Palestine is not Israel's "promised land"

by Sapa-AFP | Times Live | October 23, 2010

Israel cannot claim Palestinian territory as its promised land citing the Bible to justify its occupation and the expulsion of Palestinians, a Catholic archbishop said.

Cyril Salim Bustros, head of the Greek Melkite Church in the United States, made his comments after the Middle East synod of Catholic bishops called on the United Nations to implement its resolutions and end Israeli occupation of Arab lands.

The synod's final statement, drawn up by a commission headed by Bustros, also said that "recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable.

"On the contrary, recourse to religion must lead every person to see the face of God in others and to treat them according to their God-given prerogatives and Godís commandments, namely, according to God's bountiful goodness, mercy, justice and love for us."

Speaking at a press conference, Butros said: "The theme of the promised land cannot be used as a basis to justify the return of the Jews to Israel and the expatriation of the Palestinians."

"For Christians one can no longer talk of the land promised to the Jewish people," he said, because the "promise" was "abolished by the presence of Christ."

In the kingdom of God, which covers the whole world, "there is no longer a favoured people, a chosen people, all men and women of every country have become the chosen people," the Lebanese-born Butros said.

Hardline Jewish settlers in particular claim their right to build on Palestinian territory by saying it forms part of biblical Israel, the land promised by God to the Jews according to the Old Testament.

Butros also warned against the risk of Israel becoming an exclusively Jewish state, with a consequent threat to the 1.5 million Muslim and Christian Arabs living there.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to introduce a controversial loyalty oath to Israel as a "Jewish state" to apply to both Jews and non-Jews wanting to become citizens.

He has also made a freeze on settlement building conditional on Palestinian recognition of Israel's Jewish identity in what has been widely seen as a ploy to complicate US-backed peace efforts.