Wednesday, May 5, 2010

First Muslim CEO of Jerusalem YMCA

Forsan Hussein is one of the most influential of Israel's young Arabs, becoming known as the Israeli Obama. He has recently been appointed the first non-Christian CEO of Jerusalem International YMCA.

This YMCA is definitely not your father's YMCA. Housed in what has been described as the most beautiful YMCA in the world, it attracts the rich and famous and serves often as a place where international diplomats and activists from east and west Jerusalem meet for intimate get-togethers as well as for more lavish functions.

Hussein was born and grew up in the Israeli Muslim Arab village of Sha'ab, near Acre, north of Haifa. While he graduated high school with a near perfect score of 98on his exams, he couldn't afford university and went to work in an industrial park. But in 2006 he won a a scholarship to study at Brandeis University in the US.

Fitting in with and moving easily between life in America and life in Israel, including both the Tel Aviv nightlife scene and the small Arab village where he grew up, the soon-to-be-married Hussein is hoping to use all his life experience to turn the Jerusalem Y into something bigger than it already is. Quoted by Israel21c (its article can be found at , he says:

"I was born and raised as a Muslim. What sets me apart here is that my appointment is groundbreaking. I'm the first Muslim to head the Y since it was established," says Hussein, whose duty it will be to make sure that the Y, owned by the YMCA of the USA, will gain financial independence.

"[W]e are trying to make the Y an example of what Jerusalem should be - a dynamic interfaith peace center," says Hussein.

"In our renewed vision we want to position it, and develop and empower its ethical values and moral citizenship. There will be many different activities tackling this," Hussein continues.

"We will try to capitalize on the diverse center of the Jerusalem community, what Jerusalem is and what this entire region can be, the way Lord Allenby described it," he says, citing Allenby's words from his dedication speech at the Jerusalem Center in 1933, now emblazoned on the wall at the Y: Here is a place whose atmosphere is peace, where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten and international unity fostered and developed.

Hussein calls himself a Palestinian Israeli, but says that the words don't matter much. "I am Palestinian in terms of nationality, or peoplehood. But I am also an Israeli, as a citizen, someone who is loyal to Israel, it being my only country."

The Jordan River is going dry!

Christian pilgrims flock to the Jordan River to immerse themselves in the water where Jesus was baptized, mostly in the few stretches of the river that are not polluted. But a team of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian environmental scientists say that one of the efforts to clean the river large stretches of it may dry up by 2011, leaving behind a river of sewage.

It is ironic how things got to this point. It began when Israel and Jordan agreed to stop dumping waste into the river and to build treatment plants in each country to clean the waste water before they dump it into the river. Those plants are expected to be up and running 2011 and the treated sewage will be used for agriculture purposes, meaning it will not be pumped into the Jordan. But the problem is that if no wastewater enters the lower Jordan — the river's largest section — then no water will flow in it at all!

The Jordan River, of course, is where John baptized Jesus. And also, of course, Israel and Jordan each claim that the baptismal site is on their side of the river and built tourist sites that face each other across the river, which at that point is only a few yards wide.

The Bible describes the river as "overflowing." And the Associated Press reports that "in 1847, a U.S. Naval officer visiting the area reported on the 'deafening roar of the tumultuous waters'. But over the past five decades, Israel, Jordan and Syria have diverted about 98 percent of the Jordan River and its tributaries for drinking water and agricultural use. Only 700 million to about 1 billion cubic feet (20 million to 30 million cubic meters) flow through the river today, a tiny fraction of the 45 billion cubic feet (1.3 billion cubic meters) that used to surge through before the 1930s, when the first dam was built on the river in what is now Israel. What was once the narrowest stretch of the river has now become its widest. In some spots, the Jordan is only a trickle. Otters and other creatures that used to live on its banks are long gone. Today, the lower section of the Jordan is choked with sewage from towns on the Israeli, West Bank and Jordanian sides."

Most Christian pilgrims who visit Israel to immerse themselves in the Jordan River do so in the clean waters at Yardenit, a modern-day baptismal tourist site in Israel near the Sea of Galilee. A few go to the polluted traditional baptism site of Jesus and dip in the brown waters there.

And sadly it is no surprise that political disagreements among Jordan, Israel and Syria regarding sharing the waters of the Jordan and other water sources has exacerbated, if not created, the water shortage. Each complains that the other's projects divert shared water sources for their own needs. These diversions have also been the major reason why the Dead Sea has lost one-third of its volume since the 1960s.

The Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian team of environmental scientists determined that 400 million cubic meters of water each year would be needed to rehabilitate the river, gradually rising to 600 In addition, the river would have to flood once a year to rehabilitate the shores. (The river has not flooded since the winter of 1991-92.)

So where would that much water come from?

The scientists suggested Israel contribute 220, Syria 100 and Jordan 90 Each country has dammed the river or its tributaries and diverted it for use. Seventy-five percent of the water would have to be fresh water and the rest highly treated sewage water to preserve the saline balance.

Looking at both the supply and demand side, the team of scientists, again one Israeli, one Palestinian and one Jordanian, suggested measures for Israel to take, like fixing leaky pipes, covering reservoirs to prevent evaporation, raising awareness, changing plants in gardens and using grey water (wastewater generated from domestic activities such as laundry, dishwashing and bathing). For Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, wastewater reclamation was the key to conserving fresh water. Jordan should also reduce water conveyance loss, reform gardening and raise awareness.

Following these suggestions would also go a long way toward saving the Dead Sea.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Russia builds museum park complex in Holy Land

Jericho, April 8, Interfax – Russia starts building museum park complex in Jericho land lot which was earlier returned to the Russian government by authorities of the Palestinian National Authority.

"Russian museum in Jericho proves that Russia returns to the Holy Land after a long period of absence and contributes into cultural and spiritual life of people living there and numerous tourists from all over the world who come to visit these places," head of the Presidential Property Management Department of the Russian Federation Vladimir Kozhin said on Thursday at the festival ceremony of laying the foundation stone to future building of the complex with PNA participating.

Kozhin believes this project will give more dynamics to Jericho's further development as the future museum will display a fig-tree, which is a living witness to the life of Christ, and other historical, scientific and cultural values located in the territory of the complex, and thus attract greater interest of many pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.

In 1995, the PNA head Yasser Arafat adopted a degree to transfer a land lot as a property to Russia. In 2008, in connection with changes in Palestinian legislation, the lot was reregistered to the Russian government, but it fulfils all land requirements acting in Palestine.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It’s all about engagement, not disparagement. About love, not demonization.

Excerpts from the Easter message of Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

“We Palestinian Christians are called as apostles of hope despite our struggle, despite our hopelessness. Our congregations, schools and centers play an important role in providing hope and developing Palestinian society. Our parishioners’ daily struggle to maintain a Palestinian Christian witness in this land is an encouragement to our many partners and friends all over the world. Our efforts at building bridges between Palestinians and Israelis prepares us to live together peacefully after a political settlement is reached. Our dialogue with Muslims and Jews inspires other Christians to cross borders to build peace in this broken world. As St. Paul says of Jesus, ‘In his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us’ (Ephesians 2:14b).

“The resurrection calls us Palestinian Christians, given our current circumstances and our steadfast hope in the victory of life, a special call to impart hope where hopelessness exists in the world. We can encourage persecuted Christians in Asia and Africa; advocate for innocent civilians in war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq; stand up for oppressed minorities like Dalits in India; share our resources with countries like Haiti destroyed by earth quakes. We can facilitate reconciliation between majority and minority populations of Bangladesh, Central America, Burma and Turkey. We can teach people who fear unfamiliar cultures, religions and political realties about celebrating diversity. We can welcome refugees, migrants and trafficked people from among the poor and disempowered around the world. We can share with others the hope that comes from dialogue.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Discover What Life was like in the time of Jesus.

Ever pondered what everyday life was like during the time of Jesus? Check out Life in Year 1 by Scott Korb at Also, please consider helping us by becoming a fan of the United Christian Communities Facebook page.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Protect a Byzantine-era Christian cemetery in the Holy Land

The City of Ashkelon has come under rocket attack from Hamas in Gaza. One consequence of this is that a decision has been made that it is only prudent to build a reinforced emergency room at Barzilai Medical Center there. But the preferred site is where a Byzantine-era Christian cemetery is located.

For that reason Israel’s Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman has taken the position that it cannot be built there and insists that an emergency room fortified against missiles and rockets from Gaza be built on a more-distant parking lot, which would take several more years to complete and cost an extra $25 to $30 million.
In response the chairman of the Israel Medical Association has sent a letter to Prime Minister (and formally Health Minister) Binyamin Netanyahu to overrule the Deputy Health Minister.

