The spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem has been replaced after expressing support for Palestinian suicide attacks.
According to Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, an independent, nonprofit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East, Father ‘Atalla Hanna, a Palestinian Arab, stated his own and the Church’s support for suicide attacks and for all forms of Palestinian resistance to the Israelis. In response, Patriarch of Jerusalem Irineios I distanced himself from Hanna’s statements and replaced him – a move reportedly not well received by Christian Arabs.
In a lecture given at the Arab League think tank The Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-Up in Abu-Dhabi last month, Hanna said: “The fundamental principle endorsed by all the Palestinian political factions is to continue the intifada against the Israeli atrocities. Therefore, the Church fully supports the resistance for the sake of liberation from Israel. As you know, the political factions in Palestine agree on the continuation of the intifada, which includes different ways of struggle. Some freedom fighters adopt martyrdom or suicide bombings, while others opt for other measures. … Don’t expect us to keep [a] distance and watch. We are in the struggle whether it is martyrdom or any other means. … The Muslims and the Christians are one and cannot be separated from the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. We are Palestinians and Arabs.”
Hanna also noted: “There is a large Christian presence in the various factions of the Palestinian resistance and in the various Palestinian political factions.”
According to two Arab dailies, Hanna stated that young Christians were joining the Hamas movement to carry out bombings against Israel, and that he supported such operations because they were the only weapons the Palestinians have to resist the occupation.
As soon as these statements were reported, Hanna denied them: “When I spoke of resistance, I was referring to nonviolent resistance, which is a legitimate right. I never mentioned martyrdom operations, but spoke of resistance. I sent letters of clarification to the [newspapers].”
Father Jibrail Naddaf, Patriarch Irineios I’s aide, was the first to condemn Hanna’s statements.
“Even if I were not a priest in the Patriarchate,” Naddaf said, “as a human being … I do not agree with [these] statements. … We have seen no denial by Father ‘Atalla Hanna of what the papers have reported him saying. We never call for killing and bloodshed. This is completely unacceptable. These operations damage peace in the Middle East. This is a dangerous and irresponsible statement. The Patriarch does not agree with it. … It is our obligation to oppose these declarations. … [Hanna] does not represent the Patriarchate with these statements.”
Several days later, Irineios I replaced Hanna. In a statement, the patriarch accused Hanna of supporting Palestinian terror because of the latter’s refusal to sign a document condemning the operations. Irineios I appointed Father Ophichius as spokesman and announced that any statement Hanna might make from now on would be his own and not the Church’s.
Hanna spoke out against his dismissal, telling the London daily Al-Zaman: “The decision to fire [me] is illegal, illegitimate, and baseless. … I will not comply with the decision and I will carry out my daily duties as spokesman for the community without considering [this] decision.”
The Arab Orthodox community expressed displeasure with Hanna’s dismissal. It issued a communiqu? stating that Hanna was the Church spokesman whether Irineios I liked it or not. The statement said that if the patriarch did not rescind his decision within 24 hours, “unexpected measures” would be taken.
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