion and division in the Palestinian position. If, despite all this, we do resist this reality today and work hard, perhaps the destruction that looms on the horizon may not come upon us.

Signs of hope

3.3 The Church in our land, her leaders and her faithful, despite her weakness and her divisions, does show certain signs of hope. Our parish communities are vibrant and most of our young people are active apostles for justice and peace. In addition to the individual commitment, our various Church institutions make our faith active and present in service, love and prayer.

3.3.1 Among the signs of hope are the local centres of theology, with a religious and social character. They are numerous in our different Churches. The ecumenical spirit, even if still hesitant, shows itself more and more in the meetings of our different Church families.

3.3.2 We can add to this the numerous meetings for inter-religious dialogue, Christian–Muslim dialogue, which includes the religious leaders and a part of the people. Admittedly, dialogue is a long process and is perfected through a daily effort as we undergo the same sufferings and have the same expectations. There is also dialogue among the three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as different dialogue meetings on the academic or social level. They all try to breach the walls imposed by the occupation and oppose the distorted perception of human beings in the heart of their brothers or sisters.

3.3.3 One of the most important signs of hope is the steadfastness of the generations, the belief in the justice of their cause and the continuity of memory, which does not forget the “Nakba” (catastrophe) and its significance. Likewise significant is the developing awareness among many Churches throughout the world and their desire to know the truth about what is going on here.

3.3.4 In addition to that, we see a determination among many to overcome the resentments of the past and to be ready for reconciliation once justice has been restored. Public awareness of the need to restore political rights to the Palestinians is increasing, and Jewish and Israeli voices, advocating peace and justice, are raised in support of this with the approval of the international community. True, these forces for justice and reconciliation have not yet been able to transform the situation of injustice, but they have their influence and may shorten the time of suffering and hasten the time of reconciliation.

The mission of the Church

3.4 Our Church is a Church of people who pray and serve. This prayer and service is prophetic, bearing the voice of God in the present and future. Everything that happens in our land, everyone who lives there, all the pains and hopes, all the injustice and all the efforts to stop this injustice, are part and parcel of the prayer of our Church and the service of all her institutions. Thanks be to God that our Church raises her voice against injustice despite the fact that some desire her to remain silent, closed in her religious devotions.

3.4.1 The mission of the Church is prophetic, to speak the Word of God courageously, honestly and lovingly in the local context and in the midst of daily events. If she does take sides, it is with the oppressed, to stand alongside them, just as Christ our Lord stood by the side of each poor person and each sinner, calling them to repentance, life, and the restoration of the dignity bestowed on them by God and that no one has the right to strip away.

3.4.2 The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, peace and dignity. Our vocation as a living Church is to bear witness to the goodness of God and the dignity of human beings. We are called to pray and to make our voice heard when we announce a new society where human beings believe in their own dignity and the dignity of their adversaries.

3.4.3 Our Church points to the Kingdom, which cannot be tied to any earthly kingdom. Jesus said before Pilate that he was indeed a king but “my kingdom is not from this world” (Jn 18:36). Saint Paul says: “The Kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Therefore, religion cannot favour or support any unjust political regime, but must rather promote justice, truth and human dignity. It must exert every effort to purify regimes where human beings suffer injustice and human dignity is violated. The Kingdom of God on earth is not dependent on any political orientation, for it is greater and more inclusive than any particular political system.

3.4.4 Jesus Christ said: “The Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). This Kingdom that is present among us and in us is the extension of the mystery of salvation. It is the presence of God among us and our sense of that presence in everything we do and say. It is in this divine presence that we shall do what we can until justice is achieved in this land.

3.4.5 The cruel circumstances in which the Palestinian Church has lived and continues to live have required the Church to clarify her faith and to identify her vocation better. We have studied our vocation and have come to know it better in the midst of suffering and pain: today, we bear the strength of love rather than that of revenge, a culture of life rather than a culture of death. This is a source of hope for us, for the Church and for the world.

3.5 The Resurrection is the source of our hope. Just as Christ rose in victory over death and evil, so too we are able, as each inhabitant of this land is able, to vanquish the evil of war. We will remain a witnessing, steadfast and active Church in the land of the Resurrection.

4. Love

The commandment of love

4.1 Christ our Lord said: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). He has already showed us how to love and how to treat our enemies. He said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (…) Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:45-47).

