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Arab Patriarch Backs Uprising at Christmas Mass

December 25, 1989

BETHLEHEM, Occupied West Bank (AP) _ Jerusalem’s Roman Catholic patriarch predicted victory for the Palestinian uprising as he celebrated a Christmas midnight Mass at Jesus’ birthplace during an Arab boycott.

″How can we celebrate Christmas with what we are going through, with our sons killed or in prison?″ asked Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the first Arab appointed to his post in Jerusalem. ″Despite all that is happening to you, you will win, in the end you will win.

″The love in your hearts will serve you. Love God, and love the people who mistreat you,″ he said in a message to his fellow Palestinians during the service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, said Sunday there was no hope for peace in the region without a Palestinian state.

Elsewhere in the occupied lands, 17 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli soldiers. Eight were hurt in four separate clashes in the Gaza Strip and nine were wounded in the Nablus area of the West Bank.

During the Mass at St. Catherine’s basilica near the grotto where Christians believe Jesus was born, Sabbah was clad in a festive white and red garment. He was surrounded by monks in black robes and choir boys in white. In the audience, dignitaries mixed with the worshipers, many of whom joined in the singing.

The guests of honor included ambassadors or consuls of France, Italy, Belgium and Spain, Bethlehem’s Mayor Elias Freij, Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek and Brig. Gen. Shaike Erez, who heads the Israeli military government in the West Bank.

Sabbah, who supports the Palestinian independence demands, also addressed Jews in his Arabic-language sermon after speaking to Palestinians about the power of love. He said, ″To the Jewish people, we say the same thing: love and forgiveness.″

By the end of the evening, there were well over 1,000 people in the church and the Manger Square outside.

Near the West Bank village of Zeita, the body of a Jew, Moshe Ephraim, was found inside a car with a rope around his neck, police officials said. Police and paramilitary border troops began searches in the area.

Police officials said they were checking whether the death of Ephraim, 60, was a Palestinian nationalist or criminal killing. But they did not rule out the possibility of suicide.

In Bethlehem, stores were closed because of a protest strike called by the pro-PLO underground leadership of the 2-year-old revolt against Israeli rule.

Slogans spray-painted on city walls called for residents to boycott Christmas Eve celebrations and make it a ″mourning day″ for Palestinians killed in the uprising. Crowds were small during the day.

Off Manger Square, a group of Moslem fundamentalist protesters chanted: ″The Zionist is God’s enemy 3/8″ and ″Jews, Mohammed is coming back 3/8″

Earlier, soldiers blocked Moslems from entering the square to prevent disruptions of Christmas observances by fundamentalists.

Christian religious services went ahead, although celebrations such as the annual parade were curtailed in compliance with the Arab boycott.

About 1,000 Palestinians attended Tutu’s sermon at the nearby Shepherds’ Field, where the Bible says first word of Jesus’ birth was received by shepherds watching over their flocks at night.

″We pray that Arabs and Jews will know that they are brother and sister, that they belong in one family, that they belong in God’s family, that they belong in the human family. We support the struggle of the Palestinian people for nationhood,″ Tutu said.

″But we say also, dear brothers and sisters, the Jews have a right to their independent state as well,″ said the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Tutu’s endorsement of a Palestinian state alienated many Israelis, and the nation’s two chief rabbis refused to meet with the Anglican human rights activist.

City officials said plans for a meeting between Tutu and Kollek broke down when Tutu refused to come to City Hall, insisting on a meeting in east Jerusalem’s St. George’s Anglican Church.

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