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Interview With Archbishop Theodosios (Atallah) Hanna On Orthodoxy In Contemporary Israel

Archbishop Theodosios Attalah Hanna 01

July 23, 2010

“Those who use the Bible to support Israel need to differentiate between God’s promise and the Balfour promise, because the occupation is the result of a promise given to the Israelis by Lord Balfour and not by God.” – Archbishop Theodosios

Elias Harb: Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel has claimed in various publications that Jews, Christians and Muslims are able to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem and that only under Israeli sovereignty had freedom of worship for all religions been assured in the city. How do you respond to that?

Archbishop Theodosios: The facts on the ground say exactly the opposite, as more and more Muslims and Christians are having great difficulties in entering the city. We see thousands are denied the entry to their holiest sites. The Israeli authorities are even preventing the Arab Jerusalemites from entering the Holy Sepulchre and the Aqsa Mosque on major religious feasts. It is very apparent that the Israelis want Jerusalem to themselves and they do not want to share it with others. It is a big pity that the city of peace, which symbolizes brotherhood and love, to be transformed into a symbol of hatred and division because of Israeli actions.

EH: How has the Israeli Occupation affected Palestinians living in the West Bank and their right to worship and visit the Holy Places in Jerusalem? What is the importance of Jerusalem to the Palestinians? Could there be a State for the Palestinians without Jerusalem as its capital? How have Israel development projects changed the features of the Holy Land?

AT: Let me be clear on this subject, there will be no Palestine without Jerusalem as its capital. It is ridiculous to imagine Palestine without Jerusalem, because it beats in the heart of every Palestinian. In addition to that, Israel tries to change the features of Jerusalem through its development projects like the light train, the malls or the parks. They are trying to make the Palestinians foreigners in their own city. According to international law, Jerusalem is still an occupied city, thus it has no right to change anything in it. Whatever was the final agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Palestinians should have the free right to enter their city without any restrictions, and also they must have the right to live in it, build their homes and reside in it without the interference of anyone. The Palestinians in Jerusalem are in their city and country, not a stranger. The treatment of the Palestinian as a outsider is by itself a racist action.

EH: Many people around are unaware of the dwindling Christian population in the Holy Land. How critical is this situation and what will happen to the future of Christianity in the Holy Land?

AT: First of all, I should stress on the fact that the Christian Palestinians were here since Jesus times, where in the Books of Acts in the Bible it was mentioned that there were Arabs listening to the Apostles in Jerusalem. Christian Arabs had and still have a big effect in the development of the Arab societies in the Middle East. We are not visitors or strangers to Palestine. Our history is deeply rooted in this area of the world. On the other hand, our numbers are dwindling due to the occupation and the bitter reality it is causing. But we are not afraid that Christians will disappear from Palestine, because there will be always Christians in Palestine to continue the message of Jesus Christ.

EH: Mainline Evangelical Christians in the U.S. and western countries believe that the emergence of the State of Israel is promised by God. They support Israel financially. What is the Orthodox Church’s position on this matter?

AT: The Orthodox Church as all churches in the Holy Land refuses to give excuses from the Bible for the unjust treatment of the Palestinian people.

I am very sorry to hear about some religious groups in the United States that support the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian territories. Such support cannot be justified from a Christian point of view because Christianity is against any sort of occupation and the injustice in all its forms and rationalizations.

These groups need to re-read their Bible, because the Bible calls us to stand with the marginalized and the oppressed and not with the oppressors.

For those who use the Bible to support Israel need to differentiate between God’s promise and the Balfour promise (Balfour Declaration), because the occupation is the result of a promise given to the Israelis by Lord Balfour and not by God.

God is innocent from the unjust actions of the Israeli Occupation of our land since ‘48 and until now.

EH: Israel has built the Separation Wall and claims it is for security purposes, how do you respond to that? Also how has the Separation Wall affected the daily lives of Palestinians? Israel has created many facts on the ground in the occupied territories; do you believe a two state solution to the Palestine/Israeli conflict is still possible?

AT: First of all, I want to stress on the fact that the wall is illegal, even the highest court system in the world declared that it is illegal, thus our duty as humans is that we have an obligation towards our brethren to dismantle this rascist wall. The purpose of this wall is simply to cut Palestinians from their neighbors, family and land. A proof of that is the inhuman checkpoints, where if a person who wants to visit his/her relative in Jerusalem, is not allowed to enter, and if by some miracle he got permission, he has to pass these awful checkpoints where he is treated in a very humiliating way. I do not think security reasons have to do anything with it, especially since 62% of the wall is done. It is just an excuse to take more land illegally and separate Palestinians from each other.