Saint Paul also said: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17). And Saint Peter said: “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called” (1 Pet. 3:9).

Resistance

4.2 This word is clear. Love is the commandment of Christ our Lord to us and it includes both friends and enemies. This must be clear when we find ourselves in circumstances where we must resist evil of whatever kind.

4.2.1 Love is seeing the face of God in every human being. Every person is my brother or my sister. However, seeing the face of God in everyone does not mean accepting evil or aggression on their part. Rather, this love seeks to correct the evil and stop the aggression.

The aggression against the Palestinian people which is the Israeli occupation, is an evil that must be resisted. It is an evil and a sin that must be resisted and removed. Primary responsibility for this rests with the Palestinians themselves suffering occupation. Christian love invites us to resist it. However, love puts an end to evil by walking in the ways of justice. Responsibility lies also with the international community, because international law regulates relations between peoples today.

Finally responsibility lies with the perpetrators of the injustice; they must liberate themselves from the evil that is in them and the injustice they have imposed on others.

4.2.2 When we review the history of the nations, we see many wars and much resistance to war by war, to violence by violence. The Palestinian people has gone the way of the peoples, particularly in the first stages of its struggle with the Israeli occupation. However, it also engaged in peaceful struggle, especially during the first Intifada. We recognize that all peoples must find a new way in their relations with each other and the resolution of their conflicts. The ways of force must give way to the ways of justice. This applies above all to the peoples that are militarily strong, mighty enough to impose their injustice on the weaker.

4.2.3 We say that our option as Christians in the face of the Israeli occupation is to resist. Resistance is a right and a duty for the Christian. But it is resistance with love as its logic. It is thus a creative resistance for it must find human ways that engage the humanity of the enemy. Seeing the image of God in the face of the enemy means taking up positions in the light of this vision of active resistance to stop the injustice and oblige the perpetrator to end his aggression and thus achieve the desired goal, which is getting back the land, freedom, dignity and independence.

4.2.4 Christ our Lord has left us an example we must imitate. We must resist evil but he taught us that we cannot resist evil with evil. This is a difficult commandment, particularly when the enemy is determined to impose himself and deny our right to remain here in our land. It is a difficult commandment yet it alone can stand firm in the face of the clear declarations of the occupation authorities that refuse our existence and the many excuses these authorities use to continue imposing occupation upon us.

4.2.5 Resistance to the evil of occupation is integrated, then, within this Christian love that refuses evil and corrects it. It resists evil in all its forms with methods that enter into the logic of love and draw on all energies to make peace. We can resist through civil disobedience. We do not resist with death but rather through respect of life. We respect and have a high esteem for all those who have given their life for our nation. And we affirm that every citizen must be ready to defend his or her life, freedom and land.

4.2.6 Palestinian civil organizations, as well as international organizations, NGOs and certain religious institutions call on individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation. We understand this to integrate the logic of peaceful resistance. These advocacy campaigns must be carried out with courage, openly sincerely proclaiming that their object is not revenge but rather to put an end to the existing evil, liberating both the perpetrators and the victims of injustice. The aim is to free both peoples from extremist positions of the different Israeli governments, bringing both to justice and reconciliation. In this spirit and with this dedication we will eventually reach the longed-for resolution to our problems, as indeed happened in South Africa and with many other liberation movements in the world.

4.3 Through our love, we will overcome injustices and establish foundations for a new society both for us and for our opponents. Our future and their future are one. Either the cycle of violence that destroys both of us or peace that will benefit both. We call on Israel to give up its injustice towards us, not to twist the truth of reality of the occupation by pretending that it is a battle against terrorism. The roots of “terrorism” are in the human injustice committed and in the evil of the occupation. These must be removed if there be a sincere intention to remove “terrorism”. We call on the people of Israel to be our partners in peace and not in the cycle of interminable violence. Let us resist evil together, the evil of occupation and the infernal cycle of violence.

5. Our word to our brothers and sisters

5.1 We all face, today, a way that is blocked and a future that promises only woe. Our word to all our Christian brothers and sisters is a word of hope, patience, steadfastness and new action for a better future. Our word is that we, as Christians we carry a message, and we will continue to carry it despite the thorns, despite blood and daily difficulties. We place our hope in God, who will grant us relief in His own time. At the same time, we continue to act in concord with God and God’s will, building, resisting evil and bringing closer the day of justice and peace.

