The small size of the assembly did not diminish the intensity of the message shared by Rania Riah Abu El-Assal, daughter of Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal of the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, at the UN Church Center on March 8.
El-Assal, who is the public relations officer at Bishop Riah's Educational Campus in Nazareth, was in New York City as the Anglican Consultative Council's delegate from Palestine for the 50th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW).
"We are here together on a mission and God entrusted all of us with the ministry of reconciliation," said El-Assal. "You can be the messenger and help me spread the message."
El-Assal and the Rev. Joanna Graham, UNCSW delegate, announced plans for a possible pilgrimage to Bethlehem in 2007 to celebrate Christmas and participate in a month-long non-violent demonstration of unity at the security fence -- known as the Separation Wall to Palestinians -- between Israel and Palestine.
Graham said it would be "open to all people" and they would "stand hand in hand non-violently with each other at the Wall to say enough is enough."
"I think the world changes at the hands of individuals. We need you to come [to the Holy Land] to show unity," said El-Assal. "Regardless of your background we have one identity, and that's the identity of Jesus Christ ... When you are the minority, you need to feel that you have somebody next to you keeping you strong and giving you a push forward."
In her speech, titled "To Know the Truth: Women and the Christian Faith in the Holy Land," El-Assal said there are five major facts that best describe what happened in Palestine 57 years ago:
- The majority became the minority when more than 1 million Palestinians, 23 percent of whom were Christians, decreased to 156,000.
- Owners of the land became refugees or servants, and 402 villages and towns were demolished completely.
- Palestinians suffered discrimination in education.
- Job opportunities were scarce.
- Religious sites and shrines were not exempt or safe. At least 93 percent of Palestinian land was confiscated.
Situation on the ground
"Look at the Holy Land, the land of your Lord Jesus Christ," said El-Assal. "Look at Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and the occupied territory where a number of Christians are living."
Schools have turned into resting points for soldiers, hospitals are graveyards, and mothers are dying "as their children watch," she said.
"Fathers are handcuffed, teenagers blindfolded, the ill die unable to reach a hospital and there is hunger," she said. "This is the situation on the ground."
She described the 27 foot high security fence as one that "stands to imprison and separates one family in Christ."
"It's a scary wall that feels dark inside and you feel like you are imprisoned," she explained. "Now we know that not all people behind that wall are dead, but my question is, are they really alive?"
"When people ask me where I live and come from, I can't help but say: I live in Nazareth, but Jerusalem lives in me," she said. "And I believe Jerusalem lives in all of you."
Time is "very important to us as Christians," El-Assal said, and "the most dramatic words that anyone can say are: too late. We don't want it to be too late."
Women are the mothers of the world
El-Assal said prayers were needed "but prayer does not change things, it changes people, and people change the world."
"We as sisters and brothers in the upward struggle for peace, freedom, dignity, and reconciliation must adhere to the Word to stop all kinds of oppression, humiliation and, I dare say, all sorts of terror imposed on our Palestinian, Christian land," she said.
Calling women "the mothers of the world," El-Assal said that "life comes out of us [women] and that the "mothers of Palestine have been able to keep hope alive in the midst of all hopelessness in that injured land."
"The mothers of Palestine have been able to bridge peaceful talks, but so far they have not been successful," she said. "Together we must not allow the demonic spirit of power to have the last word, because with Christ in our heart, the power of the Spirit must have the last, eternal and indeed resurrected word."