May 19, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Lynda Brayer and the Society of St. Yves in Jerusalem

John F. FinkLet me tell you about one more person I met during the three months I studied in Jerusalem 20 years ago. Lynda Brayer, though, was not connected to the Tantur Ecumenical Institute where I studied. She was a woman who was trying to get justice for the Arabs in Israel, and I wanted to get her story for The Criterion.

I traveled with her one night to take food to Bedouin families who were living on a rocky hill next to a Jerusalem garbage dump after their homes were demolished to make room for an Israeli settlement.

Brayer is Jewish by ethnicity, but a convert to Catholicism. In 1991, she gave up a lucrative law practice and founded the Society of St. Yves under the Latin Catholic Patriarch, who was Michel Sabbah at the time, as a legal resource for the Palestinians.

The society is named for St. Yves, a patron of lawyers. He was a 14th-century French lawyer who gave up a lucrative practice to serve the poor. By the time I met Brayer in 1997, she and a staff of about a dozen (which included Christians, Jews and Muslims) had represented hundreds of Palestinians.

Her first case occurred during the eve of the Second Gulf War in 1991. Fearing a chemical attack by Iraq, the Israeli government issued gas masks to Jewish citizens and West Bank settlers, but not to the Palestinians. The St. Yves Society took the matter to the high court, and won the right for the Palestinians to have gas masks, too.

Brayer soon earned a reputation as a tough lawyer who based many of her defenses on international law, which prohibits occupy­ing forces from demolish­ing homes and destroying agricultural re­sources. She didn’t win many cases, but she was successful at getting work permits or travel permits for clients.

Before I met her, various human rights organizations recognized Brayer for her efforts. At its 1993 convention, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee presented her its Human Rights Award. Catholic magazines such as St. Anthony Messenger and Catholic Near East published articles about her work. And in 1996, The Jerusalem Post devoted half a page to her work.

As for those Bedouin families who were evicted, that case started in 1993 and, although the homes were finally bulldozed, Brayer had been able to delay the violence. The Bedouin had lived on the land for 40 years, but the Israelis wanted the land to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied lands on the West Bank. Thirty-one families lost their homes. They were the last of 3,500 Bedouin evicted from the area.

Today the St. Yves Society continues to advocate on behalf of the Palestinian people in Israel. The Latin Patriarch remains chairman of the society. Its webpage says that its main issues concern Jerusalem residency, child registration, national insurance, freedom of movement, land confiscation, house demolitions, family unification, clergy visas and other legal issues.

Brayer is no longer associated with the society. I suspect that she has retired. Google says that she’s living in Haifa—perhaps with a child or grandchild.

(John Fink’s recent series of columns on Church history is now available in book form from Amazon. It is titled How Could This Church Survive? with the subtitle, It must be more than a human institution.)

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