5.2 We say to our Christian brothers and sisters: This is a time for repentance. Repentance brings us back into the communion of love with everyone who suffers, the prisoners, the wounded, those afflicted with temporary or permanent handicaps, the children who cannot live their childhood and each one who mourns a dear one. The communion of love says to every believer in spirit and in truth: if my brother is a prisoner I am a prisoner; if his home is destroyed, my home is destroyed; when my brother is killed, then I too am killed. We face the same challenges and share in all that has happened and will happen. Perhaps, as individuals or as heads of Churches, we were silent when we should have raised our voices to condemn the injustice and share in the suffering. This is a time of repentance for our silence, indifference, lack of communion, either because we did not persevere in our mission in this land and abandoned it, or because we did not think and do enough to reach a new and integrated vision and remained divided, contradicting our witness and weakening our word. Repentance for our concern with our institutions, sometimes at the expense of our mission, thus silencing the prophetic voice given by the Spirit to the Churches.

5.3 We call on Christians to remain steadfast in this time of trial, just as we have throughout the centuries, through the changing succession of states and governments. Be patient, steadfast and full of hope so that you might fill the heart of every one of your brothers or sisters who shares in this same trial with hope. “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). Be active and, provided this conforms to love, participate in any sacrifice that resistance asks of you to overcome our present travail.

5.4 Our numbers are few but our message is great and important. Our land is in urgent need of love. Our love is a message to the Muslim and to the Jew, as well as to the world.

5.4.1 Our message to the Muslims is a message of love and of living together and a call to reject fanaticism and extremism. It is also a message to the world that Muslims are neither to be stereotyped as the enemy nor caricatured as terrorists but rather to be lived with in peace and engaged with in dialogue.

5.4.2 Our message to the Jews tells them: Even though we have fought one another in the recent past and still struggle today, we are able to love and live together. We can organize our political life, with all its complexity, according to the logic of this love and its power, after ending the occupation and establishing justice.

5.4.3 The word of faith says to anyone engaged in political activity: human beings were not made for hatred. It is not permitted to hate, neither is it permitted to kill or to be killed. The culture of love is the culture of accepting the other. Through it we perfect ourselves and the foundations of society are established.

6. Our word to the Churches of the world

6.1 Our word to the Churches of the world is firstly a word of gratitude for the solidarity you have shown toward us in word, deed and presence among us. It is a word of praise for the many Churches and Christians who support the right of the Palestinian people for self determination. It is a message of solidarity with those Christians and Churches who have suffered because of their advocacy for law and justice.

However, it is also a call to repentance; to revisit fundamentalist theological positions that support certain unjust political options with regard to the Palestinian people. It is a call to stand alongside the oppressed and preserve the word of God as good news for all rather than to turn it into a weapon with which to slay the oppressed. The word of God is a word of love for all His creation. God is not the ally of one against the other, nor the opponent of one in the face of the other. God is the Lord of all and loves all, demanding justice from all and issuing to all of us the same commandments. We ask our sister Churches not to offer a theological cover-up for the injustice we suffer, for the sin of the occupation imposed upon us. Our question to our brothers and sisters in the Churches today is: Are you able to help us get our freedom back, for this is the only way you can help the two peoples attain justice, peace, security and love?

6.2 In order to understand our reality, we say to the Churches: Come and see. We will fulfil our role to make known to you the truth of our reality, receiving you as pilgrims coming to us to pray, carrying a message of peace, love and reconciliation. You will know the facts and the people of this land, Palestinians and Israelis alike.

6.3 We condemn all forms of racism, whether religious or ethnic, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and we call on you to condemn it and oppose it in all its manifestations. At the same time we call on you to say a word of truth and to take a position of truth with regard to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. As we have already said, we see boycott and disinvestment as tools of non violence for justice, peace and security for all.

7. Our word to the international community

7. Our word to the international community is to stop the principle of “double standards” and insist on the international resolutions regarding the Palestinian problem with regard to all parties. Selective application of international law threatens to leave us vulnerable to a law of the jungle. It legitimizes the claims by certain armed groups and states that the international community only understands the logic of force.

