By Cian Molloy - 23 January, 2017
“It is our faith in God that gives us hope. It is the witness of Christians in the Holy Land and especially the young people we met that inspires us.”
Christians across the world have a responsibility to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to work to bring peace to the Middle East, according to an international group of bishops who recently visited the Holy Land.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza has continued for 50 years now, but the members of the Holy Land Coordination (HLC), which has been visiting Israel and Palestine regularly since 1998, says: “This is a scandal to which we must never become accustomed.”
The coordination group visiting the Holy Land last week comprised 12 Catholic and Anglican bishops from England and Wales, Scotland, Germany, the United States, France, Canada, Germany and Italy. No Irish bishop took part in this year’s visit because, this month, the Irish hierarchy were all in Rome on their ad limina pilgrimage to Rome and the tomb of St Peter.
The final report of the HLC visit, delivered by Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, chairman of the coordination, was very much a call for action. “We all have a responsibility to oppose the construction of [Israeli] settlements,” he said. “This de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the UN recently recognised, also imperils the chance of peace.
“We all have a responsibility to provide assistance for the people of Gaza, who continue to live amid a man-made humanitarian catastrophe. They have now spent a decade under blockade, compounded by a political impasse caused by ill-will on all sides.
“We all have a responsibility to encourage non-violent resistance which, as Pope Francis reminds us, has achieved great changes across the world. This is particularly necessary in the face of injustices such as the continued construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land.
“We all have a responsibility to promote a two-state solution. The Holy See has emphasised that ‘if Israel and Palestine do not agree to exist side by side, reconciled and sovereign within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders, peace will remain a distant dream and security an illusion’.”
The HLC bishops’ statement finished by saying: “We all have a responsibility to help the local Church, its agencies, volunteers and NGOs. In the most testing circumstances they show great resilience and carry out life-changing work. It is our faith in God that gives us hope. It is the witness of Christians in the Holy Land and especially the young people we met that inspires us.”
In a separate development, the Palestinian Authority inaugurated an embassy to the Holy See in Rome earlier this month. This was “a very positive event,” said Bishop Lang in a Vatican Radio interview. “This embassy gives Palestinians a standing that they are not used to and it gives them a recognition that they have a cause that is just.”
At the opening of the embassy, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was critical of plans by President Donald Trump to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a move would be seen as giving approval to Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem fifty years ago and would, said Mr Abbas, “hurt the peace process”.