Statement On The Desperate Situation In The Holy Land

Statement On The Desperate Situation In The Holy Land

1 The Bishops’ Conference wishes to endorse and affirm Pope John Paul’s urgent appeal to the entire Church for prayer for those populations now being “lacerated” by violence and suffering “an unstoppable tide of human brutality”. We also reiterate the recent public statement of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor in the face of events that “appal the mind and heart”: and we join with an appeal from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem that the international community “come to the rescue of all our peoples”.

2 The recent murderous attacks mounted from the Palestinian territories against innocent Israeli civilians, such as the one at a Passover supper, cannot be tolerated: they are moral outrages, both in their indiscriminate targeting of the civilian population, and in their effects. They betray the legitimate claims of the Palestinian people, and they inevitably erode aspirations for a just peace among Israeli leaders and the general public.

3 Recent days have also seen a renewed onslaught on the Palestinian territories, with indiscriminate and grossly excessive use of force in civilian areas and refugee camps. Scores of people, many of them unarmed, have been killed. Entire sectors of the population have been arrested. There has been seemingly systematic destruction of water-pipes and domestic water-tanks, of countless houses, and of roads and electricity-supplies. There have been attacks on churches, other religious buildings, educational institutions and public buildings, so that normal life has been paralysed, and people brought to the brink of destitution. 

4 Public authorities have the right and duty to defend their people: indeed, advocates of each side invariably speak of their actions as “responses”.  Nevertheless, the invasions of the Israeli forces into the Palestinian towns go far beyond the limits of self-defence, and even beyond the attempt to arrest or kill known militants.  The invasions themselves escalate the levels of violence, so undermining any prospects of a peaceful resolution of the conflict, especially since their massively destructive force seems intended to crush all Palestinian institutions and to block the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.

5 Nor can violence be ended, or a just peace and reconciliation achieved, until the root of the present conflict is adequately addressed: namely the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories in defiance of the relevant Security Council resolutions, UNSC 242 of 1967 and UNSC 338 of 1973. 

6 We are encouraged to note that the international community is now seeking urgently to influence the conflicting parties.  In particular, two recent resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, UNSC 1397 and 1402, rightly call on all concerned to ensure the safety of civilians and to respect the universally accepted norms of international humanitarian law: they also call on outside leaders to do all that they can to assist the parties to bring about a halt to violence and a resumption of the peace process.  In this connection, too, we commend the courageous witness of the international peace observers.

7 Criticism of the actions of the Israeli Government or military neither constitutes anti-Semitism nor warrants anti-Semitism in any of its forms.  In fact one tragic element of the situation in the Holy Land is its possible impact on the profound spiritual bonds uniting Jews, Muslims and Christians. The relationship with Judaism is intrinsic to the mystery of the Church; and the Church is constantly seeking to engage theologically and spiritually with both Jews and Muslims.

8 We offer our prayers to all those whose lives have been shattered by this terrible conflict, and will strive to express our solidarity with the Christian communities of the Holy Land, the ‘Mother Church’, in practical form.

11 April 2002