Therefore, we call for a response to what the civil and religious institutions have proposed, as mentioned earlier: the beginning of a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel. We repeat once again that this is not revenge but rather a serious action in order to reach a just and definitive peace that will put an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories and will guarantee security and peace for all.

8. Jewish and Muslim religious leaders

8. Finally, we address an appeal to the religious and spiritual leaders, Jewish and Muslim, with whom we share the same vision that every human being is created by God and has been given equal dignity. Hence the obligation for each of us to defend the oppressed and the dignity God has bestowed on them. Let us together try to rise up above the political positions that have failed so far and continue to lead us on the path of failure and suffering.

9. A call to our Palestinian people and to the Israelis

9.1 This is a call to see the face of God in each one of God’s creatures and overcome the barriers of fear or race in order to establish a constructive dialogue and not remain within the cycle of never-ending manoeuvres that aim to keep the situation as it is. Our appeal is to reach a common vision, built on equality and sharing, not on superiority, negation of the other or aggression, using the pretext of fear and security. We say that love is possible and mutual trust is possible. Thus, peace is possible and definitive reconciliation also. Thus, justice and security will be attained for all.

9.2 Education is important. Educational programs must help us to get to know the other as he or she is rather than through the prism of conflict, hostility or religious fanaticism. The educational programs in place today are infected with this hostility. The time has come to begin a new education that allows one to see the face of God in the other and declares that we are capable of loving each other and building our future together in peace and security.

9.3 Trying to make the state a religious state, Jewish or Islamic, suffocates the state, confines it within narrow limits, and transforms it into a state that practices discrimination and exclusion, preferring one citizen over another. We appeal to both religious Jews and Muslims: let the state be a state for all its citizens, with a vision constructed on respect for religion but also equality, justice, liberty and respect for pluralism and not on domination by a religion or a numerical majority.

9.4 To the leaders of Palestine we say that current divisions weaken all of us and cause more sufferings. Nothing can justify these divisions. For the good of the people, which must outweigh that of the political parties, an end must be put to division. We appeal to the international community to lend its support towards this union and to respect the will of the Palestinian people as expressed freely.

9.5 Jerusalem is the foundation of our vision and our entire life. She is the city to which God gave a particular importance in the history of humanity. She is the city towards which all people are in movement – and where they will meet in friendship and love in the presence of the One Unique God, according to the vision of the prophet Isaiah: “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it (…) He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is. 2: 2-5). Today, the city is inhabited by two peoples of three religions; and it is on this prophetic vision and on the international resolutions concerning the totality of Jerusalem that any political solution must be based. This is the first issue that should be negotiated because the recognition of Jerusalem’s sanctity and its message will be a source of inspiration towards finding a solution to the entire problem, which is largely a problem of mutual trust and ability to set in place a new land in this land of God.

10. Hope and faith in God

10. In the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope. We believe in God, good and just. We believe that God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persist in our land. We will see here “a new land” and “a new human being”, capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters.

_______________________________________________

The authors of the document are:
• Patriarch Michel Sabbah, • Bishop Dr Munib Younan, • Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna, • Rev.. Dr Jamal Khader, • Rev. Dr Rafiq Khoury, • Rev. Dr Mitri Raheb, • Rev. Dr Naim Ateek, • Rev. Dr Yohana Katanacho, • Rev. Fr Fadi Diab, • Dr Jiries Khoury, • Ms Sider Daibes, • Ms Nora Kort, • Ms Lucy Thaljieh, • Mr Nidal Abu Zulof, • Mr Yusef Daher, • Mr Rifat Kassis – coordinator of the initiative.

Organizations adopting the document up until 11 December 2009:

Near East Council of Churches – Gaza, YMCA, Laity Committee in the Holy Land, Council for Orthodox Organizations, International Centre of Bethlehem, Department of Service to Palestine Refugees, Siraj Center, International Christian Assembly, Arab Orthodox Charitable Society, Arab Orthodox Club Union-Jerusalem, Arab Orthodox Club-Beit Sahour, Arab Orthodox Club-Bethlehem, Arab Orthodox Club-Beit Jala, Orthodox Housing Society, Alternative Tourism Group, National Christian Assembly, WI’AM –The Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, National Christian Alliance, St. Yves.

