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Riah Abo El-Assal: The Crisis in Syria

Speech at the UPF Interfaith Consultation on the Crisis in Syria
Amman, Jordan, October 11-13, 2013

Published in Dialogue & Alliance, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2013

The fact that the crisis in Syria occupied much of the recent UN deliberations is proof enough that the parties involved are not exclusively Syrians. No wonder the attention of the majority of the international community is focused on its happenings. Had there been no way out of the American threat, we may have not been able to meet anywhere in this troubled Middle East.

The so-called Arab Spring proved to be a bloody autumn! The interests of the local communities have been shelved and ignored, God knows for how long, while the interests of the outsiders have been partly guaranteed.

The tailor of the new Middle East is the Orientalist Bernard Lewis. It was he who presented to the American Congress in 1983 a new Middle East map which he thought should replace the British-French Sykes-Picot partition plan of 1917, if the Western Powers and their allies in the area are to control, exploit and reshape the destiny of this part of our Global Village. The idea aimed at further dividing what was divided close to a hundred years ago. The already small states, such as Lebanon, must be made smaller – Arab or non-Arab, like Iranand Pakistan as well: North and South, East and West, Sunni and Shi’a, Muslim and Christian, Arab and Kurds, armed forces and civilians, Alawites, Turks, you name it!

For the plan to succeed there must be chaos, change of regimes, weakening of armed forces (in countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Syria), threats of war, dirty political games, religious fanaticism and the killing of hope in anything called reconciliation among blood brothers in this or that country.

The so-called Arab Spring reached Syria after Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. With a minority group ruling the country, some thought the time had come for a change. The first attempts resembled the beginnings in Libya, i.e., trying to separate a northern zone and/or a southern zone from midland Syria. When those attempts failed, a new technique was employed. Thousands of outsiders were brought to bring down Syria, not only the Syrian regime or the Syrian president. So far those on the stage and those behind the curtain have not succeeded, in spite of over 100,000 human sacrifices, most of whom were civilians. As for the moderate voices who demonstrated for reform, having realized early that what was targeted was Syria as a whole, people and country, they were quick to join hands to expose what became known as the international conspiracy against Syria.

The way forward must be through dialogue among the Syrians themselves, those who are for the present regime and those who are against it. The help of parties from abroad whose hands were not stained with Syrian blood will be needed and appreciated. Flexibility and the readiness to make compromises become a must, when peace and harmony are recognized as a necessity by all parties.

Geneva II is the way forward. 

The partitioning of the Middle East must be stopped. The instruments of death must be destroyed. The bloodthirsty outsiders must be expelled from Syria.

The Arab/Jewish, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict needs be settled on the basis of UN Resolutions. This includes putting an end to the occupation of the Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories.

On February 18, 2003, I was one among four bishops meeting with the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street in London to encourage him not to go to war against Iraq. In his response he claimed that the war was meant to pave the way for peace in the Middle East. In my response to him I said: “The shortest route to Baghdad goes through Jerusalem. Once peace comes to Jerusalem, peace will come to the whole world.”

Had he accepted, Iraq would have been spared, the 1.5 million Iraqis and the thousands of American soldiers killed would be enjoying life, and the trillions of US dollars would have been invested in building a more dignified living for many in the Middle East.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peace-makers (not peace-talkers), for they shall be called the children of God.” It is time for those discussing peace to walk the talk.

The Rt. Rev. Bishop Riah Abo El-Assal is the 13th Anglican Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem that covers Jerusalem, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. During his 40 years of ministry, besides witnessing first-hand political events that reshaped the demography and geography of the Middle East, his work included acting as a spokesperson to the international community on the injustices, often done in the name of religion, and the growing dangers of war in the Middle East. He advocated building bridges, rather than separation walls, through dialogue and understanding on the basis of mutual respect and recognition. He also gives humanitarian aid to victims of war and conflict, and promotes education by establishing kindergartens and schools. He is currently working on a large educational project the object of which is integrating the children of Abraham in one school as one family under God. He declares that his mission is to tell the world that co-existence and co-living is a better choice than confrontation. He chaired and co-chaired several religious, political, educational, human rights and philanthropic institutions. He is also the author of Caught in Between, co-author of Walking the Red Line, How Long O Lord, Faith and the Intifada, Judaism or Zionism, and a contributor to Christians in the Holy Land.