If Israelis and Palestinians ever achieve peace, it likely will not result from the efforts of the Holy Land's most prestigious Christian prelates.
In "Patriarch of Terror," Front Page Magazine exposed the anti-Semitism of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, and his collaborationist relationship with Yasser Arafat. Sabbah, however, is not alone.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Irineos I, and his former spokesman, Father Atallah Hanna, have used even more virulent rhetoric in their own collaborationist campaign. That rhetoric includes supporting suicide bombing, charging the Jews with deicide and advocating their expulsion from the Holy Land.
Irineos originally was appointed as the Greek Orthodox patriarch in September 2001 but did not officially take office until this January. According to Greek Orthodox procedures, local governments must approve the appointment. Jordan and the Palestinian Authority -- two of the three areas encompassing the patriarchate -- approved Irineos. Israel withheld approval because of his suspected support for Arafat.
Israeli suspicions were confirmed by a July 2001 letter that Irineos sent to Arafat and the Palestinian Authority's diplomatic representative to Greece, Abdullah Abdullah. Irineos, the patriarchate's diplomatic representative to Athens at the time, was one of five candidates rejected by Israel's justice minister, Meir Sheetrit. So Irineos asked Arafat to use his influence among Arabs world to pressure Israel to reconsider.
Although Irineos' English is awkward, his message is clear:
"You are aware of my opinions regarding the Holy City of Jerusalem, as well as the support that consecutively I offered in the past in the fight of your people and your nation.
"You are aware of my multiple interventions towards the late Patriarch Diodoros and the Greek Government and the international forums for the rights of the Palestinian (sic) to have their independent state with its capital Jerusalem."
But this is the letter's most damning evidence:
"You are finally aware of the sentiments of disgust and disrespect that all the Holy Sepulcher Fathers are feeling for the descendants of the crucifiers of our Lord Jesus Christ, actual crucifiers of your people, Sionists (sic) Jewish conquerors of the Holy Land of Palestine. (emphasis added)."
Should Arafat's influence prove successful, Irineos continued, "Rest assured, Mr. President, that the rights of the most beloved Palestinian people on the Holy City of Jerusalem will find their most 'hot' supporter. Our beloved Mr. Chouri (Arafat's personal secretary) will inform you accordingly regarding what we have discussed of the real estate of our Patriarchate within the boundaries of the Old City."
Irineos suggests more than a quid pro quo. He suggests a combined effort to remove any Jewish presence from Jerusalem -- and, eventually, from all of Israel.
A 1998 security report presented to the Israeli cabinet stated that the Palestinian Authority seeks to control church-owned property, particularly in Jerusalem. The Palestinians' big target is the Greek Orthodox patriarchate, the largest and wealthiest church in the Holy Land. The patriarchate derives its wealth from extensive land holdings throughout Israel that it accumulated through the centuries -- including the land on which the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and the president's and prime minister's official residences sit.
The report also stated that "Chouri," Irineos' misspelling of Ramzi Khouri, was working with Fatah's Marwan Barghouti to create a union of Orthodox Palestinian Christians that would act as a pressure group for the Palestinian Authority.
"The PA realizes that control over the Christian holy places in Jerusalem can be used as a powerful lever to gain international political influence in the Christian world," the report stated. "The PA has used its indirect control over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a means of influencing the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Patriarchates, through which it impacts the political positions of the Greek government and the European Union."
The ultimate goal is conquest though land purchase and lease revocation, if violence fails.
"The fear in the (Israeli) government is that in a few years Israel will find itself with a patriarchate of Arabs that will in theory hold 50 percent of the land downtown," stated an investment report from Capital Property Consultants, a Jerusalem real estate firm. "Israel was always wary of the Greek Church, the oldest and most powerful church in Jerusalem, coming under the rule of a pro-Palestinian patriarch, fearing it could result in land disputes when long-term leases began expiring."
Irineos also expressed his anti-Israeli stance in a letter on patriarchate letterhead to Arafat and Abdullah during the 2002 siege of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, which began when Palestinian gunmen attacked the church and barricaded themselves inside. Irineos' awkward English does not disguise his attitude, as these excerpts demonstrate:
"With extreme anger we see the aggression against your headquarters in Ramallah, (a) fact that proves the humiliation in which the Israeli government suppresses the legal leadership of the Palestinian people but also proves their indifference for the peace process and the international community. The siege of the Holiest among the shrines the Nativity Church in Bethlehem makes even clearer their intentions.
