Rai to meet South Lebanon Army collaborators while on pastoral trip to occupied Palestine

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Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Qassem Qassem

Published Thursday, May 15, 2014

Cardinal Beshara al-Rai, the head of the Maronite Church, has insisted on going ahead with his pastoral visit to occupied Palestine. Rai says he wants to meet with his parishioners face to face, although he has used teleconferencing before, to address Maronite youths in Nazareth, on February 15, 2013.

On the eve of the anniversary of liberation and the defeat of the Israeli army in South Lebanon on May 25, Rai will travel from Lebanon to Jordan, on his way to the occupied territories. The patriarch will then cross into occupied Palestine with the clerical delegation tasked with receiving Pope Francis, via the Allenby Bridge, and will have to pass through an Israeli army checkpoint.

Usually, Palestinians and others travelling to the West Bank are given a hard time by the Israeli soldiers manning this checkpoint in particular, because of the often-arbitrary measures enforced by the occupation forces there. But since the patriarch holds a Vatican passport, he will have no such problems.

In the West Bank, Patriarch Rai will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who, along with the Palestinian people, is waiting for Rai “with the warmest longing,” according to Abbas’ letter to Bkirki, carried by Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Dabbour. After meeting with Abbas, the patriarch will head to East Jerusalem and the Church of the Resurrection, “where the Occupation will be in charge of the patriarch’s security,” as one bishop told Al-Akhbar. The bishop justified this by saying that the church had not asked Israel to protect Rai, and that the occupation authorities are assumed to be in charge of everything there.

Rai will thus pray in church under the eyes of the occupation forces. Rai will then proclaim, within range of Israeli ears, “We have been in the Holy Land before Israel existed,” and, “Jerusalem is our city and my parish is there,” as he said from Beirut airport upon returning from France last week.

The pastoral character of Rai’s visit will encompass Christians not only in Jerusalem but also in the territories occupied in 1948, including Haifa and Acre, where the patriarch is set to meet “members of the Lebanese community.” Rai also plans to hold mass in the villages of Iqrit and Kafr Bir’im.

In effect, Kafr Bir’im’s is part of the story of Palestinian exodus. The village was a military zone in which the Hashomer Hatzair militia operated. Its Maronite Palestinian residents fled in 1948 as part of Operation Hiram.

The people of Kafr Bir’im did not leave their village entirely, however, and preferred to dwell in the wilderness nearby in the hope of one day returning to their homes. In 1949, they stood on what was named the “wailing hill” to commemorate their plight, and watched as Israeli warplanes pounded their homes, leaving only one church and one school standing.

For its part, Iqrit, a village near Acre, was completely destroyed by Israel; only its church was spared. In 1948, the Israeli settlement of Shomera was built on the village’s land, followed by Goren in 1950, and then the settlement of Even Menachem in 1960.

In a press conference on Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Haifa stressed that the visit is not “political,” saying that the “members of the Maronite Church are preparing to receive the head of the church who will visit the country with the rest of the Eastern Patriarchs to receive the Pope.” The Archdiocese said that Rai would visit the dispossessed Maronite villages of Kafr Bir’im and Mansoura – but stopped short of saying who exactly had dispossessed their people.

The statement also said that Rai will hold a mass with a number of priests and residents of Kafr Bir’im in the church at the abandoned village. During his visit, the statement continued, Rai plans to meet with Lebanese affiliated to the South Lebanon Army – the militia that collaborated with Israel during its occupation of South Lebanon – who fled (voluntarily) to Israel in 2000. Rai also plans to hold mass in Haifa, visit parishioners in the village of Jesh in the Upper Galilee, and participate in a religious dialogue session in the village of Isfiya. "A Druze and not a Jewish brigade of the Israeli army” will accompany Rai on his pastoral tour, as the Church has been at pains to stress.

In Lebanon, both Lebanese and Palestinians are divided about Rai’s visit. PLO officials have welcomed the visit by the patriarch, while officials in other Palestinian factions have deemed the visit an act of normalization with the enemy. One Hamas official criticized Rai’s visit, saying that those who enter the West Bank are bound to visit the territory occupied in 1948 – i.e. Israel proper – and that there was a fatwa prohibiting visits to Jerusalem under occupation. A Fatah official rejected this view, however, saying that the visit helps Jerusalemites stay in their land, and confront the economic blockade they live under as a result of the efforts to Judaize East Jerusalem.

