My guest tonight is a Palestinian Arab. On one occasion when he was stopped at a checkpoint and asked if he was carrying a weapon, he answered “Yes”. He was then ordered by tense Israeli soldiers to move to a safe distance and take the weapon out of his suitcase. With Israeli guns trained on him, he slowly removed a Bible. “This is the only weapon I have ever carried”, he said, “and it’s the only weapon I need.”
He was, and is, Riah Abu El-Assal, who, on 6th January 1998, was consecrated to serve a nine-year term as the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem – a Diocese which includes Syria, Lebanon and Jordan as well as Israel/Palestine.
Bishop Riah was born in Nazareth. He was 12 when the Zionist state of Israel came into being. At the time he was on holiday in Lebanon with his family. Overnight the family became refugees, and it took his father 10 years to obtain permission for the family to return to their home in Nazareth. Most of the other 800,000 Palestinians who were dispossessed of their land and their rights were not so fortunate.
Bishop Riah is a man who speaks his mind. And that made him an enemy so far as Israel’s military, political and security establishments were, and are, concerned. Even as the Bishop of Jerusalem he was subjected to travel bans and humiliation at checkpoints.