EH: Israeli and the Western press is demanding that Hamas release Gilad Shalat, yet hardly anyone mentions the thousands of Palestinians held as political prisoners? Can you tell briefly the situation of Palestinian political prisoners?

AT: There are about 11,000 political prisoners in Israeli jails, a quarter of the Palestinian people at some point or another were in prison since 1967. This is a big number. It is sad that the international media does not bring it to light. These are people who fought for a just and right cause, and at the same time they are treated in the most inhuman ways a person can imagine. The duty of every free person in the world who believes in human rights, and who believes that all humans were born equal to stand beside them.

Not to mention the biggest prison in the world is the Gaza Strip. There are a million and a half living in Gaza. We pray and ask every free person in the
world to work for the release of the people in Gaza.

EH: On May 31, Israeli commandos attacked the Gaza Freedom Flotilla killing 9 humanitarian activists, wounding over 50 and 17 activists are still missing. Can you share your thoughts on this recent attack?

AT: It is a very sad incident that we will never forget. The brutality of the Israeli forces is expected. Whenever people try to show the dark side of the Israeli Occupation and situation in Gaza, they try to shut their voices down. Our condolences and thanks for the Turkish government and people who stood a very brave stand toward our people.

The flotilla included several people from different nationalities and religions confirming that there are still people who believe in the values of justice and peace.

EH: For the past 62 years, Palestinians who were expelled from Palestine, have been living in refugee Camps in Gaza, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria waiting for the right to return to their homeland. What message of hope, would you give to these refugee’s.

AT: I say to all the Palestinian refugees they should still not give up their right of return. It is a right that could not be cancelled by time. It is a human right because every Palestinian refugee should return to his/her home.

Do not lose hope because our cause is a just one and the person who was wronged in a way or another should not be desperate, but we should still claim our rights where we hope that one day it will be soon “Enshaala” (God Willing) that every Palestinian could return to his/her home.

Elias Harb: Thank you Sayidna (Your Eminence).


Born in 1965 in the Galilean village of Al Rameh, Theodosios (Atallah) Hanna attended local primary and secondary schools before entering the Clerical Patriarchate School in Jerusalem.

  • In 1983 he matriculated at Thessalonica University in Greece in the Faculty of Theology. After graduating with honours, he went on to complete a master’s degree and doctorate.
  • In 1991 he was ordained as a deacon and priest in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The late Patriarch      Diodoros invested him as Archimandrite, and thereafter he was appointed Head of the Arabic Department for the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem in which office he acted as a spokesman for the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. In addition to these commitments and responsibilities, he also served as preacher in the Patriarchate churches.
  • Impressed by his remarkable performance in these offices, the late Patriarch Diodoros appointed him Secretary General      of the Clerical & Lay Joint Council of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem.
  • Thereafter he was appointed professor of Church History and Arab Civilization at the Arab Teachers College in Haifa; and contributed much to the establishment and development of the faculty for seven years.
  • As the founder of the Orthodox Youth Movement in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, he is considered to be the godfather to      many of the Christian youth groups in Palestine.
  • As a member of the Composition Committee, he raised the topic of Christian religious education in Arab schools in Israel and participated in the establishment and development of curricula for Palestinian schools.
  • He also supervised the Orthodox religious radio channel known as the Voice of Palestine Radio.
  • Theodosius is a well-known author, and his articles have been periodically published in various newspapers as well as in local and international magazines.
  • He is an active and an effective member of the international ecumenical movement both at local and the regional level who      enhanced dialogue in bringing various churches together to work towards Christian unification. In addition, he actively participated in Christian-Muslim dialogue to help foster the spirit of cooperation and unity in Palestine.
  • He participated in the work of the Christian-Islamic group in the Middle East Council of Churches; in this capacity he represented the Jerusalem Patriarchate for this council’s Heritage Committee.
  • When the Jerusalem Committee convened in Morocco under the auspices of its President, King Mohammed VI, Theodosius      delivered an important speech on behalf of the Christian churches in the Holy Land.
  • As a representative at the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, he participated in a conference held by the UN      Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in which he gave a detailed account on the suffering and violations of human rights inflicted on the Palestinian people.
  • As a participant in the Islamic summit held in Qatar’s capital city of Doha, speaking before an assembly of Arab kings, princes, and presidents, he gave an eloquent and historic speech on behalf of the churches of the Holy Land. This speech is still regarded as one of the most memorable events of the conference.
  • He was a major participant in the Christian–Islamic meeting in the United Arab Emirates for the well being of Jerusalem as well as in numerous other regional and international meetings on this issue. He has acted as an eloquent and tireless advocate for the Palestinians and for the preservation of their rights in Jerusalem.
  • In several visits to the US, he has represented the suffering of the Palestinian people before Christian Associations and Human Rights Organizations; in these meetings he has defended Palestinians’ right to freedom and self-determination. He has carried the same message to several American universities.
  • As a representative of the Orthodox Church he attended the Arab Summit held in Amman, Jordan, and also participated in meetings of the Islamic Organization and meetings of foreign ministries held in Qatar. For his passionate commitment and sense of mission he has emerged as an acknowledged authority and respected figure by the Arab League in Cairo.
  • As a member of the Arab National Unity, he represented Palestine in the conferences held in Beirut and Bahrain.
  • In his visits to Arab and Islamic countries, he has repeatedly and emphatically represented the Palestinian cause as a regional issue of fundamental and urgent importance.
  • In appreciation for his steadfast and indefatigable efforts and the pioneer role he has played over the years in promoting national unity, he was awarded the Palestine Prize.
  • He has received numerous honours and awards from many Arab and Islamic countries as well as from the city of Barcelona      where he participated in the jubilee celebrations.
  • He was a founding member of the General Secretariat of Jerusalem in Beirut, which directs the activities of the Palestinian Welfare Committee of Jerusalem.
  • Throughout the Holy Land he is regarded as one of the most prominent religious and spiritual leaders and he has inspired personal admiration as well for his practice of Christian virtues and his compassion and devotion to the service of humanity.
  • He served as the chief aide to the late Patriarch Diodoros during his official visits.
  • Through his emphasis on the true national and cultural traditions of Christianity to educate both visitors and residents      alike, he has steadfastly carried out his mission to maintain Palestine’s Christian heritage.
  • As a member of the Palestinian National Committee he helped create a better understanding about Palestine’s status in the international law.
  • On August 22, 2002, he was detained by the Israeli police and brought to Al-Maskobiya prison in Jerusalem for extensive interrogation. Since then for three years, he has been prevented from traveling and he regained his freedom of movement only in 2006. Prior      to this arrest, he had been several times interrogated by the Israeli police on suspicion of his political attitudes and activities.
  • As a member of the Secretaries’ Council in Jerusalem, he promoted the idea of developing language institutions for      multicultural setting of the Holy Land.
  • He has remained an active member of Christian-Islamic Discussion Forum in Palestine and has also held membership in many other organizations:

