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Former leader of Melkite Catholics starts hunger strike to support Palestinian prisoners after Pope Francis accepts resignation

May 7, 2017

Iranian media is reporting that the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church -- the leader of the largest Catholic community in Syria and the second-largest in Lebanon -- has stopped eating, to support hunger-striking Palestinians in I$raeli prisons.(1) Israeli media has discussed preparations for force-feeding of the prisoners. The Melkite Church has more than 1.5 million members and is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

The Iranian report isn't entirely precise or complete, in that Patriarch Gregory (Gregorios) III Laham actually retired possibly within minutes or hours of starting the hunger strike. Lebanon's official National News Agency said, "The Holy See announced, in a statement on Saturday, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Patriarch Gregory III Laham, submitted on February 23, 2017, [NNA] correspondent in Rome reported."(2)

According to Vatican Radio, "Pope Francis on Saturday accepted the resignation of [Gregory III Laham] from his pastoral office. A letter from the Holy Father to the Patriarch-emeritus and all the Melkite bishops explains that His Beatitude presented his resignation during the course of a special audience with the Holy Father in February, and that the Holy Father has decided to accept the resignation."(3)

Francis' letter to Gregory III and the Melkite Church bishops contains, "Following the meeting of the Synod of Bishops last February, during the audience which I granted him, His Beatitude spontaneously presented his resignation from the patriarchal office, and asked me to chose the most favourable moment to accept it. After having prayed and reflected attentively, I have judged it opportune and necessary, for the good of the Greco-Melkite Church, to accept his resignation today."

This may or may not be just a coincidence.

At the time of this writing, there seems to be a lack of clarity in the English language about the intended duration of the retired Patriarch's hunger strike. Two articles suggest it could be a one-day fast or symbolic strike.(4) The Syrian is 83 years old, and it seems he could easily die as a result of I$raeli intransigence if he were to continue his hunger strike for several days. It will be interesting to see if and how the Patriarch-emeritus goes on to support the Palestinian cause in other ways following the Vatican announcement. Laham reportedly may have already played a significant role in Holy See recognition of the State of Palestine. Laham has supported the two-state solution on the basis that the conflict is causing Christians to emigrate -- something, by the way, that even Christian Democrats in the U.S. Congress may not really care about. Many Democrats welcomed the brazen U.S. attack on a Syrian military facility last month while opposing Trump's orders suspending refugee admissions from Syria. Laham's retirement from the Patriarchate doesn't preclude supporting on a religious basis the causes of the oppressed, in countries whose Christians are affected by American-caused conflicts.

Gregory III Laham's timing is also remarkable in that it was being widely reported in Israeli media, on the day before Francis accepted Gregory III's resignation, that I$rael had decided to force-feed Palestinian hunger-striking prisoners or is preparing to do so.(5) That is over the objections of the Israeli Medical Association. The force-feeding with the help of imported so-called doctors would take place instead of respecting Israel's own medical establishment and negotiating with the strikers or addressing their just demands. Force-feeding is widely considered dangerous and inhumane. I$rael is already using solitary confinement -- a form of torture -- to try to repress the hunger-striking prisoners' non-violent protest. The strikers are asking for, among other things, an end to solitary confinement (which is now being used in an attempt to control Marwan Barghouti and other hunger strike leaders or participants), an end to medical neglect, and an end to taking Palestinians to Israel to be detained without charge or trial.

Some Israeli doctors have in various ways collaborated with the Americans and right-wing Israelis in the occupation and other violations against Palestinians. Israeli doctors should make sure they are doing all they can to try not to be complicit in the oppression and repression of Palestinians. That involves more than refusing to participate in force-feeding. However, according to the IMA's ethical code, "The physician shall not apply improper pressure to a prisoner conducting a hunger strike to change his mind" (p. 31).(6) "The physician shall not participate in the forced feeding of a prisoner conducting a hunger strike."

An IMA Ethics Board position paper notes, "Forced feeding of hunger strikers is regarded as a form of torture. The World Medical Association's 1975 Tokyo Declaration, which prohibits the participation by physicians in torture, also prohibits their involvement in forced feeding" (p. 99).

Last year, Israel's Supreme Court upheld force-feeding legislation that is inconsistent with the IMA's ethical code and international law. The world's hegemonic rogue aggressor, the United States, practices force-feeding at the Guantanamo Bay camp. Former U.S. president Barack Obama defended the practice.

The Israeli entity is an Amerikan proxy. The United States sustains and takes advantage of conflicts in the Middle East and pretends to support Middle East peace while opposing the two-state solution in reality. This has been discussed extensively on this website.