Media contact in Jerusalem: Ranjan Solomon  +972-54-733- 7857

Additional information: Juan Michel, +41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 media@wcc-coe. Org

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.

To become a signatory, please send the following information to Mr. Rifat Kassis: kalimatuna@gmail.com

Mr./Ms./Dr., First Name, Last Name, Email Address, City/Town

For the list of signatories:

http://kairospalest ine.ps/?q= node/2

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli – occupied territories.

U.S. Creates Its Antithesis in Iraq

December 16, 2009

By Nicola Nasser*

Nowhere it is more obvious than in Iraq that the existence of an election law, elections themselves and the constitution they are based on are not indicators of democracy or legitimacy, because these mechanisms are merely symbols of the antithesis of the mechanisms of democracy as practiced back home by the U.S. occupying power.

An editorial of The Washington Post on December 8 hailed the passing two days earlier of an amended version of the 2005 election law by the Iraqi “Council of Representatives” (CoR) as a “Breakthrough in Iraq,” which “gives democracy a chance to work.” However if this statement is not misleading, then it is extremely too optimistic, at least for one reason: The Iraqis themselves had another say.

The new version was vetoed by none other than Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi. On November 23, under U.S. excessive pressure including a phone call by President Barak Obama to Kurdistan Regional Government head Masoud Barzani, the CoR passed another amended version of the law without addressing al-Hashemi’s demands to increase the representation in parliament of displaced people, internally and abroad, from 5% of the total to 15%, which indicates yielding in to U.S. pressure by al-Hashemi, nor did it address the Kurds’ threat to boycott the elections if their demands in Kirkuk were not met, in another indication of yielding to U.S. pressure by the Kurds, although it did meet their complaint for more parliamentary seats.

Rachel Schneller, a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. State Department writing for the Council on Foreign Relations on December 4, warned that the latest version of the Iraqi election law could make things worse in Iraq if approved. The Sunnis, including Hashemi, could resort to “desperate measures” to gain power as the new election law provoked claims of Shiite dominance. Schneller wrote that elections in Iraq are not a sign of stability. “The United States would do well to back away from the policy of elections at any cost,” she concluded.

Obama’s administration had a different point of view. U.S. diplomats, notably Washington’s ambassador in Baghdad Christopher Hill, had pushed MPs to pass the law, which they did in the wake of a meeting between a US delegation including US Forces Commander in Iraq General Raymond Odierno and deputy US Ambassador to Baghdad Robert Ford and the Iraqi president Jalal Talibani. The White House said the move was “a decisive moment for Iraq’s democracy.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the U.S. welcomed the new law. “This legislative action will allow Iraq to hold national elections within Iraq’s constitutional framework,” he said. Earlier, Obama had hailed the Iraqi elections next year as a “significant breakthrough” and a “milestone … that can bring lasting peace and unity to Iraq.” The administration sees the election as a prerequisite to the U.S. meeting its goal of releasing more combat troops for the Afghani theatre by August next year, and redeploying its combatants fully by 2012, whatever the cost might be to Iraqis.

The carnage left by a series of coordinated attacks by car bombs and suicide bombers on December 15, December 8, October 25 and August 19, which struck at the symbols of what the U.S. hopes would be a burgeoning pro-western government, if not a puppet regime, in and near the heavily protected Green Zone, which houses the largest U.S. Embassy worldwide, the Iraqi parliament and other government offices and embassies in Baghdad, claiming more than 500 lives and hundreds of wounded, and inflicting devastating damage on public order infrastructure, is a stark and humiliating proof of the U.S. failure, and not only a failure of a proxy Iraqi government, in securing even the Iraqi capital after less than nine years of the U.S. – led invasion of Iraq.

Those bloody demonstrations of insecurity cast serious doubts on the planned imminent redeployment of U.S. troops. “The American role is necessary now in Iraq, not only to maintain security but to maintain political stability,” Hameed Fadhel, a political science professor at Baghdad University told Asia Times on Dec 15. “The Iraqi people no longer trust their politicians,” added Tariq Harb, a member of Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance. Sadi Pira, a politburo member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, one of the two dominant Kurdish parties, was more vocal on maintaining the U.S. “military role” in Iraq: The latest bombings in Baghdad, along with unrest in Mosul and Kirkuk, “proves that the Iraqi forces are not able to control the cities or the borders. If the U.S. position is to extend the [stay] of the remaining coalition forces, it is not bad for Iraq,” Pira told the Times.

