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Byron Shire
February 26, 2021

Israel’s treatment of Christians appalling

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During the past 20 years, living in Byron Bay, my wife and I have been amazed and impressed by the letters sent into the Echo by Gareth Smith.

He wrote what we were too scared to put in writing for fear of reprisals on my family who live in the West Bank (occupied Palestinian territory).

We met Gareth about five years ago and have found him to be a compassionate, intelligent man with a generous heart, who stands strong against injustice, and we applaud and highly respect him for that.

After reading the letter of response dated 6/01/16  from Vic Alhadeff to Gareth’s last letter we can no longer remain quiet.

As a Christian born in Bethlehem  I was an altar boy at the Church of Nativity,  and lived my childhood in the Shepherds Field town of Beit Sahour.
My cousin is Professor of Palestinian Culture and History at Bethlehem University, and after many years of research has found that my family have lived in that area since before the birth of Christ, and at that time were shepherds. My other cousin is Bishop of the Latin Patriarch, Jerusalem. We are one of the first Christian families to live in Palestine.
The majority of my male cousins have been arrested, imprisoned, tortured, put into exile or shot over the years, and eventually have returned home unable to work or live life as they used to.
Having visited my  family there in  2010, 2014 and recently Oct-Dec, 2015 my wife and I have witnessed and experienced the following:
The kindness, softness and respect shown to us and each other by both Christian and Muslims, young and old, who live peacefully together in that area. There is no drunkeness, swearing or aggression, they are all just thankful each day for family and the Grace of God.
We notice  the light in their eyes has dimmed and their hope for freedom in their own land fade. Most of the young have never seen Jerusalem or the sea. They are trapped and controlled in every way,  both Christian and Muslim.
We have witnessed firsthand  the humiliation of the Palestinians who have been granted work permits in Jerusalem, pass through the wretched ‘cattle grid’ crossing under the watchful eyes of armed Israeli soldiers, who, in their arrogance,  often yell and shout abuse at the Palestinians as they are  kept waiting in long queues for many hours on many occasions.  They are literally  treated like cattle.
Water is piped by the Israelis from the West Bank into Israel and then sold back to the Palestinians, who are allocated four litres per person per day while the Israelis in Israel and the occupied West Bank are allocated 70 litres per person per day.
In the West Bank the water is only turned on, if lucky, one out of every five days, making it very hard for Palestinians to grow their own vegetables/fruit, and have had to become reliant on fresh produce from Israel.
Palestinians, who are lucky enough to own a car,  are issued with green number plates which provide them with limited movement. They cannot enter Israel or any areas where settlements have been established, and there are many which sit high on the  hills surrounding Palestinian townships.
It is now too dangerous to travel on allowed roads to Ramallah, the Dead Sea etc as armed settlers aim and shoot at vehicles with green number plates. Israelis have yellow number plates and are free to travel anywhere they choose.
Palestinians are double taxed, obviously they pay  taxes to their local authority, but Israel also puts tax on them with no beneficial flow back into Palestine whatsoever. It only benefits the Israelis and settlers.
Cost of living is very high in the West Bank, wages very low and very few have jobs.
Is it any wonder the young people, both Muslim and Christian, are near breaking point?
Trapped behind the wall, humiliated, with no future for them to dream of.  All they can see are the settlements growing around them  and that wall  expanding.
Any peaceful demonstrations by Muslims and Christians combined, in and around Bethlehem, are met with Israeli soldiers firing live bullets and tear gas indiscriminately into the crowds.
Reading the letter from Mr Alhadeff, the only comment we can agree on is the Christian Community in Palestine has dropped to under two per cent. Keep in mind it used to be 30 per cent Christianity.
As for the Israeli goodwill and friendship towards the Christians, and spreading the friendship around the world, one of the many reasons for that being that the Israelis have commandeered the Christian tourist market.
They provide the tour buses which take the tourists into Jerusalem for their shopping of Christian souvenirs and  artefacts. Most of the shops in the Jerusalem Souk are now owned by Israelis, the Palestinians only work there.
Israeli tour buses literally whizz through Bethlehem and Shepherds Field Beit Sahour so the tourists can have a quick look at the churches of interest, but the tourists have no need to buy souvenirs from those towns, as they have already shopped in Jerusalem.
Palestinian businesses in Bethlehem Manger Square and Beit Sahour have suffered greatly because of this.
The Israelis are benefitting on the birth of Christ, Christian tourism, Christian Ancient sites and they do not even believe in Jesus.
Anyone who is  Jewish or converts to Judaism  is welcomed with open arms into Israel and the settlements, sadly that same welcome is not extended to Christians and Muslims.
The new settlers have beautiful homes, lush green gardens on the hillsides, and look down upon the Palestinian towns and villages.
Even as I write this, Israelis have seized a parcel of my family’s  land and are currently building on it. I was born in Palestine  and my family have lived there for thousands of years.
Still, I and my family living here in Australia have no right of return. No-one else is allowed to live there unless they are Jewish by belief.
Christians all over the world sing the Christmas hymns and carols including ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ – how sad – soon there will be no Christians left there at all.
I welcome the friendship of those of Jewish or Israeli backgrounds, but not at the cost of the lifeblood of my fellow Palestinians. I call on those of Judaic ancestry to stand with me for peace, justice, love and compassion. It is the only way forward.
Bassam and Anne Shomali, Tyagarah

