March 12, 2006

Profiles in Subversion


“Bishop” Arafat

The PLO’s Alliance with the Moscow Church

Any observer who believed the Soviet Union to be “dead,” the Moscow Church to be Christian, and the PLO to be Muslim faced a rude awakening when all three recently joined forces to battle anti-Communists.

From the beginning, Communist repression and control of the Orthodox Church inside Russia left too many loose ends. During the 1920s, the legitimate church leadership fled the country and maintained continuity as the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), also known as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), remaining an ever-present public challenge to the Moscow Patriarchate’s image of legitimacy. Any attempt to silence ROCA would only invite broad opposition in the outside world, and thus the Soviets were limited to establishing parallel churches under their control in non-Communist countries. Many Russian Orthodox communities in the United States and elsewhere have long hosted Moscow-aligned churches near ROCA ones, often just around the corner from one another.1

The renewal of Soviet Communism in 1991, portrayed in the West as a “collapse,” changed the equation, allowing the possibility of quietly re-absorbing ROCA into the Moscow Church. But as it became clear that the anti-Communist ROCA leaders were aware of the ongoing KGB/FSB secret police control over the Moscow organization and refused to play along, the Soviet Russian regime began moving more aggressively.

Exploiting the new, more friendly relations with foreign governments, the Moscow Patriarchate raised legal challenges in Western courts in an attempt to seize church property from the uncooperative ROCA. Arguing that all Russian Orthodox Church properties rightfully belonged only to the “official” Patriarchate, Moscow’s lawyers moved against ROCA churches in Bari, Italy; Ottowa, Canada; Copenhagen, Denmark; Geneva Switzerland; and throughout Germany.2

And, once the Oslo Accords allowed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to take over parts of Israel, in the PLO-occupied territories as well — where the KGB found greater success with the terrorist organization it had been funding and arming for decades.

As soon as PLO occupation forces arrived in Israel’s West Bank, where some ROCA institutions had long existed, they moved at Soviet Russia’s request. “In 1995 the Palestinian authorities confiscated an orchard and buildings belonging to the Orthodox Palestinian Society (affiliated with ROCOR), and transferred it to the Russian Federation government in Moscow,” protested an official with the Russian Orthodox Church in the U.S.3

The PLO’s Palestinian Authority (PA) dispensed with legal formalities entirely, hesitating only in reaction to possible negative publicity. By 1997, Patriarch Alexei II, head of the Moscow Church — and an active agent of the KGB — officially asked PLO head Yassir Arafat to seize the remaining ROCA properties. Arafat wasted no time, and on July 5, 1997, a number of heavily armed PLO troops descended on the 130-year-old Monastery of Abraham’s Oak on Hebron. When the monks and nuns refused to vacate the property, the PLO soldiers broke through the doors, physically assaulting the residents and dragging them out into the street.4 Eyewitnesses recount cursing and beating by the PLO troops, who injured the monastery’s Abbess and other monks and nuns, some so severely they required hospitalization.5

The Hebron property was immediately handed over to the Moscow Church, but the ensuing controversy delayed the PLO from continuing the seizures for nearly three years. Then, on January 15, 2000, Arafat sent armed troops to the ROCOR monastery in Jericho, where they gave the monks 30 minutes to leave. The PLO forces did not even bother with judicial procedures, carrying no document of legal authority for their action. Yet, while two members of the Russian Consulate watched, the monks were violently assaulted and physically dragged out of the facility at 10:00 am.6 During the chaos, two American nuns managed to slip inside. The Moscow representatives began dragging them out, but U.S. diplomatic intervention protected the nuns and allowed them to reside in the chapel for 75 days, even while 20 PLO troops and one Moscow cleric maintained control of the Jericho Gardens Monastery compound.7

Reaction in U.S. Congress brought an official condemnation of the Jericho seizure, but ultimately that church property also landed in Moscow’s hands.8 Two years later, the Moscow Patriarchate returned the favor during the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, when 200 PLO terrorists captured the church and held the monks hostage; Moscow’s Alexei II officially protested the use of nearby church property by Israeli troops who were fighting to free the occupied church, while completely ignoring the PLO occupation of the church itself.9

That same Alexei II has proven equally friendly with Arafat’s successor, new PLO head Mahmoud Abbas. During a visit to his Communist supervisors in Moscow, Abbas met with Alexei II, who thanked him for the Hebron and Jericho property seizures and promised the Moscow Church’s full support for the PLO struggle against Israel.10

References

1. Goldvug, N., “The politics of spirituality,” The Birch Online, www.thebirchonline.org, Spring 2005.

2. Budzilovitch, P.N., Report at the Sobor of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), www.monasterypress.com, Oct. 20, 2000 (meeting held in New York).

3. Kizenko, S., Letter to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, www.orthodox.net, undated (early 2000).

4. Kessel, J., “Russian Orthodox strife brings change in Hebron,” CNN Interactive/World News, www.cnn.com, July 9, 1997; Goldvug, N., Op cit.

5. Israeli Government Press Office, “Assaults on holy sites by the PA violates the Oslo Accords,” Likud of Holland, www.likud.nl, undated; “Russian nuns say they were beaten,” Associated Press, July 9, 1997, cited on United Jerusalem, www.unitedjerusalem.com; illustrations drawn by an eyewitness, presented to Monastery Press, www.monasterypress.com, downloaded Dec. 18, 2002 (but apparently no longer avaiable on the site).

6. Goldvug, N., Op cit.; “U.S. nuns land in middle of Russian church dispute,” CNN, Jan. 19, 2000, cited on United Jerusalem, www.unitedjerusalem.com; George, I., “More news about Jericho,” Redeeming the Time, www.orthodox.net, Jan. 16, 2000.

7. “U.S. nuns land in middle of Russian church dispute,” Op cit.; George, I., Op cit.; “American nun lobbies for contested convents,” Christian Century, Aug. 2, 2000, published on LookSmart Find Articles, www.findarticles.com.

8. Goldvug, N., Op cit.; Philipps, J., “Boehlert introduces resolution on Russian Orthodox Church,” press release from the office of Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), www.house.gov, March 22, 2000.

9. “Peers plead for peace and justice,” Anglican Journal, World, www.anglicaljournal.com, May 2002.

10. “Peace begins in the Holy Land, Russian patriarch tells palestinian president,” AsiaNews, Moscow, www.asianews.it, Feb. 1, 2005.