An audience with Father Nairouz

English Articles

Sue Beardon \ EAPPI - قراءة المزيد لهذا المؤلف

We found Father Ibrahim at St. Philips Church, right next to the mosque. Beside the Church is the school run by the church for both Christian and Moslem children. Whilst we settle into our conversation with him, a child is brought in, who sits on his knee and whispers in his ear. He explains that she has just come from America this week and speaks only English. He has to be enlisted to find out what she needs. Father Ibrahim is the minister for the Anglican churches in Nablus, the old church, here at St. Philips and the new church in Rafidiya, the Church of the Good Shepherd.
St. Philips, the Anglican Church, was established in 1876. The Christian presence in Nablus goes back centuries. The school is older than the church, having been established in 1848 .Originally the school had twenty-one pupils, three Jewish children, five Samaritans, five Moslems and eight Christians. The last Jewish family left Nablus in 1939.
Father Ibrahim explains that Arab Jews were victims of Zionism as well as Palestinians. He tells us about the poet Sasson Somekh from Baghdad, who at 75 years old now lives in Tel Aviv. He is a foremost scholar, teacher and writer on Arabic literature. Somekh wrote “Baghdad, Yesterday: The making of an Arab Jew”, originally published in Hebrew in 2003. In it he describes the tragedy of Iraqi Jews, uprooted from the culture they were familiar with, and to a large extent thrived in, to become, in many cases, second class citizens within Israel.
Father Ibrahim speaks of the wisdom of Solomon and the two mothers who claim the one son. Solomon suggests that the child be cut in half and the true mother, preferring to give up her child than to see him cruelly butchered, bows to the false mother. “Palestine is small like that baby,” says Father Ibrahim. But who, I wonder, is the true mother who will give up the child in order to save its life. “Just read the bible,” he says. “Take out the limits put on our thinking by Zionism and find a comprehensive solution”.
Father Ibrahim quotes liberally from the bible. As he warms to his theme, he lays out his compelling vision with eloquence and charisma. In fact, at one point, he moves me so much that tears begin to form in my eyes and he gently and quietly pushes a box of tissues towards me.
For him there can only be the so-called “one state” solution. “We have five major problems” he says, “Settlements, Borders, Water, Refugees and Jerusalem – with one state, all these problems disappear. Settlers become neighbours, borders are settled, water is for everyone, refugees can live where they like and Jerusalem will be for all the people.” But it is easy to say, more difficult to achieve this.
“It is a big challenge,” he says. Fundamentalists on both sides will not join him, he knows, but with education, he believes they can take the first steps in the journey of a thousand miles.
He thinks a two state solution will not work in the long term. All through his exposition, he stresses the word “harmony”, harmony with each other, harmony with nature, harmony with the way of God. “You can move the course of a river by force” he says, “but sooner or later your force will weaken and the river will return.” There are no natural borders within the whole land of Palestine and Israel – he likens it to the river – “If you go against nature and against God, you cannot sustain it”.
“What people have to learn here,” he says, “is the beauty of diversity. When you use more colours, the picture is more beautiful.” He wants people here to learn to respect, understand and even enjoy each other. He wants to build bridges, not walls and checkpoints. He is convinced that two states will mean two enemy states.
The Christian community in Nablus consists of about 700 people divided between four denominations, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopal and Malakite. Most of the Christians live in the suburb of Rafidiya. He stresses that it is not just Palestine that Christians are leaving, but many Arab countries. Father Ibrahim talks of the stupid invasion of Iraq by Bush and his allies and how this worsened the plight of Christians in Arab countries.
But he is at pains to stress that the idea that Islam is driving Christians away is completely false. “Christians in Arab countries are Arabs; they have an Arab mentality, a mentality they share with Moslem neighbours. We live in harmony with Islam.” He himself has studied Islam and Islamic culture. No, he stresses again, it is first and foremost the occupation which is driving people away. The occupation has resulted in massive unemployment, lack of opportunity, lack of safety and security.
He also points out that although pilgrims from all religions are free to go to their holy places, the only people who are prevented from doing so are Arab Christians. They cannot go to the Jordan River, to Nazareth, to Jerusalem and even Bethlehem is difficult because the journey takes so much longer now, due to the wall. Last Easter he obtained permission to go for one week to Jerusalem, but because it coincided with the Jewish festival of Pesach, all borders were closed and he was unable to use his permit. The Israeli media trumpeted Israel’s generosity in allowing Christians to visit Jerusalem, but failed to mention the impossibility of fulfilling the mission.
Two elderly women from his community wanted to make pilgrimage to Nazareth. He worked hard to get permission for them. First off, he could only get permission for one day, which was insufficient. He argued for two days, and eventually the Israelis relented. They gave him two days. But when it came to it, these were two consecutive days, but without the night in between. It became impossible to go. The headlines in Israeli newspapers said that permission had been granted for Christians to go to Nazareth, but the priest refused to take them.
Another thing Father Ibrahim is sad about is the extent to which his people believe that the west is a paradise for Christians. He wants to convince them that if they work hard here they can also thrive. “This is our holy place” he says, “we need to be here.” He believes the occupation will not last forever. “We can make the future with our own hands, but we need to stay together, and in harmony with our neighbours.” People will not find paradise anywhere else, he believes; they need to make it here.
Finally, we ask if he has ideas about how to make the changes that will help people to stay. He has a vision of setting up a microfinance scheme, enabling people to borrow small amounts of money to set up businesses, access training and education, establish productive projects. If people could get free loans to buy a taxi or a sewing machine, they could make work for themselves and thrive. Economic development will keep people here. Something like 50,000 dollars initially could make a huge difference. Such schemes have been very successful in many developing countries, so why not here too?
Meeting Father Ibrahim was an enriching experience. He manages to maintain a critical and harsh analysis of Israel’s behaviour and role in the conflict. Yet he combines this with a deep love and trust that people can live in peace and harmony, and learn to appreciate each other and the diversity contained within this region. He will have his detractors, but his determination to keep his community together and to spread the message of love to everyone around him is indefatigable.

Anne Lynn -
Dear Fr. Ibrahim: Your eloquence is a gift to this work. Thanks for sharing this and please keep me on your list! Many thanks

Karen Chane - Washington DC
Good article. Thank you

Deborah Rivet - Canada
Thank you Ibrahim. This is a marvelous article and thank you for sharing it with me, Blessings

Sue Beardon -
good to see you are still pushing for justice. I hope to be doing the same in Egnland now. It was so good to meet you.

RS??? ??? ??? - vhjiaww@gmail.com
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