Do you have a view? If so, send an email to Prime Minister Netanyahu at and/or to the Minister of Health, Ya’akov Ne’eman at

The Holy Land is important to all Christians. The Christians in the Holy Land are fleeing at an alarming rate. Take an interest. Now. Visit us at . Become a fan of our Facebook page. Follow us on Twitter (@christianflight). Get informed.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Jerusalem and the Music of Three Faiths: a review

Jerusalem: La Ville des deux Paix is a new album of Christian, Jewish and Muslim music from the eras in which they each first appeared in Jerusalem. The title means Jerusalem: City of Two Peaces. The following is a beautiful review of the album (which we have not yet been able to find in the US) and also a beautiful statement of the power of Jerusalem to unite, if we only have the will to do so. The review appeared on the English language web site of Global Arab Network.

Jerusalem: the city of earthly and heavenly peace

By Lewis Gropp

Jerusalem is a central point of reference for the three great monotheist faiths. King David made the city the political and religious capital of Israel, creating a centre for Judaism within and beyond the region. Jerusalem is a holy city for Christians as the place of Jesus of Nazareth's teaching, crucifixion and resurrection. It was here too that the first community of early Christians proclaimed their religion. And for Muslims, the city is traditionally the third most holy in Islam after Mecca and Medina. Before they prayed facing the Kaaba in Mecca, the most sacred site for Muslims, they directed their prayers towards Jerusalem.

In the course of its 4,000-year history, the city has been destroyed, looted and pillaged some 40 times. Today's Jerusalem, which was supposed to be a common bond with shared history and sacredness for the three religions, unfortunately presents a picture of discord and serves as a point of contention to people with contradictory claims to religious influence.

This city, nonetheless, bears the seed of peace in its name. The Hebrew word "Jerusalem" can be interpreted to mean city of two peaces, referring to both the earthly and heavenly peace heralded by the Old Testament prophets. The etymologically observant will recognise the Hebrew shalom in the name-and the related Arabic salaam, both of which mean peace.

Starting from this idea, Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras, specialists in music of old centuries and UNESCO Artists for Peace in 2008-have produced an unusual musical project, Jerusalem: La Ville des deux Paix (the city of two peaces). On this musical album, accompanied by a 400-page book detailing the historical and musical background of the city, the two artists explore musical traditions from Jerusalem's various epochs: the Jewish, the Christian, the Arab and the Ottoman eras.

For the dialogue-centred Jerusalem project, Savall and Figueras brought together Jewish, Muslim and Christian musicians from many countries that have left traces on Jerusalem's musical traditions over the centuries: Israel, Palestine, Greece, Syria, Armenia, Turkey, England, France, Spain and Italy.

The section on the "Jewish city" begins with its foundation and ends with the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. It is presented musically through a selection of the most beautiful psalms of King David as preserved in the ancient musical tradition of the Jews of southern Morocco, along with a piece on the 1st century Rabbi Akiba, one of the most important fathers of rabbinical Judaism.

The Christian section embarks with the arrival of Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine I, in 326 CE and ends in 1244 CE. It opens with a dark, meditative hymn to the Virgin Mary, attributed to Emperor Leo VI (886-912), and closes with a quiet, humble improvisation on the hymn, Pax in Nomine Domini! ("Peace in the name of the Lord!").

Among other pieces in the Arab section of the album, a version of the 17th chapter in the Qur'an-entitled "the Israelites"-describes the Prophet Mohammed's ascent to heaven from the Temple Mount through song.

The album's most dramatic piece is a historic recording by Shlomo Katz, a Jew of Romanian origin. Before Katz was to be executed in Auschwitz in 1941 during the Holocaust, he asked for permission to sing the hymn, El Male Rahamim ("God full of compassion"). Deeply moved by the magnificence, emotional depth and intensity of the music, the Nazi officer on duty allowed Katz to escape. In 1950, he recorded the song as a lasting testament and hymn to the victims of Auschwitz. Exuding a moving sense of tragedy and grace in itself, the piece becomes a devastating musical document in the knowledge of its history.

"Music," according to Savall, "becomes the indispensable means of achieving a genuine intercultural dialogue between human beings from very different nations and religions, but who nevertheless share a common language of music, spirituality and beauty."

Savall and Figueras' Jerusalem album is an astutely compiled mosaic of religions and cultures. Every song, every set of lyrics forms a possible starting point for exploring the dramatic and chequered history of the medieval East and West, and the points they have in common.