Civil rights for Lebanon's Palestinian refugees have been denied for too long.
On the Occasion of the Vatican’s 2010 Special Synod on the Middle East
An Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir from students and families in Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp,
In the early days of his Pontificate, in April of 2004 in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his strong desire for a “pilgrimage to the heart of the Christian East” and “to examine and to resolve together, in a Plenary Congregation for the Eastern Churches and in the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, human rights problems of significant importance with solutions anchored in the teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Accordingly, Pope Benedict XVI has summoned a Special Synod of Archbishops and Patriarchs for the Middle East to convene in Rome during October, 2010 on the theme: “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness,” and he asked for communications from Lebanon regarding issues of concern including, “the importance of Muslim-Christian dialogue and brotherhood.”
We are mindful that the Pope’s faithful Lebanese brother, the Patriarch of Antioch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, has repeatedly and nobly expressed his devotion to the teachings of Jesus from Palestine and to the missionary work and human rights teachings of the 5th century Syrian Christian monk, St. Maron from “Kefar-Nabo,” who devoted his life to his quest for nurturing and healing the “lost souls” of both non-Christians and Christians of his time.
The Patriarch of Antioch has also issued periodic urgent petitions for Christians to return to and remain in Lebanon and to live in peace and charity with their neighbors. Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir has also earnestly counseled Maronite clergymen and all faithful congregations of all religions, on the urgency of healing Lebanon and bringing all citizens and temporary refugees closer together and rejecting racist ethnic and confessional speeches that encourage strife.
We have studied that in 1997, Pope John Paul II visited Lebanon to give hope to Lebanese who are downtrodden and discriminated against and who said, “Lebanon is more than a country, it is a message from Calvary to love thy neighbor as thyself.” John Paul II reminded us of the divine Sheppard’s plea, “Care for my lambs… Care for my sheep” (John 21:16-17).
We stand with our Maronite sisters and brothers, and all Christians in Lebanon in their growing and certain belief that by turning the page from the past, we can protect Lebanon and achieve a national, sisterly and brotherly, and comprehensive reconciliation that would allow Lebanon to solve all issues, achieve justice, solidify stability, and provide a new hope for the new generation and the return of many from the Diaspora.
Christian-Muslim relations in Lebanon today can benefit from the letter and the spirit of the civil rights enactment guaranteed to Christians in 628 C.E. when Prophet Muhammad granted the Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. The Charter consists of several clauses enacting civil rights for Christian refugees including freedom of movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest and confinement, freedom to work and to own a home.” There is magic when the power of the people comes together. We can overcome whatever the obstacle is, whether it’s a tyranny or discrimination or lack of basic civil rights for some. When we come together we can overcome.
We respectfully petition the Vatican and the Patriarchy to urge and advocate that all Christians in Lebanon to the Lebanese and international movement to enact meaningful civil rights legislation for Palestinian refugees in compliance with international law and Christian morality. We respectfully and humbly urge the Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sfeir to condemn the racist and anti-Palestinian language and graffiti that has polluted public discourse for the past half century in Lebanon and has undermined dialogue. Examples such as “the duty of every Lebanese is to kill a Palestinian,” “Palestinians are a bacillus,” “Lebanon must not be a dumping ground for human waste,” and similar hate speech. Cardinal Sfeir has stressed the importance of the role of clergymen in bringing Lebanese closer and rejecting ethnic and confessional speeches that encourage strife.
We beseech the Apostolic See and the Patriarchy of Antioch to address those in Parliament who to date have prevented the enactment of the most elementary civil rights for Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees forced from the homeland of Jesus Christ. We urge you to take the required and sincere stances and preach and use your moral and political authority to implement here in Lebanon the Gospel’s words, as Christ has taught us “to defend the wronged, the poor, the hungry, the sick.” We ask you, on the occasion of the 2010 Special Synod to demand civil rights for all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who are forbidden employment and who are not allowed home ownership. Jesus identified all his love for them. Matthew the Apostle’s gospel urged equality for “These who are viewed as lesser individuals.”
Some in Lebanon report to Palestine Civil Rights Campaign volunteers that many in Christian areas do not care and will not heed pleas for elementary justice and civil rights mandated by international law and Christian morality. Some will say, “We do truly care but is there anybody willing to hear?”
We remember what St. Maroun taught us all as he preached the Gospel, “Christ came to his special people, but at first they didn’t understand him or accept him. But in spite of rejection, Jesus spoke, and he advocated for justice for refugees, the downtrodden and those facing discrimination, and he spoke Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And what Jesus said, nobody had ever said, and nobody must ever ignore and nobody must rest or be silent from trying to achieve.”
Civil rights for Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees have been denied for too long. These days are pregnant with potential new tragedies that nobody wishes upon anybody else. We petition Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sfeir to command their faithful to support the earliest possible enactment of Civil Rights legislation for Palestinian refugees currently pending in Parliament.*
We urge words and acts from Rome and Antioch which are sympathetic, strong and courageous towards the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and those under occupation that Zionism had been subjugating for more than sixty years to a terrible and continuous uninterrupted Holocaust, with unlimited Western support.
We respectfully urge Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sfeir to heal the wounds and prevent civil strife, international sanctions, obviate the need for massive peaceful civil rights movements and protests, international boycotts, sanctions, and divestments, and prevent the currently pending termination of all foreign aid from the USA as required by the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act which forbids American aid to countries that engage in serial violations of civil rights.
We respectfully invite Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sfeir to visit Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp, to conduct a meeting of the Lebanese Bishops in our youth center, to teach the children, to listen to the adults, to sleep a night in our home and share our life as Jesus of Nazareth did and will ask upon his return. As faithful Christians and Muslims we humbly and respectfully offer with all our love and importunity, our supplications.
* The draft bill introduced in Lebanon’s Parliament in July 2010 by the Syrian Socialist National Parry most closely mirrors the requirements of International law
In addition to the 432,000 combined hard copy and on-line Petition signers from 195 countries who, as of mid-October 2010, have chosen to ‘twin’ in solidarity with a Palestinian Refugee in Lebanon the following high-profile personages are among the endorsers of the Palestinian Civil Rights Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sfeir are the following:
- Dr Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury,
- Archbishop Tomasz Peta, of Maria Santissima in Astana, Kazakhstan
- President Jimmy Carter
- Joseph Zen, Roman Catholic Cardinal of Hong Kong,
- Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu
- The Reverend Jesse L. Jackson
- Nelson Mandela
- Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Cardinal Archbishop of Havana, Cuba
- The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd, Dean of the National Cathedral, Washington, DC
- Mary Robinson, former President of the Irish Republic
- Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, Moscow
- Cardinal Simon I. Pimenta, Archbishop Emeritus of Bombay, India
Dr. Franklin Lamb is Director of the Sabra Shatila Foundation. Contact him at: [email protected]. He is working with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign in Lebanon on drafting legislation which, after 62 years, would, if adopted by Lebanon’s Cabinet and Parliament grant the right to work and to own a home to Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugees. One part of the PCRC legislative project is its online Petition which can be viewed and signed at: petitiononline.com/ssfpcrc/petition.html. Lamb is reachable at [email protected]. Franklin Lamb’s book on the Sabra-Shatila Massacre, International Legal Responsibility for the Sabra-Shatila Massacre, now out of print, was published in 1983, following Janet’s death and was dedicated to Janet Lee Stevens. He was a witness before the Israeli Kahan Commission Inquiry, held at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in January 1983.