"We wish to assure you, Dear Mr. President, that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and myself stand side by side with your people in this fight for freedom and justice.
"We pray to the Almighty God of Love to give you success and victory in this holy struggle, and also help to establish His peace in the Holy Land."
Both letters were made public by the Israeli daily Ma'ariv as part of a series of articles between December 2002 and January 2004 on Irineos' pro-Palestinian attitude. Irineos responded with a libel suit but withdrew it in December. He even paid 10,000 Israeli shekels plus value-added tax -- a total of roughly more than $2,000 -- to cover Ma'ariv's legal expenses.
Despite Irineos' letters and the public opposition of such cabinet ministers as Natan Sharansky and Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon successfully argued for Irineos' confirmation. The reasons involve internal party politics, pressure from real estate interests and -- as Sharon aide Dov Weisglass told Israel's Arutz Sheva news service in 2002 -- pressure from the United States.
Hanna, an Arab born in Haifa, was serving as the patriarchate's spokesman when he subtly advocated suicide bombing as part of the Palestinian intifada in June 2002 during an address in Abu Dhabi to a think tank run by the Arab League.
"Some freedom fighters adopt martyrdom or suicide bombings, while others opt for other measures," the Gulf News quoted Hanna as saying. "Don't expect us to keep distance and watch. We are in the struggle whether it is martyrdom or any other means. The Muslims and the Christians are one and cannot be separated from the struggle for the liberation of Palestine."
Irineos, who had yet to be confirmed and did not need adverse publicity, fired Hanna that July. One month later, Israeli police arrested and questioned Hanna on suspicion of inciting violence, having relations with terrorist groups and illegally visiting Syria and Lebanon, which remain in a state of war with Israel. Hanna left the country to meet with Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Narallah, so police placed Hanna under house arrest and confiscated his passports.
Nevertheless, Hanna has since used even more vituperative rhetoric without any apparent public protest from Irineos. At a reception in Haifa on January 11, 2003, Hanna expressed emphatic support for suicide bombers:
"The fidaiyin are the heroes of this nation. We are proud of them and resolutely refuse any attempt to defame their deeds. They are not committing suicide, as some claim, and they are not terrorists, as others claim -- they are resisting the occupation. We unreservedly support the martyrdom operations."
Six days later, in a rally at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Hanna was even more enthusiastic:
"Martyrdom operations are an excellent and good way to resist the Zionist invasion of the Palestinian land. In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we bless the souls of the heroic shahids (martyrs) and the families of the shahids.
"The names of the fidaiyi shahids will be inscribed in the history of our Palestinian and Arab people in holy white letters. The voices of those who defame these acts of heroism and honor are nothing more than anomalous voices that do not represent Arab and Palestinian public opinion."
But Hanna saved his most extreme rhetoric for his sermon of January 19, 2003 -- the Orthodox Epiphany:
"Palestine is from the (Mediterranean) sea to the (Jordan) river. We emphatically refuse any concession on (even) a grain of the land of our precious homeland. Just as Ramallah, Gaza, Nablus, and Jenin are Palestinian cities, so are Haifa, Nazareth, Jaffa, Ramle, Lod, Beersheba, Safed, and others Palestinian cities.
"We do not believe in so-called 'peace with Israel' because peace cannot be made with Satan. Israel is the greatest Satan. No concession and no truce must be made. The Palestinians' rights will be restored only by resistance. What was taken by force will be restored only by force.
"The Zionist Jews are foreigners in this land. They have no right to live or settle in it. They should go somewhere else in the world to establish their state and their false entity. Jerusalem is an Arab city and the Jews must not settle in it, be masters over it, or carry out any type of religious ritual or ceremony in it. They must leave their homes. They have no right to live on land, cities or villages that are not theirs."
Sixty years after the liberation of Auschwitz's prisoners, it is an ironic obscenity for alleged men of God to promote the most pernicious forms of anti-Semitism.