Father Robert Assaly is an Anglican priest, born in Ottawa to Lebanese parents. His grandparents were Orthodox immigrants to Saskatchewan, but since there was no Orthodox church within a convenient distance, they went to the Anglican church. Episcopalians are the U.S. branch of the Anglican communion.
Assaly is an honorary assistant pastor at St. Michael’s and All Angels Church in Ottawa. He has been a teaching assistant in liturgy at Trinity College of the University of Toronto and is hoping for an Ottawa posting in the near future. “Most Arab Anglicans are Palestinians,” he noted, adding that there is a certain number of them in Toronto.
The Anglican Church of Canada has taken stands on Middle Eastern affairs that “argely reflect the views of the church in Jerusalem,” he said, “a pro-peace position.” On the global scene, he is saddened by the growing schism between the more liberal churches in the northern countries and the more conservative southern ones, by which the Anglican communion is “ripping itself apart.”
When asked why Christians are leaving Palestine, he said that they tend to be more affluent than other Arabs and that they leave for educational and career opportunities. Their aspirations would be limited in the constricted conditions in Palestine at this time. However, he observed that Christian Arabs in Israel are not leaving. Kristi, his daughter, piped in to observe that as more and more leave, the few left tend to feel isolated and vulnerable, and so they also are apt to move on.
The interview was arranged with Father Assaly, but he brought his daughter along, and her presence was a bonus. She is just back from Palestine.
Kristi was in Ram, which “used to be a suburb of Jerusalem, but because of the wall it is now a suburb of Ramallah.” For a month she worked at a music conservatory, teaching and directing a choir. Then she began to work for Sabeel.
Sabeel is an ecumenical liberal theological center for Palestinian Christians, dedicated to non-violence, justice, peace, and reconciliation. It aids churches and local communities and engages in international advocacy. Among other activities, she helped to organize an international youth conference.
She spoke of Sabeel’s involvement with local Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian organizations. Among these were the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolition, which helps to rebuild houses destroyed by the Israeli military. Breaking the Silence, another organization with whom they had positive interaction, is made up of former Israeli soldiers who testify about what they had seen and done and who themselves suffer from their experiences.
Another group, Women in Black, go to the checkpoints and stand and watch, to attempt to discourage mistreatment of Palestinians needing to pass these barriers. Two other groups with whom she had contact were Combatants for Peace and Parents’ Circle.
Combatants for Peace is a coalition of former fighters, Palestinians and Israelis, and the Parents’ Circle involves Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost children in the fighting.
When asked her impression of the over-all situation in Palestine, she was pessimistic. “I wasn’t left with much hope,” she said. “The NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are doing more and more good work, but the political situation is getting worse. Yet, it is important for people to continue going there, visiting, and seeing the situation first hand.”