April 11, 2003
St. Ives Society gives voice to Palestinian Christians in need

But they're not alone in their quest for legal justice. The Catholic Church founded the Society of St. Ives in 1991 to represent them in the Israeli court system.

Named for the patron saint of European lawyers, the society depends on a small staff of lawyers and paralegals, both in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. They help Christians with their concerns over health insurance, family benefits and property rights without charging for services.

St. Ives staff members say they've had success with resolving the first two problems and have recently detected some progress in the third. The Israeli government's confiscation of Palestinian-owned property for new settlements, mostly in the West Bank area, however, continues to drive a wedge in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Some problems are more easily resolved than others. A Palestinian Christian, for example, may need a translation of an official government letter written in Hebrew telling him about the status of his health insurance.

Others, however, particularly the government's confiscation of Palestinians' land, are more difficult to work out.



PALESTINIANS' HOPE - Three members of the St. Ives Society, financed by the Catholic Church to help Palestinian Christians with their legal needs, look at a document in Hebrew faxed to their office by the Israeli government. The document concerned the society's objections to the confiscation of Palestinian-owned land for a Jewish settlement. From left are lawyer Bill Docherty, office director Joseph Schwartz and paralegal Raffoul Rofa.
Palestine's Christians have no citizenship and often have to jump through hoops to claim the Israeli government's assistance to which they're entitled


But they're not alone in their quest for legal justice. The Catholic Church founded the Society of St. Ives in 1991 to represent them in the Israeli court system.

Named for the patron saint of European lawyers, the society depends on a small staff of lawyers and paralegals, both in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. They help Christians with their concerns over health insurance, family benefits and property rights without charging for services.

St. Ives staff members say they've had success with resolving the first two problems and have recently detected some progress in the third. The Israeli government's confiscation of Palestinian-owned property for new settlements, mostly in the West Bank area, however, continues to drive a wedge in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Some problems are more easily resolved than others. A Palestinian Christian, for example, may need a translation of an official government letter written in Hebrew telling him about the status of his health insurance.

Others, however, particularly the government's confiscation of Palestinians' land, are more difficult to work out.

Raffoul Rofa, a paralegal for the society who is studying to pass the Israeli bar exam - Palestinian lawyers in Israel are few, he said - noted that the society's aim is the Christian ideal of seeking justice for those unable to procure it for themselves.

"Every success we achieve is a blessing," Rofa said. "The joy all of us feel is tremendous."

Bill Docherty, a Catholic lawyer from Australia on the St. Ives staff, believes that the society, as a third party, could play an important part in the resolution of problems between the Israeli government and its Palestinian citizens, and in disputes between Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

What gives the St. Ives Society perhaps a little extra insight into the workings of the state is that its lead lawyer is Jewish. Joseph Schwartz, who calls himself "a non-Zionist Jew," said he has friends and enemies among both the Israeli and Palestinian camps. He earns much less money in this position than he could elsewhere but added, "Money never interested me."

The St. Ives Society's legal challenges to the government's confiscation of Palestinian property were at first routinely overruled by the country's legal bureaucracy, Schwartz said. But recently, he's detected a change of attitude by the system's lower-court judges, who are newer and younger.

While continuing to rule against St. Ives' protests these lower-court judges at least acknowledge that such protests have a legal footing, though the judges add that they have no way of changing things, Schwartz said.

This bodes well for the future, though Schwartz said he has no hope for the present Israeli bureaucracy overhauling itself.

"The hope is in the (Israeli) people," Schwartz said, adding that he thought eventually, tired of ongoing violence and fear, they would vote in a government that would seek a peaceful solution to the Palestinian situation.

"There are not enough Israelis with my vision. But it's just a matter of time," Schwartz said.