Sadly, the Middle East only seems to get the world’s attention when there are heartbreaking events to report. The last week has been no exception.
Protests over the threatened evictions of Palestinians in Jerusalem and violence at the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary made for a febrile atmosphere over the Ramadan festival. This escalated with the firing of missiles at Israeli cities by Hamas and Israeli strikes against targets in Gaza, where tower blocks have been flattened and thousands have left their homes with nowhere to go. The violence has claimed more than 230 lives (over 60 of them children) during nearly two weeks of fighting. Palestinians staged a rare general strike on Tuesday across Gaza, the West Bank and Israeli cities. Unlike previous occasions, there has also been an explosion of inter-communal violence in mixed population cities in Israel itself. Harrowing videos have shown mob attacks on individuals, homes and businesses.
Churches in the Holy Land and parent denominations have voiced horror at what is happening and called for restraint on all sides. The World Council of Churches condemned human rights violations, attacks on civilian populations, and racist incitements. It said, “The path to justice and peace lies not in violence and racism, or a war of words and slogans from supporters of each side but a genuine openness to finding a peaceful solution through dialogue, mutual respect and understanding.”
Iran’s next leader
Meanwhile, the politics and problems of the region keep ticking along. Iran has entered the process of Presidential elections. Some 300 candidates so far have registered to run in the elections, although the Guardian Council, comprising Shia clerics and jurists, will vet and approve the small number allowed to stand. Current president, Hassan Rouhani, has been under pressure especially over an economy that has been hard hit by US sanctions. Many suspect that a more hardline President might win this time, since the optimism around Rouhani and a hoped-for rapprochement with the West has dissolved. So too, have any hopes of the greater freedom and equality for religious and ethnic minorities that he promised, where discrimination and repression has continued.
Next door, in Turkey, there was fury over a new advertising campaign designed to attract foreign tourists. The campaign promised visitors exemption from lockdown restrictions Turks have been enduring and claimed that everyone tourists might meet will have been vaccinated. Turks across the political spectrum were outraged and forced the advert’s immediate withdrawal. Now there are calls for the tourism minister’s resignation. But the issue goes to the heart of current problems in Turkey: the economy is in tatters and the loss of another tourist season that contributes 13 per cent of GDP will cause further pain. Neither Turkish workers nor businesses have received government support during the pandemic.
Lebanon in the dark
A Turkish power-generating naval vessel that was providing a quarter of Lebanon’s electricity has pulled the plug on its supplies. The company said it has not been paid for more than a year and is owed more than $100 million by the state. Lebanon already has a long-standing problem of power outages and, with financing problems continuing, basic services will degrade further. Meanwhile, the governor of Lebanon’s central bank is facing corruption allegations in France, after lawyers accused him of making suspicious real estate purchases there. The allegations, all of them denied by Mr Salameh, include mechanisms set to divert hundreds of millions of euros out of Lebanon.
Also, in Lebanon, where marriage laws differ from one faith to another. Sunni Muslims have responded to calls to end child marriage by increasing the legal age to 18. Families will only be able to marry children aged 15 with special permission, and no marriage for whatever reason will be allowed under 15. Previously, a girl could be married as young as 9 years old, and boys at age 12.
Moves to achieve a ceasefire in Yemen have stalled once again after Houthi rebels launched a campaign to take over Marib governorate with its rich oil resources. Promising talks had been held in Oman in April and earlier this month and hopes rose that an agreement could be reached, but Houthis have rejected it. This is the last major area they have to conquer, and despite sustaining heavy casualties, they are pressing on.
Another Egyptian martyr
In Egypt, a Christian businessman who had helped build the only church in his city, was executed by jihadists affiliated to Islamic State (IS). Nabil Habashi Salama, a jeweller and owner of several shops in Bir al-Abd on the north Sinai coast, had been kidnapped from outside his home last November. Nabil’s IS executioners also killed two Sinai residents who had cooperated with the army and made a video warning Christians not to put their trust in the military. Nabil’s daughter, Marina, paid tribute to him on Facebook, saying, “I will miss you, my father. You made us proud during your life with your virtues, and in your martyrdom with your strong faith.”
The conclusion to another disturbing killing came when authorities this month carried out the death penalty on the young Egyptian monk accused of killing the abbot of St Macarius Monastery, north of Cairo. The 2018 incident had shocked the Christian community and opinion was divided over the guilt of monk Isaiah al Makari. Many believed he had confessed under torture, while others felt his defenders were living in denial. Amnesty International, meanwhile, pointed out that Egypt, along with Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia are among the five countries that execute most offenders in the world.
Algeria held its first national day to remember the massacre of Algerians by French colonial police on 8 May 1945. French police fired on demonstrators as they called for independence in the final days of World War Il after Algiers had hosted Free France forces. Algerian nationalists went on to kill 102 people of French and European background before French forces and European settlers retaliated by killing perhaps as many as 40,000 Algerian Muslims. The brutal clampdown, including the indiscriminate bombing of villages and towns, laid the basis for the subsequent war of independence (1954-62).
Bethlehem Christians pray for peace in the Holy Land
As the latest crisis in the Holy Land unfolded, SAT-7 ARABIC posted a crawl message calling for prayer and shared video and other prayer messages on social media pages. One of the shared video messages is this prayer led by Revd Dr Jack Sara and colleagues at Bethlehem Bible College.