Sources close to Hezbollah: The visit equates Israel to Syria

Sources close to Hezbollah told Al-Akhbar that Patriarch Bechara al-Rai’s visit to occupied Palestine “will help legitimize the Zionist entity,” something that will be exploited by the Israelis to claim their state is religiously tolerant, and that the Lebanese Maronite cardinal visited Israel without harassment, as the sources said. The sources believe that emphasizing the pastoral character of the visit ultimately equates Israel with two Arab countries, Syria and Jordan, which have been included in visits Rai said were “pastoral” as well.

In the meantime, during a meeting with Mufti Mohammed Rashid Qabbani on Tuesday, Rai said the planned visit was still going ahead. Sources said the mufti told the patriarch that there was no unified Islamic position in relation to such visits. According to the same sources, the mufti did not express an opinion on the issue, but told people close to him that Rai was in a position of responsibility and that he would have to deal with the consequences of the visit later.

Follow Qassem Qassem on Twitter @QassemsQassem

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Qassem Qassem:
How many Israelis were offended by Ariel Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque in 2000?
How many Arabs and Muslims were honored by Ariel Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque in 2000?

Qassem Qassem:
If your name was Maroun Maroun and you have a problem with your Patriarch visiting Jerusalem, you should be addressing him directly.
Rai is not an elected politician. He is a spiritual leader who represents his own sect.
Through his visit to the holy land Rai does not represent you or Lebanon. And the only argument you as Lebanese may have against Rai would be if he is breaking any Lebanese laws which he is not.
Respectable journalists must be objective and impartial especially when partiality serves the adversary.
It is one thing to consider Rai’s visit undesirable but smearing his name in such a provocative manner is another.
Rai can potentially become Pope. Do you think you have the right to attack a Pope visiting his holy land? If so why aren’t you attacking the present Pope in the first place?
With or without your knowledge you are promoting division amongst the Lebanese and alienating many good Christians with true religious convictions. By doing so you are serving the Zionist agenda that thrives on Arab divisions.
It takes courage for a Lebanese Patriarch to confront the Zionists in the City they consider their Capital just as it takes courage to visit Syria against the wishes of the Zionists and the will of their Western allies. That’s what differentiates Rai from Sfeir.

Decades of religious intolerance/distractions and political ignorance have resulted in expanded occupations. The Palestinians have consistently lost territories while arrogant Arafat was busy looking at Jounieh as the road to Palestine. Unfortunately, many of us now are looking at Bkerki as an alternative to cover up our systematic failures.

History taught us that the most militant individuals turned out to be traitors who served the enemy and we happened to have too many of them in the Arab world.

What progress have those proud Arabs done during the past seventy years to liberate Palestine that Rai’s visit is about to spoil?

Do the Christians need to wait another seventy years to be allowed to visit their cradle of civilization? Do Arabs feel any responsibility for losing their holy land? Or is it Rai’s fault we are in such lamentable situation?

Gaza is under siege and the West Bank settlements are expanding before our eyes. Not even the United Sates has been able to do something about it.
The Zionists objective is to transform Jerusalem into a pure Jewish City and pave the way to declare it their Capital. What have the Arabs and the Muslims done so far to stop this process?
The only obstacle that prevented the Zionists from sealing their deal so far has been the Catholic Church, certainly not the Church of England…
Iran, Saudi Arabia and the rest of Muslims are not Israel’s main obstacle in establishing Jerusalem its Capital. The Vatican is!
I don’t promote or demote religions but the fact remains, unlike radical Islam, the Vatican is the Zionists’ number one enemy because they can’t fight it. All they can do is use Hollywood and their controlled media to smear the Catholic Church selectively wile dismissing every other religion’s scandals and discrepancies.
And that’s exactly what your report is doing.

Every Arab living inside the occupied territories is looking forward for the Pope’s visit to give them hope and strength. We have no right to sabotage or deny them such opportunity. If the Pope can convince one million people to go with him to Jerusalem and stay, I bet he would. Too bad forgotten Gaza is not part of Jerusalem.

I was shock recently when I learned about the cruel strategy the Zionists have adopted to force the Palestinians out by denying them permits to build, expand or even refurbish their old crumbling homes. When families grow, their kids must leave to find a place to live even if they have land to build on.

The Pope’s visit to Jerusalem is definitely a religious visit for the religious people which makes it hard for Israel to stop him but it also has an incredible political advantage that the Israeli’s hate and the rest of us should embrace and use to our advantage.

Let alone Rai; do you really believe the Zionists are ecstatic about the Pope’s visit to Jerusalem reminding the world that this holy city still doesn’t belong entirely to them?
Rest assured they’ll be more than happy if Rai canceled his visit to Jerusalem but particularly happier if the Pope canceled his as well.

It is true; the Arabs never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

A very wrong decision made by him.

What a disgrace. This man is a complete embarrassment.

Can the man sink any lower?

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