morpeth rotary club
Audrey Porksen helped to set up a charity two years ago to support Christian schools in Israel and Palestine with an education based on reconciliation.
The Ashray charity is led by the now retired Archbishop Elias Chacour of Haifa of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. He is an Israeli citizen and a Christian Arab. It is a UK registered charity with an office at Hepscott.
The project was set up in 1984 and provides education facilities, with half Arab and half Israeli students. Audrey works in a Palestinian community north of Galilee.
Audrey told the club there are three religions in conflict, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
The area has always been fertile. It has been coveted by many nations and has never been an independent state.
At different times, it was taken over by Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Syria, Rome, Muslims, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottomans and most recently the British.
Israel is the same size as Wales and has the same population as London, but has enormous power.
There are non-Jewish Israeli citizens who are Arab. The Palestinians speak a dialect of Arabic. Their second language is Hebrew. Most are Sunni Muslims, but there is a significant Arab Christian community. There are Druses and other smaller religious communities. In 2013 Israel had a population of 1,658,000 who were Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship.
A series of maps were shown, starting with Palestine in 1946 when it was largely Arab with a small Jewish population.
At the start of the 1900s there was an influx of Jews from Europe and the US. The culture began to change from Arab to western with a significant group from Russia.
In 1917 there was the Balfour Declaration from the British Foreign Secretary, supporting the establishment of a national home for Jews. It was decided that this should be in Palestine, although the locals were never asked. They did not realise what was happening.
Audrey told members that, after the Second World War Jews were often welcomed. It was understood that they had suffered and needed to escape.
The Arab and Jewish population got on very well, but the number of Jews coming in escalated.
There was a UN partition plan in 1947, which the Jewish leadership accepted, but the Palestinians did not. There were skirmishes, fighting and wider conflict. Four hundred Arab villages were razed and people fled. There was an increase in land taken over by the Israelis. Gaza became isolated.
All people going in and out of Gaza have to go through an Israeli checkpoint. They have no airspace and are only allowed to fish to a limit.
Gaza is 360 sq km, with a population of 1,820,000. In comparison, Northumberland has 5,013 sq km and a population of 316,000. Gaza is the most densely populated place on earth.
There is a great concrete wall, known as the ’apartheid wall’. The local monastery used to get a lot of income from its winery, but the wall separates it from the land and a school. People have to go to the school via a military checkpoint, which can take two to three hours.
The US President is in favour of a two-state solution, but many Palestinians no longer own their farms and villages.
Audrey said the only real solution is an all-in-one state, but that means the majority would be Arabic, and Israel would not allow that.
Audrey said the Palestinians have no rights, can’t travel and have poor medical services. They feel they have nothing to lose. In spite of everything, Palestinians have a great sense of humour.
She is based in Israel and only makes short journeys to the West Bank, and never to Gaza.
She described how Israeli citizens are divided into Jewish and non-Jewish. Palestinian villages are poor and get very little help from the state. There is an imbalance of prosperity and access to facilities.
Israel has the best equipped army in the Middle East. It has $8.2million from the US every day, and another $12 to $17billion in indirect aid, including weapons.
Hamas runs Gaza, while Fattah runs the West Bank. The two do not get on well. Yasser Arafat used Christians and Muslims in his government.
Audrey was thanked for her informative and controversial talk.