Such statements vindicate the U.S. officials who were quoted by Reuters on December 10 as saying that the 60-day period after Iraq’s election will probably reveal whether the country will tip back into sectarian bloodshed or move toward stability and peace. But more importantly, the immediate aftermath of the upcoming elections would reveal whether the U.S. troops would redeploy on time. The U.S. force in Iraq is supposed to be reduced to 50,000 by the end of August from around 115,000 now. However, the date for the end of the U.S. combat operations in Iraq is not included in a bilateral security pact signed last year, but was set by Obama as part of a pledge to U.S. voters to end the war on Iraq.

In his accepting Nobel Peace Prize speech earlier this month, Obama proclaimed a justification for war that could label him more a modern Niccolo Maichiaville than “the candidate of change,” which does not preclude the extension of his country’s military presence in Iraq as a hidden agenda. “The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace,” Obama declared. The United States reserves the right to “act unilaterally if necessary” and to launch wars whose purpose “extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor,” he said.

Could this be the hidden agenda of the United States in Iraq: i.e. to create pretexts for a permanent military presence in Iraq? Within this context it has been noteworthy that the government of al- Maliki and its security officials, when they were questioned by the parliament in closed and public sessions last week, were divided over whom to blame for the bombings: Syria and other “Arab” countries or infiltrators of their security agencies by resistance elements whom they dub as “terrorists,” but they never hinted to the U.S. occupying power as a possible culprit, which maintains the capability to really infiltrate the security shield around the “Green Zone” and could be the major beneficiary of portraying the government as still incapable of maintaining law and order; this possibility was given substance, for example, by the report of The New York Times on December 11 that Blackwater gunmen, ostensibly contracted as security guards in Iraq and Afghanistan, “participated in some of the CIA’s most sensitive activities—clandestine raids with agency officers,” and by CIA Director Leon Panetta’s briefing before Congressional intelligence committees last June about a covert “assassination program” involving Blackwater. Nor did they hint to Iran, the major beneficiary of the U.S. occupation or to voting by bombs by the political components of the U.S. –engineered “political process” as they used to do since they were brought into the country by the invading armies.

The reason underlying the U.S. failure in Iraq should be sought in the fact that the United States has failed to establish a political system of its own image in Iraq and has instead created its antithesis, which deprived both its presence in the country as well as the political regime it has so far failed to install there of a legitimacy that would credibly stand on its own as an alternative to the legitimate national regime the U.S. invasion devastated in 2003, notwithstanding the fact it was labeled a dictatorship by western standards of liberal parliamentary democracy.

For the same reason, the U.S. – engineered Iraqi constitution of 2005 and the election law which regulated the Iraqi elections the next year as well as the latest amended election law, which will regulate the upcoming elections early next year, have so far failed to vindicate the missing legitimacy.

Although the U.S. managed to go to its war on Iraq on seemingly “legally sufficient grounds both nationally and internationally, the problem was legitimacy”: U.S. invasion struck at the heart of the “just-war theory,” which is codified in international law, retired General Wesley K. Clark, a senior fellow at the Burkle Center for International Relations, rightly noted on July 2, 2007, indicating that the U.S. biggest mistake was the failure to appreciate the importance of law and the concept of legitimacy in the conduct of American affairs abroad, and citing “recent polls”, he said the U.S. is seen by some as “the greatest threat to peace and, in some instances, (former) President (George W.) Bush more dangerous than Osama Bin Laden!”

Indeed, given the “continuity” of Bush’s policies in Iraq, Bush’s successor is not less responsible for the current status quo in the country if he doesn’t reverse course, which incumbent President Obama did not so far. The invasion was illegitimate, the ensuing occupation is still illegitimate, the proxy regime the U.S. occupying power is still trying to install in Baghdad is illegitimate, and no artificially and hastily drafted and instituted constitution and election law could legitimize an illegitimate status quo in Iraq.

