Parish priest in Nablus sees days of great tensions ahead, of fear generating new violence

As people avoid going out and travelling, the local market place lies empty. Many fear “worse days ahead " amid the prevailing "pessimism”. Given the current political situation, hope for a just peace is virtually nil. Christians are "part of a community" that is suffering. For Fr Jimenez, Israel and Palestine have “two different visions of the world".

Nablus (AsiaNews) – Tensions are currently running high in the West Bank. Violence reached a crescendo last week in Nablus with heavy clashes between Israelis against Palestinians. With the whole city on edge, Christians too were affected, even if their neighbourhood, Rafidia is "far from downtown”, this according to Fr Miguel Perez Jimenez, the local parish priest.

In Nablus since 15 August 2021, the 31-year-old Spaniard spoke to AsiaNews about the latest round of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, which, since the start of the year, has left 75 people dead, mostly Palestinians.

“People are afraid to go out,” he said. “Those who do pay a price for this since they have to work outside the city and have to travel” to their place of employment.

“In Nablus the local open market is largely empty. It is usually packed with people and the stalls loaded with goods. Now, business is down considerably. Still, slowly we are trying to get things back to normal, but it is hard.”

People are truly scared”, mostly “very pessimistic” about the future, explained the clergyman, who studied philosophy, and was ordained a priest on 16 June 2018 at the Redemptoris Mater Galilee Seminary.

Most people “see worse days ahead,” he warns. Tensions are expected to rise further and there is little hope for a just peace in view of the political situation.

Developments in Nablus, as in Huwara are feeding "fear", which is “worse than hatred, because with the latter it is possible to mediate using reason and arriving at a shared solution,” but when fear prevails, "it is much harder” because it is "completely irrational and leads to harm.”

Recent events in the West Bank "are crimes" that fuel the spiral of violence and the danger of "a continuous escalation”. Nevertheless, "I see people on both sides who want peace, who are ready to engage each other, who are tired" of the status quo.

Nablus is located in the central highlands on the West Bank, about 63 km north of Jerusalem and the second most populous Palestinian city after Hebron with 250,000 residents. It is home to three main religious groups: Muslims, Christians, and Samaritans.

Christians have lived in the city since the time of Jesus. In the Rafidia neighbourhood, the Latin church dates back to 1885 and takes its name from Saint Justin, who was born in Nablus in AD 110 and martyred in AD 165.

The local Latin convent complex includes a church for prayers, a hall for meetings and cultural activities, a yard for sports, the convent for the nuns, and the parish priest's house.

In Nablus there is also the St Joseph’s school. Founded in 1904, it was bought by the Latin Patriarchate in 1998. It is recognised for its high academic standards. It employs 46 teachers and  its classes range from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Its approach is based on respect, dialogue and religious and social non-discrimination, as evidence by its student population. Only 10 per cent is Christians the others are Muslims and Samaritans.

“Nablus Christians are not a target of Jews or Muslims,” Fr Jimenez explains. “They are only part of a community, citizens in the full sense of the term, and as such suffer from this situation.”

Like others, “they are used” to tensions, which they experience, “knowing that we must move forward, continue with work and life even amid conflicts,” responding with the weapon "of prayer”.

“Worshipping [the Blessed Sacrament] becomes an opportunity to pray; to which we must add the pastoral activities with youth and adults,” this despite a “great feeling of sorrow" over the violence and a growing desire "for peace, security and harmony”

For Fr Jimenez, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is "too complicated politically and socially." It involves "not only two nations, but two different visions of the world”, hard to reconcile today, especially because of "injustices" and "political programmes" on both sides that do not go in the direction of peace.

Finally, the priest notes that such events “tell us that the true Holy Land is that of communion among brothers, not the one crushed by armies. Love between brothers and sisters is stronger and this emerges in everyday life, even in the very life of the Church. This is our hope, which allows us to endure a perilous situation.”