Conference explores the important role of Christians in Middle East peace
The most important gathering of Christian Arab voices on Palestine and Peace
By Ray Hanania
The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) will holds its 16th Annual Convention this weekend, Oct. 17 and 18, 2014 at the Marriott Hotel in the nation’s capitol exploring the current state of Christians in the Middle East and their role in achieving a peace that may finally bring sovereign statehood to Palestine, the heart of the world’s Christianity.
Although the conference is not about religion, but more about the role Christians Arabs especially Palestinians play in achieving peace, panel discussions will explore many aspects of what must be done to make Palestine a reality, and to stop the erosion of the Christian presence in the Middle East.
The conference comes only weeks after a similar, more political effort was made to hijack the role of Christians in the Middle East to benefit Israel, one where U.S. Senator Ted Cruz told organizers in the most disturbing way but in a way that reflects the essence of the Israeli political strategy in America, the largest Christian country in the world: “Those who hate Israel hate America, and those who hate Jews hate Christians.”
Of course, Cruz was twisting reality to fit his twisted belief, claiming that Palestinians who are demanding their civil and human rights therefore “hate” anyone, which is not true. And, just as significantly, that if you oppose Israel, then you oppose America. It’s the foundation of the Israeli lobby strategy that has held American free thinking in a stranglehold headlock since the 1930s. It’s the very fright-strategy that Israel has embraced to keep Americans from seeing their own interests in the faces and lives of Palestinians, who more closely represent the true interests of the Christian World.
Through Israeli lobbying and mastering of communications strategy, Israel has blinded Americans who have forgotten their own teachings that Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the Christian people. Israel political spin has convinced Americans that the Christian suffering in Palestine is somehow the result of persecution by the larger Muslim World, a lie to make it appear that the very existence of Christian Arabs is similar in fate to what they want you to believe about the existence of Jews in Israel.
The HCEF conference will play a significant role in correcting the lies that have been spread by Israeli lobbyists in America and possibly open a door to activists to focus their efforts to re-educate Americans, “the most educated people in the world yet the least educated about the world.”
On Friday evening, HCEF will host its 16th Annual Banquet where six leaders of Palestinian rights will be honored. They are HE Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, HE Theodosios Atallah Hanna, Archbishop of Sebastia of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Hashim Hani Shawa, Chairman and General Manager of the Bank of Palestine, Farouk Shami, president of Farouk Systems, Rev. Richard H. Graham, Bishop of Washington DC Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and Francis Carroll who worked 31 years at the Library of Congress.
The panel discussions on Saturday, Oct. 18 at 8:40 am and feature an array of leaders from across the world. It will begin with an opening prayer from Dr. Saliba Sarsar, HCEF Secretary and Associate Vice President for Global Initiatives at Monmouth University, and Ms. Christine Hill, HCEF Vice President and President & Founder of Service Alliances, Inc.
The first panel discussion begins at 9 am and is titled “Challenges Facing the Palestinian Christians.” It explores the “hard times” they endure in the Holy Land “especially as their lives are negatively affected by the Israeli occupation and growing extremism.” The moderator of the panel is Father Jacek Orzechowski, OFM Chair of the JPIC Directorate of Holy Name Province, Silver Springs, Maryland. Panelists include: HE Theodosios “Atallah” Hanna, the Archbishop of Sebastia, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and one of the world’s leading voices for Middle East Christian Rights and the Palestinian cause. Also, Father Michael McDonagh an international advisor to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem will join in discussing the current challenges and status of Christians in Palestine and in the Middle East.
The second panel discussion begins at 10 am and is titled “Arab & Middle Eastern Christians Under Fire.” The focus on Middle East Christians will explore their oppression under rising extremism and groups like ISIS and ISIL in Iraq and Syria. The moderator is Dr. Hanna Hanania, an HCEF board member. Panelists include Father Drew Christiansen, SJ, Yvonne Haddad, professor of the History of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, and Mark L. Wasef, attorney and board member of the Egyptian American Community Foundation and member of the Coptic Lawyers Association.
At 11:45 after a break, HCEF President and CEO Rateb Rabie offer remarks on Palestine, the mIddle East and Christians, and then will moderate a discussion titled “Engaging the Palestinian Diaspora in Nation Building.” The panel will explore the important role Palestinians living in the Diaspora must play in order to build the State of Palestine and includes Hashim Hani Shawa, Chairman and General Manager of the Bank of Palestine, Farouk Shami, the inventor and founder of Farouk Systems, and Rafiq Masri, the technology entrepreneur and founder of Network Management Inc.
At 2 pm, HE Hanan Ashrawi will deliver the keynote speech detailing the current challenges facing the Palestinian people and achieving peace by establishing an independent Palestine State.
At 2:45, the important issue of minorities in the Middle East will be expanded to explore the challenges facing women in a panel titled “Empowering Women in Palestinian Society,” a topic that is often left out in the international discussion about freedom and human rights in the Middle East and the creation of a sovereign Palestinian State.
Women play a critical role today in Palestinian politics, civil society and form the backbone of Palestinian culture and society. Moderator Claudette Habesch a member of the HCEF Advisory Board and former Secretary General of CARITAS Jerusalem will lead a discussion with panelists Noura Erakat, human rights attorney and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University, Dr. Najat Khelil Arafat, president of the Arab Women’s Council, and Bethany Saad, program coordinator at John Snow Inc.
At 3:45 pm tis writer will lead a panel discussion titled “Giving Palestinian-Israeli Peace a Chance.” The panel will discuss the developments taking place in Palestine and what policies US constituents must advocate to bring about a resumption of negotiations and to achieve peace. Panelists include Samer Makhlouf, Executive Director of One Voice Palestine, Khaled Elgindy, Fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, and Seth Morrison, Congressional Outreach Committee Chairman for Jewish Voice for Peace.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. He is the author of several books, his most recent “PoweR PR: Ethnic Activist’s Guide to Strategic Communications & challenging the biased Mainstream Media.” He is the managing editor of The Arab Daily News which has more than 800,000 readers each month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)