Australia’s Palestinian Christian community is pleading for an end to fresh violence in the Holy Land, which has left at least 1500 dead and 6000 injured.
Jason Damouni, the spokesperson for the organisation Palestinian Christians in Australia, traces his heritage to the village of Al-Damoun, a small Christian village between Nazareth and Haifa.
His grandfather was among those displaced from the village during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
Mr Damouni spoke to The Catholic Weekly as Gaza was pummeled by Israeli air attacks and shelling in retaliation for the surprise assault by Hamas in southern Israel, killing at least 900 Israelis at the time of printing, and taking over 100 terrified hostages, including civilians, on 7 October.
He said Australia’s Christian Palestinians are worried for their “very vulnerable” friends and relatives trying to shelter within Gaza, and frustrated by over-simplified media reporting on the attacks by Hamas militia.
Mr Damouni criticised the level of urgency among political leaders to resolve the ongoing conflict as “non-existent.”
A friend in Gaza had already lost two relatives, both civilians, in Israel’s retaliatory attack and that his daily life in the occupied territory has been marked by discrimination, Israeli military checkpoints and regular airstrikes, he said.
“What we’re seeing now did not start in the past 48 hours,” Mr Damouni said.
“Since 1948 so for 76 years people have been kept stateless and without the means to build an economy.
“They have been uprooted from their homes and squashed into an area, whether you are Palestinian that got pushed into the West Bank, or into Gaza, or completely dispersed from the entire land.
“Framing the conversation as if this has only happened recently, would be like writing a review without watching the full movie.
“We see headlines like ‘Hamas attacks Israel’ and it is framed in that sort of way but for us it was not a matter of if something like this would happen, it was only a matter of when, especially with Gaza.”
Mr Damouni welcomed statements from the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem calling for an immediate end to the violence and a search by the international community for lasting solutions for the Holy Land “based on equal rights for all and on international legitimacy.”
In remarks after the Angelus on 8 October, Pope Francis called for peace, saying “War is a defeat! Every war is a defeat!”
“I am following apprehensively and sorrowfully what is happening in Israel where the violence has exploded even more ferociously, causing hundreds of deaths and casualties,” the Holy Father said.
“I express my closeness to the families and victims. I am praying for them and for all who are living hours of terror and anguish. May the attacks and weaponry cease. Please!
“And let it be understood that terrorism and war do not lead to any resolutions, but only to the death and suffering of so many innocent people.
“War is a defeat! Every war is a defeat! Let us pray that there be peace in Israel and in Palestine.”
The Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, also issued a separate statement condemning the “cycle of violence” and blaming both the strikes from Gaza and Israel’s retaliation for “bringing us back to the worst periods of our recent history.”
“The too-many casualties and tragedies, which both Palestianians and Israeli families have to deal with, will create more hatred and division, and will destroy more and more any perspective of stability,” Cardinal Pizzaballa wrote.
Those leaders’ statements were more responsible than the majority he had seen by politicians in the first 48 hours after the attacks, Mr Damouni said.
“God bless them,” he said.
“No one seems to have any urgency to do anything until escalations happen and even then, responsible politicians are supposed to be calling for de-escalations.
“Rather, what we see is people picking sides, ‘Oh, I stand with Israel’ or ‘Good on the Palestinians for putting up a resistance.’
“No one is saying we stand for peace. We must call for peace. We must vote for de-escalation.
“Responsible political messages should have been taking place long before something like this occurred.”
More than 13,000 people reported Palestinian ancestry in the 2021 Australian census.
Mr Damouni said his organisation was formed to counter the invisibility the founders felt in the community here and internationally.
At less than two per cent of the population in the Holy Land, down from around 25 per cent a century ago, Palestinian Christians are also rapidly disappearing from their ancient homeland.
“We’re calling on leaders to find a resolution that enfranchises every stateless person living in either Gaza or the West Bank, and the ability for Palestinians like myself to be able to go back to our native land,” Mr Damouni said.
“Our community is very unique in the sense that Christianity didn’t come to us, it came from within us.
“We are the continuation of 2000 years of Christian presence in that land.”