A grain of hope for justice and peace in the Holy Land (WCC)
By Claus Grue*
Every morning a cheerful and articulate man arrives at his office in East Jerusalem with at least a grain of hope. Dr Bernard Sabella has devoted his entire life to the rights of the Palestinian people. In his job as the executive director of Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees (DSPR), he encounters issues concerning the Palestinian-Israeli relationship daily.
At the same time, he just wants to be an ordinary citizen in the country where he and his family have their roots, without constantly being associated with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which at times he feels does injustice to his identity as a Palestinian.
“Like most of my countrymen, I want to live my own life without being linked, by well-meaning expatriates, journalists and others, with that conflict all the time. Being a Palestinian is an identity in itself and we do have other things on our minds than the conflict with the Israelis. We are here on our own,” he explains.
“But, as pointed out by friends, family members and others, Palestinians cannot live their lives independently with a continued military occupation and its attendant measures that not only restrict Palestinians in their mobility but also interfere in the very minute details of their daily living,” he continues.
Yet, in spite of his awareness of this, Sabella insists that Palestinians should highlight their own identity which, by necessity, is independent of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and yet is intricately tied to it.
“So the dilemma is how you balance the two: an independent identity of which one is proud and the continuing conflict with its ramifications and effects on identity,” he asks.
In spite of the wounds he and his countrymen have suffered throughout the years, and all the backlashes in various peace processes he has witnessed, he remains hopeful that peace and justice for the Palestinian people will prevail.
“But that will require also a change of perception of who we are and not simply to report the human rights violations and other measures that Israeli occupation metes out regularly against us. As Palestinians we are failing to pass on the message, to the wider Western world, that we are not anti-Semite or anti-Jewish but that we are struggling for our rights to which we are entitled as a people. That is pivotal for a continuous and sustainable peace process in the long run. We must find ways to knock on the Israelis’ door and in spite of the asymmetrical occupation situation we must strive with likeminded Israelis to work for an encompassing future vision to our two peoples on this land,” he says.
DSPR is an ecumenical and church-related organization which is an integral part of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC); it was founded following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the creation of the Palestine refugee crisis. DSPR continues to operate in the Palestinian Territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip), Jordan, Lebanon and Galilee.
The organization supports a broad range of humanitarian aid and development projects to the benefit of Palestinian refugees. DSPR is funded by Christian organizations and partners all over the world. Throughout its history, it has managed to attract considerable financial support for its activities. DSPR is now the main provider of primary health care in Gaza and runs comprehensive programmes for education and vocational training in refugee camps and Palestinian communities in Jordan, Lebanon and around the Holy Land. It also promotes religious dialogue and encourages education in order to empower young people and coming generations to build prosperous societies living in peace.
“We have accomplished a lot and we must continue to adjust our work to the development in the field. Today we focus more and more on economic development and vocational training in order to stimulate self-sufficiency among refugees. But we need to improve the way we present ourselves and the work we do,” Sabella points out.
Regular and more timely communication is a clear priority and, with help from the World Council of Churches, a communication strategy has taken shape and was presented at DSPR Central Committee meeting in Cyprus in May.
“It is crucial to get functional communication channels in place and to market our activities better. There are plenty of good stories out there waiting to be told. We must follow up – and communicate – the impact of our work for our beneficiaries to a much larger extent,” Sabella concludes.
*Claus Grue is communication consultant for the World Council of Churches.