02/20/2005, 00.00
ISRAEL - VATICAN
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Pope's solidarity towards Christian victims of Druze violence, say Nuncio and Latin Patriarch

The Nuncio calls for forgiveness and reconciliation, but also demands the State of Israel pay compensation after it failed to prevent Israelis themselves have called a 'pogrom'.  Fr Elias Chakkour asks himself if there is a place for Christians in Israel.

Maghar (AsiaNews) – A mass in solidarity with the Christian residents of Maghar, a village in the Lower Galilee, took place today. Last week they were subjected to a virtual 'pogrom' that included assaults, beatings, fires, shootings and destruction of property by Druze gangs. At least 2,000 Christians were forced to flee whilst Israeli police intervened only on the third day of the riots.

Mgr Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to Israel, and Mgr Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, took part in the ceremony as did Bishops from the Maronite and Melkite Churches and representatives from other Christian Churches

Fr Abud Maher, of Maghar's St George Parish Church, chose to avoid a large gathering. "We would have liked to have come from all over Israel," said a priest who was present at the ceremony, but it was limited to the 4,000 local Christians and representatives of all of Israel's Christian communities.

Mgr Sambi brought to the faithful "the solidarity, the prayers and the apostolic blessing of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II".

In his speech, the Nuncio reminded those present that Israeli authorities themselves had compared the violence inflicted upon Maghar's Christians to 'Kristallnacht'* calling it a 'pogrom'.

According to Father Maher, the violence left "seven people injured—two from gunshot wounds—and 70 stores and homes looted and burnt. The façade of the church is damaged from stone throwing, 155 cars were torched and 2,000 Christians fled to nearby villages."

In his speech (also published in the AsiaNews website), the Apostolic Nuncio said that solidarity towards Maghar's Christians requires three things: forgiveness and reconciliation with the Druze community, the return of the refugees to their village, and compensation of the victims for the losses they incurred.

Some clergymen who also attended the ceremony said that some of Maghar's Christian and Druze families would contribute to the compensation.

This leaves little consolation to Druze community leaders who are still dismayed by what happened, filled with shame and stunned into silence.

Everyone, however, agrees that the government has to provide most of the compensation.

"Israel has the greater responsibility since Israeli police did nothing until someone started to burn down houses," said one of those present.

Many are now asking themselves if there is still a place for Christians in Israel. Fr Elias Chakkour, 65, is one of them. He chairs an organisation that helps some 4,500 students from every religious background from pre-school till university.

"The pogrom," he told AsiaNews, "occurred in a state that claims to be democratic, that claims to protect its citizens, but given what has happened one can legitimately ask whether unarmed minorities can live in this state, whether they have a right to exist or must instead always be oppressed and persecuted.

"I believe," Father Chakkour added, "that Israel should show the entire world that Christians are not strangers in this country, that they have a place and rights; that they do need to arm themselves to have justice and protection."

"It is absolutely urgent that life not become the law of the jungle where might is right".

 

* Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass in English, was a massive nationwide pogrom in Germany overnight on November 9, 1938. It was directed at Jewish citizens throughout the country, and involved the destructions of hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Jewish-owned businesses. For many observers it was the first hint of what is now called the Holocaust.

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