– The Jerusalem Christian Heritage Society

– National Palestinian Committee Against Apartheid Wall

– Palestinian Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee

– Jerusalemite Handicapped Society, the Board of Trustees

– General Secretariat of Ajjial Foundation.

– The Palestine Committee at Al Quds University.

– The World Vision International Foundation, Jerusalem Branch advisory committee

– Secretaries’ Council of Al Liqa’ Traditional Studies Centre in the Holy Land

– General Secretariat of the Christian schools in the Holy Land, representing the Orthodox church

– General Secretariat of the Al-Razi Foundation for Society and Culture, Jerusalem

– Secretaries’ Council of Faisal Al-Husseini Foundation in Jerusalem

– General Secretariat of Bialara Foundation (the Palestinian organization for youth education in media)

– Ilia’ Social Development Association, Jerusalem

– Friends of Children Society

– Finally he also performed his role as a priest and preacher in St James

Cathedral in

  • On 1st  of December 2005 he was unanimously elected by the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem as Archbishop of Sebaste. On 24th of December 2005 his investiture was celebrated in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna, Archbishop of Sebastia from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, has called upon churches internationally to immediately intervene to prevent Israel from continuing to obliterate features of Christianity in the Palestinian town of Ein Karem situated west of Occupied Jerusalem.

Accompanied by his lawyer Keis Youssef Naser, Archbishop Theodosios visited Ein Karem on Wednesday (04.08.2010) to examine the Christian sites threatened by the Occupation.

Following the visit, the Archbishop made an urgent appeal to all churches and church leaders to follow up on this issue and to take legal measures to prevent the Israeli authorities from building on these sites which represent the Christian history of Palestine.

He called upon the Christian world to take necessary measures to protect these sites, and warned that heritage sites linked to the First Church and Christian presence in the first four centuries AD were being targeted.

It is worth mentioning that the Palestinian town of Ein Karem, west of Jerusalem, is considered one among hundreds of Arab-Palestinian towns that were obliterated by the Israeli Occupation. The Israeli hospital of Hadassah Ein Karem and other official Israeli buildings now exist on the rubble of the town.

Source: Quds Press via Middle East Moniter

Archbishop Theodosios Attalah Hanna

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