Holy Land needs new leaders, says patriarch


Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah said new Israeli and Palestinian leaders, bolder religious leaders and an end to suicide bombings are needed for peace in the Middle East.

"The land needs something new, a new vision, a new spiritual blood, a vision in which the leaders believe that both sides are capable of peace," said the patriarch in an interview with the Associated Press yesterday

The patriarch commented on a number of other issues facing the Holy Land as well, including the barrier being built by Israel and the dwindling number of Christians.

The barrier Israel is building along the length of the West Bank to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen will not bring security, said the patriarch. Rather, the region's first Palestinian patriarch said it would only increase hatreds and hostilities.

Palestinians consider the wall as a land grab, which has disrupted the lives of thousands who have difficulty reaching farms, schools and jobs.

The 71-year-old patriarch said there are no signs the Israeli government is heading toward peace. In addition, Palestinian militant groups, like Hamas and Jihad, which continue to launch suicide bombings, must end their attacks in order for Israelis to feel secure and elect a government more willing to negotiate peace, he said in the AP interview.

Sabbah was also critical of the region's religious leaders, who he said have failed to speak out for peace, mainly because Muslim and Jewish religious figures are too entwined with politics.

He also shared his shock about Israel's assassination last week of the spiritual leader and founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

As Easter approaches, the patriarch is also struggling to compose an appropriate Easter message for his fellow 400,000 Christians in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jordan. The community’s numbers and hope continue to dwindle as violence persists in the area. The patriarch admitted that he is not optimistic the situation will improve soon.

His Easter message, he said, is aimed at helping Palestinian Christians realize a spiritual dimension to the hardships they face.

"We have to go through all the suffering and accept it as a cross, as a difficult life in order to come to freedom, to an end to violence, to peace, to reconciliation," he told the AP. "We have to suffer in order to reach resurrection in our spiritual life."

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