Illegitimacy of the status quo in Iraq is further questioned by the bitter and tragic inhumane fruits of the status quo. What elections as indicator of democracy could any objective observer perceive in a country where the U.S. military adventure has left around five million children orphans, one million child laborers, street vendors or beggars, and three million women widows. At least there are three million Iraqi refugees abroad; the U.N. has estimated that there were about 2 million Iraqi refugees in neighboring Jordan and Syria, and some 2.6 million people displaced within Iraq, in addition to millions of unemployed Iraqis — all constituting more than half of the 27 – million population. The state infrastructure is still not rehabilitated, the central government could not secure its own safety, let alone the safety of the population, in the capital Baghdad, let alone the rest of the country, without the presence of about 115 thousand mainly U.S. troops and around 100 thousand foreign mercenaries, dubbed as security contractors, and where the basic services like water and power are either totally broken down or partially operational, and basics like fuel are in short supply in a country floating on the largest oil reserves in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. support of undemocratic Arab regimes all throughout the twentieth century, allegedly for giving priority to alliances against communism over democratization, is held responsible for the survival of oppressive governments, the emergence of military dictatorships and delaying the normal pace of development in the Arab world.

However, following the collapse of the communist Soviet Union, the ensuing disintegration of the Warsaw Pact late in the eighties of the past century, and the emergence of the United States as the leader of a unipolar world system and the sole inheritor of the WWII victory, have all contributed to a U.S. turnabout toward improving the image of the American world leader, and within this context unfortunately the U.S. launched a war on Iraq “on the wings of a lie” (Thomas L. Friedman on November 18, 2005) that was portrayed — after all other pretexts for the war were proved pure lies, including WMD and links to al-Qaeda — by US official propaganda as a war for democracy, not only in Iraq, but also from the Iraqi launching pad all throughout the region.

Creating the antithesis of U.S. non – sectarian democracy in Iraq might serve the immediate goals of the war on the country, but absolutely it negates the U.S. self – proclaimed goal of creating a democracy there. First among the immediate goals is precluding a power vacuum if Iraq has no elected parliament and no new government in place by March 2010, because the ensuing renewal of sectarian civil war could restrict releasing more U.S. combat troops for Afghanistan. However, instituting a sectarian government that takes its legitimacy from a sectarian parliament elected on the basis of a sectarian constitution would only be the ideal political recipe for the renewal of the status quo.

Nobody cares now to hold the U.S. administration responsible for ignoring the bipartisan consensus on the “benchmarks” that were set to avoid the creation of a sectarian regime in Baghdad, and consequently to quell the sectarian war that erupted in the footsteps of the invading armies, and still fuelled by the ruling “friends” of the United States. Washington’s calls for a “timetable” to achieve the benchmarks as a precondition for U.S. military and financial support fell on deaf ears in Baghdad. Patrick Lang, former head of the Middle East section of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the trouble is that Iraqis do not believe there will be serious consequences if they fail to achieve these benchmarks. “Realistically they can figure out that the chances we would pull the plug and leave is just about zero.” (Council on Foreign Relations, March 11, 2008) Amendment of the sectarian constitution of 2005 was among eighteen benchmarks set by the Iraq Study Group, but this benchmark has yet to be met.     

Ironically, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is in charge of foreign policy, has yet to step in with more than a nominal role in Iraq. Following her latest counterproductive input in Pakistan and the Arab – Israeli peace process, she seems in a frenzy to clinch the title of her post in an administration that has unequivocally shifted the management of foreign policy from the Foggy Bottom to the White House, to jostle herself the place she is entitled to among a veteran team of heavyweight old hands whom President Obama assigned the most critical foreign affairs problems in Afghanistan – Pakistan, the Middle East and Iraq to Richard Holbrooke who ended the Balkan war, George Mitchell who brought peace to Northern Ireland and Vice President Joe Biden respectively. Hardly Mrs. Clinton has so far figured out or in about Iraq. Yet, and despite her negative voting record on Iraq, she still can make a difference by at least weighing in for a speedy withdrawal out of the country by U.S. marines and troops, to leave Iraq to Iraqis so they could find a way out of the tragic quagmire her country plunged Iraq in.

Total and complete withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq is the prerequisite for a free country where election laws could then be drafted on national, and not on sectarian basis, to be credibly part of a democratic evolution. Mere “redeployment” of the U.S. military there will not do the trick and will not change the status quo.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli – occupied territories.