The Holy See and even Iran support the two-state solution more than the United States does. This has also been discussed at some length without any substantive rebuttal this writer is aware of.

Amerikan stooges in Israel are helping the United $tates undermine the two-state solution. They are opposing negotiations with the hunger-striking prisoners. They support settlement and annexation of the West Bank. Some sane Israelis, including some Zionists, are against these things. Israel is in an early stage of struggling to be independent from its Amerikan masters. The Amerikans aren't affected by the conflict the way Israelis are, but they perpetuate the conflict in various ways and keep the Israelis reliant on the United States for support.

One day, the Israeli entity will be gone and all of Palestine's territory liberated. The United States, another settler entity, will be gone one day, too. The Holy See, the Catholic Church's central government, currently represents interests of multiple imperialist countries and is less subordinate to the United States in particular than some other governments are. Yet, the Israeli entity and broad neocolonial influence in the Middle East via the Holy See won't go away until the hegemonic U.S. influence thwarting the two-state solution is overcome first. Further progress in many struggles in the world will stall or continue to stall until U.S. hegemony is eliminated or significantly reduced.

France failed to recognize the State of Palestine before electing Macron, who has opposed recognizing the State of Palestine. Hollande hands over the reins in a week. Apart from some Asian countries, France is perhaps the most atheistic/irreligious country in the world with more than a few million people. There could conceivably be a conflict between Patriarch-emeritus Gregory III Laham and the Holy See over Palestine or Syria issues (Russia, Turkey and Iran signed a memorandum on May 4 on establishing de-escalation zones in Syria), and some will mistakenly dismiss the Holy See as just a tiny theocracy regardless. Right now, though, possible Chinese, Russian and religious leadership alternatives are looking better than Amerikan, British, French and German leadership.

The Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike has been going on for three weeks. Force-feeding this many people, as opposing to negotiating with the prisoners or unilaterally addressing their concerns, may ensure that a few prisoners die. Nobody has to die, but force-feeding may guarantee that some will. If Israelis don't want Palestine's Nelson Mandela and hunger strike leader Marwan Barghouti, or other political prisoners participating in the non-violent protest, to die because of force-feeding, other torture, or any other cause, they can let some prisoners go. Or give prisoners at least some of what the strikers are asking for. This doesn't have to be that difficult. As others have pointed out, though, there is arguably a need for Jewish and Christian religious leaders to finesse the situation. Laham is aware of and understands the accusations against the Palestinian prisoners.

Any doctor who participates in force-feeding the prisoners is committing a crime against the prisoners and a crime against the Palestinian nation. Any Israeli doctor who participates in force-feeding is a both an oppressor of the Palestinians and a traitor to Israel. ◊

• “The AmeriKKKan-Palestinian conflict: Middle East looking to Vatican for influence,” 2017 January.
• “Marwan Barghouti’s health deteriorating,” 2017 April.
• “Palestinian mass hunger strike symbol of unity against Israel: Iranian official,” 2017 May 2.
• “Iran, Russia, Turkey sign memorandum on establishing de-escalation zones in Syria,” 2017 May 4.

1. “Senior Catholic patriarch joins Palestinian hunger strikers,” 2017 May 7.
“Palestinian prisoners enter 20th day of mass hunger strike,” 2017 May 6. “Meanwhile, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Gregory III Laham declared a solidarity hunger strike for Saturday in support of the prisoners.”
2. “Pope Francis accepts Patriarch Laham’s resignation,” 2017 May 6.
3. “Pope Francis accepts resignation of Greek Melkite Patriarch,” 2017 May 6.
“Resignation of Melkite Patriarch Gregory III,” 2017 May 6.
4. “Catholic Patriarch stages sympathy hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinians,” 2017 May 7. “The Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and Alexandria and al-Quds (Jerusalem) went on a one-day hung strike on Saturday in solidarity with over 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, who have staged an open-ended hunger strike in Israeli jails in protest at the administrative detention policy and harsh prison conditions.”
“Palestinian hunger strikers seek world’s intervention three weeks into strike,” 2017 May 6. “Meanwhile, former Lebanese Prime Minister Salim Hoss and Gregory III Laham, patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, announced separately they would stage a one-day sympathy hunger strike.”
5. “Israeli contemplates bringing doctors to force-feed Palestinian strikers,” 2017 May 5.
“Israeli doctors forced to find replacement physicians to carry out forced feeding,” 2017 May 6.
“Israel ‘considers drafting foreign doctors’ to force-feed Palestinian hunger strikers,” 2017 May 5.
“Israel seeks to circumvent doctors who refuse to force-feed hunger strikers,” 2017 May 6.
“Israel said considering bringing foreign doctors to force feed hunger strikers,” 2017 May 4.

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