Middle East Council of Churches

Unofficial news from the Middle Eastern Christian Ecumenical organization.

Maintained by Tom Scudder

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Saturday, April 05, 2003
Official MECC Site: April 5 Update:
  • Edward Ishu (as mentioned earlier) is now in Mosul, and is helping with the situation of other displaced families there. There are some 2300 displaced families drawing on supplies cached by MECC before the war. A new aid shipment (mostly food) is being arranged to Mosul via Syria.
  • Another aid shipment to Baghdad from Amman is presently being held up by security and other concerns. No other solid information from Iraq is presently available.
  • MECC is working to support those families that left Iraq early (before the war).
  • UNHCR held a briefing explaining its policies toward Iraqi refugees in Syria. (Substance of briefing included)

MECC Staff at al-Hol camp in Syria
posted by Tom at 12:41 PM

International Center of Bethlehem: Stop the wall:
Amjad Awwad, found himself overnight in a surreal situation. He is a Palestinian Christian grocery shop owner living at the northern entrance of Bethlehem, an area that is taking the limelight of local and international news after a recent Israeli military order has been issued declaring it under full military control.

According to plans obtained recently from the Israeli military administration, an eight-meter high wall will divide the Bethlehem main road into two sections. Although the entire northern area of Bethlehem, according to the Oslo agreements, is in what is called Zone “C” (meaning Israeli military and administrative control), the new plans will further divide that zone into an additional area, which will be a “closed Israeli military zone”.

This new division will put Mr. Awwad’s business in the current zone “C” on one side of the main road, while his residence, which is exactly on the other side, will be in the “closed Israeli military zone”. To cross the road from his home to his business and back he will be forced to obtain a special permit from the Israeli authorities.

We met with Mr. Awwad to talk to him and to learn more about this new situation, which threatens the entire Bethlehem District economically, socially and politically.

posted by Tom at 12:36 AM

WFN: World Council of Churches Cyprus visit: "Reconciliation needs to begin now"
Ending a three-day visit to Cyprus, a World Council of Churches' (WCC) staff delegation identified hope in the midst of the failure of recent peace negotiations. But it emphasized the need to reconcile the two communities at the grassroots level before a sustainable peace is possible.

"The Annan Plan (the Comprehensive Settlement of the Cyprus Problem), seems to have shifted the mindset of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. It has created hope and shown that [...] reunification of the island is possible," says Peter Weiderud, director of the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA). "It is unfortunate that the plan was rejected, ending the recent peace negotiations under the UN secretary-general's auspices. The energy released in both communities, mainly among Turkish Cypriot youth, is in danger of turning into apathy, pessimism and frustration."

"There is very little interaction and a lot of mistrust between the two communities. The people of Cyprus need to address their past histories in honesty, heal pain on both sides, build confidence and trust. A peace plan has to engage the people of Cyprus at the grassroots, not just the treetops," says WCC/CCIA programme executive for Middle East Affairs Salpy Eskidjian.

posted by Tom at 12:24 AM

Action by Churches Together: A refuge for third country nationals fleeing the war in Iraq:
As the first US air strikes hit Baghdad two weeks ago, Malual Agu Malual Dor and his family headed for safety. Their destination - a camp, known as Camp B that had been set aside for third country nationals or TCN's, the acronym given people fleeing the war in Iraq, but who are not Iraqi nationals.

What Malual and his family found, was a barren campsite in the eastern desert region of Jordan, near a remote outpost called Rusheiwa. Malual, his wife Halima and their five children had for the moment found a secure place, along with a few hundred other TCNs who were originally from Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia.

Originally from Wau in southern Sudan, Malual explained that he had been working in Baghdad for the last 19 years or so, that he was in his 40s and that he had stayed in Iraq through the Iraq-Iran conflict and the 1991 Gulf war. He had since married, and thought it best to leave this time for the safety of his family.

Speaking to Nils Carstensen, who has been seconded by his relief agency DanChurchAid (DCA) to cover the emergency from Jordan for the global alliance, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, of which DCA is a member, Malual was emphatic that he would not return to his country of birth, Sudan. "How can they send me back to Sudan? There is another war there and I cannot take my family there. It is not safe for us," he told Carstensen

Also, of some interest: Edward Ishu of MECC (last heard from taking his family to Mosul) arrived safely in Mosul but is unable to return to Baghdad.
posted by Tom at 12:19 AM

Permalinks updated for ICRC and ReliefWeb

posted by Tom at 12:05 AM

National Catholic Reporter: The Word From Rome by John Allen:
Prior to the outbreak of war in Iraq, one great fear was that the conflict would trigger a “clash of cultures” between Christianity and Islam. Many observers, above all the Vatican, feared backlash against Christians in the Islamic world.

Two weeks into the war, that backlash has not materialized. Based on NCR reporting March 29-April 2, there has not been a single case recorded to date of harassment or violence against Christians related to the war. In fact, sources in several traditional hotspots say Christian/Muslim relations are better than ever.

posted by Tom at 12:00 AM

Friday, April 04, 2003
Body and Soul: Images of a Kinder, Gentler War:
But the fact that the image is emotional blackmail doesn't make it false. Here is a picture of a good, strong man, holding a child on a battlefield, a little girl who pretty desperately needs someone to hold her. I just want to cherish that man, and thank God for him, because I think that nurturing instinct is the best thing we've got going for us. In times like these, especially, we really need that man.

We also need to get as mad as hell at the souless bastards who are trying to piggyback on his goodness.

Expect to see more pictures like that. Army doctors bandaging beautiful children. Soldiers passing out gum and candy, giving water to shrouded women.

People will die for those pictures.

I don't just mean that in a broad, general way -- that people die in wars, and images of compassion are designed to make us forget that. I mean it quite literally. Lives are going to be lost in the pursuit of images of goodness. Those beautiful pictures fuel this ugly war.

