Bishop Attallah Hanna: a Palestinian Christian Hero

By Iqbal Tamimi

I met a teacher on the train during one of my trips from Bristol to London; she was very kind and she encouraged me to start a conversation. This I can assure you does not happen much. We started to talk about different issues to break the silence and the dull and cold atmosphere that was wrapping the two-hour trip.

I found out that she was a music teacher, and that she was working on compiling an international album about children’s lullabies in different countries. She asked me about my country and where I came from and what kind of lullabies we have. I dare not tell her that maybe my generation was the last to hear lullabies, Palestinian children got used to being awakened by the Israeli bombing most nights.

I talked about traditional Palestinian music and songs. And without noticing, I found myself telling her about the top Arab Lebanese singer Fayrooz, and the songs she has contributed for Palestine and the Palestinian children.

I had on my mobile some of her songs downloaded by my son, he knew how to keep mummy floating a few inches above the ground. I offered the young lady my mobile to hear the song of Zahrat Al-Madaen. The lady asked me about the translation of the song. I told her it is a song for Jerusalem and it says…

`For you, the city of prayers, I am going to pray.’

I translated for her almost every word in the song, and when I reached that part about Mary and baby Jesus, she was shocked. She did not know that Palestinians are not only Muslims. I felt it was odd that she is a teacher and that she lost that connection that Jesus was born in Palestine, and hundreds of churches are in Palestine. I thought to myself that the sound of shelling has even silenced the bells of the churches too.

I guess maybe she was embarrassed to ask me how come the eyes of a practicing Muslim woman, wearing Hijab can twinkle with tears when she recites a song about the churches of Jerusalem.

Few other incidents left me sure that not many know about the suffering of the Christians in Palestine caused by the Israeli state. And that it is an Israeli policy to keep the people thinking that the struggle in Palestine is something caused by religion, and that this struggle is going on only between Jews and Muslims, which is utterly false.

Palestinians of the three faiths lived in peace and harmony long before the Zionist state started its looting and destruction.

That’s why I thought of introducing one of the Palestinian Christian heroes to people, just one of thousands of suffering Christians, my own compatriot brothers in Palestine, and I should mention that the majority of Christian Palestinians were forced out of Palestine exactly like Muslims. The majority immigrated to the USA and European countries, others ended up in Lebanon and other neighbouring countries like Jordan.

My Christian hero is Bishop Attallah Hanna. You can even see that part of his name is Allah which means in Arabic and in Islamic terms God, his name is made of two syllables, Atta means Gift and Allah means God. Our extraordinary Palestinian bishop’s name means the Gift of God in Arabic.

Bishop Attallah Hanna was accused of terrorism, and was detained in Israeli jails several times. House arrest was imposed on him for 4 years too, and the Israeli government withdraw his passport, because they wanted him to stop addressing the issue of sale of some Orthodox church property to the Jews!!

Bishop Attalah Hanna, enjoys great popularity and love of the Palestinian masses, he is in the heart of every Muslim and Christian living on the land of Palestine or forced to exile. His home is in the humble building of the Orthodox Church, in the midst of the Old City of Jerusalem.

When he was asked in an interview published by the Egyptian newspaper Almasry Alyoum to introduce himself, he answered: “I am an Arab Palestinian proud to be a member of the Arab nation. And proud of my identity as a Palestinian Christian Orthodox serving this ancient church. There is a strong connection between this church and my sense of religious and national belonging. I would like to tell people that Christianity was born in Palestine, we did not import our faith from the West, Jesus did not come from the West, and he is from here, from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. Here Jesus was born. And thus Christ is Palestinian. All the Palestinian people, Muslims and Christians alike, are proud that their homeland is Palestine. Our Church is 2000 years old. We did not come here with any kind of Western colonialism; this is our homeland since Christ was born. And when the Islamic conquests were attended by Caliph «Omar ibn Al-Khattab» he was welcomed by the Arab Patriarch of Damascus «Sovrios».That incident marked the meeting of the two poles of Christianity and Islam. The meeting between the Caliph, and the Patriarch which is considered a strong, firm brotherhood link between Arab Muslims and Christian sons of one homeland, working together in order to serve their causes.”

When the Bishop Attallah was asked about the violations against the Christian holy sites by the Zionist occupation he said, “Excavations were carried out by the occupation under both holy Islamic and Christian sites, and I think condemning such acts is not enough to confront such violations.

“What Israel is doing is well known to all, and can be summed up in short by saying that Israel claims falsely that Jerusalem is its political and religious capital, we do not recognize such claims that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people.

Such claims are reckless, and are considered falsification of the facts and a breach of other religions rights, and an attack on all cultural and spiritual values for Christians and Muslims. I have no problem saying that the holy city of Jerusalem is sacred for the Jews, or that it is sacred for the three monotheistic religions, but the problem lies in the fact that the Israeli occupation denies this important reality, and claims that the Jews are the only people responsible for the holy city.

“Israel has been trying to prove what it was claiming in every possible way. They are doing their best to obliterate the Islamic and Christian monuments of Jerusalem, stealing the land from Christians and Muslims, and continue their attempts of transforming the city by Judifying it through different means, among which excavating under the city. Besides the wide and vast spread of settlement projects in an attempt to alienate us from our own city, we feel strangers in our own country.”

When the Bishop was asked if he has a message to the world he said, “All I want to say is that there is a national and international duty – spiritually and humanly – of every Muslim and Christian in the world towards Palestine. Some may consider that the Palestinians living in Jerusalem are the only people responsible for it, and this is wrong. It’s true that we are at the front lines, we are not giving up on our responsibilities, historical, spiritual and national ones, and we are in the field. But also all Muslims and Christians should shoulder their responsibilities. They should not resolve it only by speaking up about what is happening. While we are just talking about what is happening, Israel is working on the ground, bulldozing homes, occupying lands, uprooting trees and killing innocent people. If the Christians and Muslims want Jerusalem to stay the capital of Palestine, they must act immediately for the sake of this home country.

“What annoys me most of all are those who stand on the platforms and chant and speak of the Arab character of Jerusalem, I would say to those, `stop your speeches, we had enough talk; we have a surplus of such calls. Jerusalem will not be liberated by speeches’. ”

The Bishop of Jerusalem was asked if he honestly thinks there is any hope that the Arabs would change their policies and do something to help the Palestinians. He answered, “If I had no hope of that happening, you would have never seen me here; we are living on hope, built on our own convictions and beliefs.

“We emphasize that Jerusalem is an Arab city, read the history. We endured 60 years of Nakba, 40 years of Nakssa (setback). Our cause is alive, and we need wisdom, steadfastness, perseverance and adherence to principles which are most important for Palestinians’ right of return.”

When the Bishop of Jerusalem was asked about his opinion regarding the suggestion of creating two states in Palestine, one for Israelis and another for Palestinians, he answered, “I will never agree to such a view, I believe in one state for all citizens, where Arabs Muslims, Christians and Jews live together. I believe in the right of Palestinians of return. And then the results of the Palestinian elections will determine the outcome. Talking about a two state in Palestine is unfair and unworkable.”

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