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  1. This has put into words what so many of us are feeling. Thank you, Bassam and Anne for your honesty, bravery, dedication to a just cause and for your compassion.

  2. Thanks so much Anne and Sam for telling us what our mass media consistently fails to do. For example, two nights ago SBS news reported another stabbing attack against Israeli soldiers and then gave the total attacked. They failed to mention the vaster number of Palestinians killed by Israelis or about those innocent of any attack but nevertheless killed. The Church of the Loaves and Fishes has been burned down by Israeli settlers who have also attacked other churches and mosques. Instead of one secular democratic state (the only option now that Israeli settlements have gobbled up 68% of land slated for a Palestinian state) we have Israel advancing its prime objective of becoming a Jewish theocracy. It is not possible to have a civil marriage in Israel and Arab/Jewish marriages are so anathema that Naftali Bennet the “education” minister has banned a novel telling the love story of two young people, one Jewish and one Arab, from all schools. The world renowned author Amos Oz is disgusted. It is to be hoped that when the Bishop of Lismore travels to Israel this year that he will insist on visiting the West Bank and Gaza and speak to Palestinians living under the yoke of Israel’s brutal occupation.

  3. Hans Lovejoy, editor, Byron Echo, posted on Facebook today that a local Israeli business owner is calling him an antisemite for publishing letters critical of Israel and is contemplating boycotting The Echo. No doubt the letters referred to include ones by Gareth Smith and Bassam and Anne Shomali.
    Welcome to the club Hans : of those who refuse to be bowed by the Zionist lobby – whose main work is to whitewash the crimes of the state of Israel – and are labelled ‘antisemites’ for this reason. It’s clear there are many Zionists living and working in the northern rivers region. These Zionist fanatics equate criticism of Israel with criticism of Jews, forgetting that the severest critics of Zionism are Jews themselves, as they have seen the best libertarian and radical traditions of Judaism perverted by Zionism and watched Israel descend into Jewish fascism.
    For too long, these local Zionists have been given a free pass, largely due to the a-political, apathetic and downright naive attitude of most folk living the sun-kissed life in the rainbow region. However, due to the courageous, decades-long resistance of Palestinians, due to the brave Israelis who speak out against apartheid Israel, due to social media like Facebook and to the efforts of independent media like The Echo, this veil of ignorance is being rent asunder. And Zionists don’t like what the rest of the world can witness, minus their hasbara. They will do their damnedest to stop the flow of information, using their power to prevent the truth from being known, even if it’s in the form of a letter to the editor.
    It’s bizarre that the Zionist interlocutor should compared Hans to Rupert Murdoch – an arch-Zionist himself. Or want to boycott the Echo. It’s bizarre, because, more and more, it’s Zionist Israel that’s being boycotted via the very successful global, civil society Boycott, Disinvestments and Sanctions movement (BDS). Whether it’s the United Methodist Church, the largest Protestant church in the US with over five million members, divesting from Israeli banks that operate in the occupied territories (NYT, 12 Jan); or academic boycotts from institutions and unions in countries as diverse as the US, Canada, South Africa, India, Ireland, Chile & Brazil; or boycotts by artists and intellectuals including Gill Scott Heron, Cassandra Wilson, Carlos Santana, Naomi Klein, Jean Luc Goddard, Arundhati Roy, John Berger and Angela Davis, to name just a few, the BDS movement grows and grows.
    Apartheid Israel’s days are numbered and Zionists everywhere, including here in the Byron shire, are very worried. And so they should be. Truth will out!

  4. Anybody who truly cares must go there. See if you enjoy life under Hamas. Then see if you enjoy life in Israel. Here’s a hint; tell them you’re gay. See how you go.


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