I hope you'll bear with me while I try to explain that.

(Scroll down to April 4)
posted by Tom at 11:58 PM

Tuesday, April 01, 2003
The National Council of Churches in Australia announced a joint Christian-Muslim appeal for humanitarian aid to Iraq and Iraqis and also has a good piece on the Christian community in Iraq:
As we pray fervently for peace in the world, and especially for the people of Iraq, please give thanks for the ministry of the Christian community there.

The Churches representing the two million Christians in Iraq are The Holy Apostolic Assyrian Church of the East, The Holy Ancient Apostolic Church of the East, The Chaldean Roman Catholic Church, The Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic Churches, The Armenian Churches and The Protestant Churches.

These Churches also serve an additional two million Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac Christians scattered in over 40 countries around the world.

posted by Tom at 11:56 AM

Official MECC site: NGO meeting in Lebanon discusses Iraqi needs - a group of 8 local NGOs agreed to work together to help out Iraqis in Lebanon, whether new refugees or people still displaced as a result of the 1991 war.
posted by Tom at 11:36 AM

Monday, March 31, 2003
Action by Churches Together: Winning hearts and minds - or ensuring impartial aid by Nils Carstensen:
Whatever the reputation of the Iraqi regime and its treatment of its own citizens, the US, UK and other governments in the coalition will face stern criticism at home and abroad if they are perceived to be in violation of the very corner stones of International Humanitarian Law – the Geneva Conventions.

Recent TV-coverage of ill-prepared relief distributions in Southern Iraq brought home images of what hardly amounted to more than food riots benefiting only the youngest and the toughest. Some aid workers see these incidents as examples of what may happen when the needs of sick, thirsty or hungry civilians are dealt with as part of a military strategy of "winning hearts and minds", rather than being handled by experienced and independent relief agencies.

"What we have seen over the last days in Southern Iraq is exactly an illustration of why the military should let experienced civilian humanitarian actors plan and carry out relief work," says Rick Augsburger, director of Emergency Programs of the US-based Church World Service (CWS) and co-chair of the Humanitarian Practice and Policy Committee of Interaction, a coalition of US relief agencies.


"What we have seen over the last weeks, has been disrespect of experienced humanitarian structures on the part of the US," says Augsburger, with reference to the manner in which the distinction between humanitarian and military operations is being deliberately blurred. The US administration has for instance set up, within the Ministry of Defense, an Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA). This is part of a US-led structure for planning and controlling future humanitarian operations in Iraq and includes a Humanitarian Operations Center (HOC) currently based in Kuwait. The HOC office is staffed by US, Kuwaiti and British military staff.

In doing so, the coalition forces and their governments have largely by-passed existing UN agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) with decades of experience in Iraq and major emergencies across the world. Many relief agencies also fear that such a deliberate blend of military command and humanitarian aid poses a real threat to the principles of neutrality and needs based distributions of aid, considered crucial for effective relief work.

posted by Tom at 11:00 PM

Reliefweb updates:

posted by Tom at 10:52 PM

Sunday, March 30, 2003
ReliefWeb: Latest news from ICRC staff in the field 30 Mar 2003

Most telephone lines are down, making it difficult to get reliable information on the situation around the country. It is impossible to verify reports from various Governorates, often mixed with alarming rumours. It is even difficult to know for certain which roads inside the capital are still practicable and safe.

There is also a growing feeling of helplessness at the thought of war victims in places such as Najaf, Nasiriyah, Kerbala and the difficulty of getting access to these cities.

Reports appear to confirm that the continued power cuts in Al Anbar Governorate since Friday have created a serious water shortage in at least four populated areas (Heet, Ramadi, Hay Al-Bakr and Fallujah).

posted by Tom at 6:21 PM

From Samer Lahham in Damascus: Orthodox Doctors Open their Hearts to Iraq
The "Heart Doctors" are a small volunteer group of three Greek couples (including two doctors and one nurse). "We are not heart specialists – we call ourselves "Heart Doctors" because we can offer love and hope, because love comes from the heart," explains one of them.

The Heart Doctors dropped by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch in Damascus on their way to Iraq. They had worked in many places around the world, including Bosnia, Afghanistan, and various places in Africa. They hoped to give medical assistance to hospitals and clinics in Baghdad. Asked what they expected to see, they answered, "We don’t have any idea yet. We want to go there and see the situation on site. We want to go to Baghdad again after this trip to give more medicine, and maybe we can bring more doctors with us next time."

The group operates on a voluntary basis, raising their funds from their own income. This, and their small size, lets them travel at will to the places they feel they are needed. Asked if they were afraid to go to Baghdad at a time when no one could guarantee that the roads were safe, they answered "We have a great faith in our hearts that God will not leave us alone. He will be with us and enable us to reach out to needy people. If you have such faith in your heart, nothing can stop you from fulfilling your mission."

posted by Tom at 6:14 PM

Catholic News Services: Baghdad's Catholic, Orthodox bishops make joint cease-fire appeal (quoted in full):
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic and Orthodox bishops of Baghdad, Iraq, appealed for a cease-fire as a U.S.-led invasion entered its second week. Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni told Vatican Radio that the bishops released their appeal after a March 27 meeting in the Iraqi capital, where he said the situation was worsening every day because of the coalition bombardments. "United to our Muslim brothers, we ask everyone to issue an urgent appeal for a cease-fire," Bishop Warduni said. "The situation is worsening every day because the fear and dismay grow every day, because the bombardments stop neither during day nor night; they are increasingly atrocious and terrifying," he said. Citing growing numbers of civilian casualties, he said, "Neither human rights nor civil rights are being respected."

posted by Tom at 3:41 PM