Al-liqa' News

Theology and Local Church in the Holy Land Conference

 “Christian Arabs in the Holy Land Between the Crisis of Identity and Belonging”

Bethlehem Hotel, Bethlehem

26-28 October 2006

Al-Liqa' Center for Religious and Heritage Studies in the Holy Land held the thirteenth session of the conference "Theology and the Local Church in the Holy Land" at Bethlehem Hotel between October 26 – 28, 2006, titled "Christian Arabs in the Holy Land: Between the Crisis of Identity and Belonging." The conference was officially opened on Thursday, 26 October at 4:00 p.m. and was inaugurated by a reading from the Bible and a prayer by Mr. Laurence Sammour of Al-Liqa’ followed by His Excellency Bishop Boutros Mu'allem, Bishop Dr. Atallah Hanna and Dr. Geries Sa'ed Khoury, all of whom stressed the necessity for Arab Palestinian Christians to hold on to their identity, whose roots extend deeply in Arab history. They also referred to the need to know the history of Arab Christians and to delve deeply into the  Christian faith because these are two basic conditions to strengthen and hold on to national identity.

The conference was attended by a large number of Palestinian church leaders, clergy, nuns and laymen who arrived from different parts in Palestine, especially villages and cities from the Galilee region. Additionally, the conference was attended by Muslims members and friends of Al-Liqa' Center.

Following a coffee break that Thursday afternoon, the proceedings began with a detailed and lively lecture by Fr. Dr. Rafiq Khoury titled “Identity: Its Definition and Components,” which was moderated by Mr. Zoughbi Zoughbi, a friend of Al-Liqa.’ 

The next morning, Friday the 27th, the conference resumed with prayers and a mediation by Fr. Dr. Jamal Khader of the Latin Patriarchate in Beit Jala who, in addition, moderated and read the paper of Dr. Bernard Sabella, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, entitled “Palestinian Christian Arab Identity in Palestine.”

Following a coffee break Dr. Hatim Khoury of Haifa lectured on “Palestinian Christian Arab Identity in Israel.” Mr. Yousef Matar of Galilee moderated the lecture. Following lunch proceedings the conference resumed with a panel on “Christianity and Arab Nationalism” in which Dr. Johnny Mansour and Mr. Ziad Shlewit addressed the issue from different perspectives. Both were introduced by moderator Dr. Walid Shomali of Bethlehem University.

“Challenges of the Palestinian Christian Identity” headlined the panel which followed and in which Bishop Atallah Hanna of the Melkite Orthodox Church and Attorney Mary Rock addressed the issue. Fr. Ibrahim Daoud’s paper was read in part by the moderator of the panel, Dr. Adnan Musallam of Al-Liqa’ and Bethlehem University.

In the morning of the last day of the conference, Saturday the 28th, the panel focused on “Challenges Which Face Arab Christian Palestinians: Youth and their Identity,” in which Attorney Isam Abu Nassar of Nazareth and Mrs Hanadi Soudah Younan of Jerusalem and Bethlehem University discussed these challenges vividly. Witnessing to Christian Palestinian Youth and challenges they face were four young people, Ms. Amira Musallam and Anton Murah of Bethlehem and Ms. Mary Najjar and Ms. Hala Khoury from the Galilee. This youth oriented panel was moderated by Charly Abu Sa’da of the Melkite Catholic Church in Bethlehem.

In the concluding panel titled “Future Perspective about the Arab Christian Palestinian Identity: The Role of the Church and the Nation,” which was moderated by Mr. Saliba El-Tawil, a friend of Al-Liqa’ from Bethlehem, Lutheran Bishop and Al-Liqa’ Board member, Rev. Dr. Munib Younan, and Dr. Salim Zoughbi of Bethlehem University addressed different perspectives on the future of Arab Christian Palestinian Identity.

At the conclusion of the panel, Dr. Geries S. Khoury, Director of Al-Liqa’, summarized the proceedings of the conference and,  on behalf of Al-Liqa’ Board. thanked the conferees for their cooperation and frankness.  Likewise, he thanked all those who helped in the preparation for the conference, which is considered one of the most successful conferences in recent years. In conclusion, Dr. Khoury gathered all the conferees’ recommendations for the final communiqué of the conference.

Final Communiqué

1.     Conferees extend their greetings to Palestinian Muslims and Muslims all over the world on the Eid Al-Fitr, wishing them all good health and prayed to God to bring  peace and justice to the Palestinian people, to the people in the Middle East region and to the whole world.

2.     Conferees strongly condemn the brutal Israeli military assault against the Palestinian people and demand an end to the daily massacres Israeli military forces commit in cold blood against the innocent Palestinian civilians in refugee camps and cities. The conferees call upon the Security Council and UN Assembly to perform their duties and responsibilities and put an end to the Israeli atrocities. They also demand a return to the negotiation table, a resort to logic and the restoration of the rights of each, primarily through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its eternal capital.

3.     Conferees stressed the need to maintain national unity and Christian-Muslim brotherhood in order to thwart the attempts of those who aim to tear up Palestinian unity.

4.     Conferees call upon the local church to take an active part in the decision making process that might determine the future of the Palestinian people, provided that the voice of justice of the church would be loud enough to be heard both locally and internationally. The church must also demand that the international community and its institutions acknowledge the rights of the Palestinian people, especially the establishment of a Palestinian state in Palestine with Jerusalem as its eternal capital.

5.     Conferees recommend the convening of a study day for the youth of the Galilee in order to discuss the components of their identity deeply and delineate the features of that identity so that it becomes a guide to them.

6.     Conferees are contented with the fact that our youth hold on to the Arab Palestinian Christian identity, and call for the enhancement of that identity by disseminating the Al-Liqa’ works among the youth in schools, colleges and clubs.

7.     Conferees call upon heads of churches to be open the laity and allow them to have real participation in church matters, and respond to their demands for unity by uniting the dates of all holy occasions as a first step.

8.     Participants in the conference recommend that the principals of private schools include Christian education in their curricula for all classes, as well as Arab Christian religious and cultural awareness programs. The conferees ask principals of private schools to utilize the Christian education curriculum that has been prepared by all the churches and find suitable textbooks for such curriculum. The conference also demands that the Ministry of Education renew the Christian religion curriculum for elementary and preparatory levels in the very near future.

9.     Conferees recommend holding a conference with the title of "The Position of the Arab Christian in Israeli and Palestinian Curricula."

10. Conferees call on the different churches, individually or collectively, to devise a practical plan to put an end to the emigration of Arab Christians in Israel and Palestine, provided that lay people take part in designing such a plan.

11. Conferees recommend that the next Al-Liqa' conference on the Heritage of Arab Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land would address the identity of Arab Palestinians in Israel and Palestine.