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March 24, 2010

Harper: Egypt's Christians matter but not Palestine's

The Canadian Charger

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Pierre Poilievre, Prime Minister Harper's Parliamentary Secretary, attended on February 11 a memorial service in Ottawa for six Copts murdered in Egypt as they were coming out of church on January 7, Christmas day on the Copt calendar.

He spoke passionately on behalf of the rights of these Christians in Egypt and on the valuable contribution that Coptic citizens are making in Canada. 

Right after the service, the Canadian Charger went up to him:

“We wonder why it is that you are so concerned about Christians in Egypt but not about what is happening to Christians in Israel, occupied Arab East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.” 

He responded that Christians in Israel were not subject to religious persecution. 

In further conversation, he raised question about the contention that Palestinians in Jerusalem were being cut off from adjacent Palestinian populations. 

The Charger promised to send him information on these matters.  Four days later we began to send him the evidence. 

We began with information about cutting Arab East Jerusalem off from Beir Nabala and Beit Hanina with an extension of the separation wall, severing “the traditional connection between occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.” 

“On May 17, Israeli bulldozers started razing land in the Dahyet Al Barid neighborhood and the ‘Ayad neighborhood (home to a large portion of Palestine’s Christian population).”

We also forwarded an article from the Canadian Charger in which Father Robert Assaly, a Canadian priest, charged that Israel had purposely destroyed the Anglican Church in Gaza. 

Then there was the U.S. State Department’s report on human rights.  It pointed to problems of 130 Catholic priests trying to get residency permits to serve congregations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 

A Greek Catholic priest was prevented for several months from driving from his home in the West Bank to Jaffa to celebrate mass.  “The Government discriminates against non-Jews, the vast majority of which are Arabs, in the areas of employment, education, and housing.”  The report indicated less money for Arab schools.

Next to Poilievre was an article in the Oregonian by a Palestinian Christian.  “More than 20 Israeli laws favor Jews over Palestinian citizens of Israel.”  “In Israel there are more than 50 villages inhabited by Palestinians that have been there for centuries.  Israel has decreed these ‘unrecognized villages’ and notified the families that their homes will be demolished because they were ‘built illegally’.”

Washington D.C. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick asked President Bush for help because of the impact that the separation wall was having on Christians in the West Bank village of Aboud. 

In 1999, the U.S. National Council of Churches complained to the Israeli government that Jerusalem identity cards were being taken away from many Palestinians, Christian and Muslim. 

A supporting letter pointed out that Israel was withholding building permits from Palestinians, leading to lack of affordable housing and illegal construction, which are then in danger of demolition. 

It also complained about land confiscation and “destruction of homes, farm buildings, orchards and groves, and terraces and vineyards for the construction of settlements and of the roads and other infrastructure to sustain them.” 

Poilievre was also acquainted with the case of Elias Khayyo, a Christian born in Jerusalem, whose parents reside there.  Because Khayyo spent more than seven years in the United States, Israel says that he lost his right to return to his parents’ home. 

Finally, the Canadian Charger sent a piece about a meeting of protest and prayer against “the planned military presence” at Beit Sahour. 

The people were ordered in Hebrew to disperse in one minute.  They replied in Arabic and English that they did not know Hebrew.  Then, while the priest was leading the assembled in the Lord’s Prayer they were attacked with tear gas and concussion grenades.

After supplying Poilievre with all this material, we requested a meeting with him, along with James Kafieh, a Canadian Palestinian Christian.  We indicated that we wanted to report his reaction to this information. 

Numerous follow-up phone calls got no response. 

That is not to say that the submissions remained unanswered.  In fact, the Canadian Charger original piece to him got this enlightening response:

“I stand with Israel and all democracies in efforts to defeat terror and live in peace with their neighbors.”

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M. Elmasry

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