Patriarch Warns Ban Will Feed Extremism
The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem is reporting frustration of the people in the Gaza Strip over an Israeli embargo that is preventing them from receiving reconstruction materials.
Archbishop Fouad Twal stated this in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need while in Rome for a meeting with organizations working in the Holy Land.
The prelate stated that months after the violence and bombing that took place after Christmas, the people of Gaza still have not been able to rebuild.
Israel banned the supply of cement, glass, iron and other building supplies, he explained, which has had a “disastrous impact.”
The archbishop noted that tens of thousands lost their homes and businesses in the 22 days of conflict, which destroyed some 22,000 buildings amounting to $1.9 billion of damage.
He reported: “The impact of this on the people is terrible. They are so tired. They just want to live in peace.
“Besides all the frustration they feel, they have no confidence in anybody.”
The prelate affirmed that Israel put the ban in place out of fear that armaments would be smuggled in by Hamas, an Islamic paramilitary movement.
The archbishop continued: “The Israeli authorities think that making the people suffer will weaken Hamas but it’s completely the opposite.
“Hamas are able to get the materials through secret tunnels [linking Gaza to Egypt]. It’s the people who suffer.”
He affirmed that this “makes people less likely to support Mahmoud Abbas,” president of the Palestinian National Authority, and other moderates, and “more likely to support extremists like Hamas.”
The prelate described his impressions of recent visits to Gaza, in which he saw “donkeys acting as taxis” pulling people in carts or carrying supplies through the bombed streets.
At least, he said, aid agencies have been allowed to send food, clothing, blankets and medicine to the people.
“We are very grateful for all the help from people in West,” he affirmed. “What they have done is so important to help get the people through these very sad times.”
Archbishop Twal asserted that what the people want most of all is peace, to “live like normal people.” He asked for prayers, stating, “We don’t need any more martyrs.”
The violence has impacted the young people in a particular way, he said, and many of them need trauma relief but are unable to get help.
The conflict left some 1,300 from Gaza dead, a third of which were children.
The prelate expressed the certainty that the Israeli authorities “are well aware of what is going on in Gaza,” and that if they “continue to follow this policy they will never win peace.”
He continued: “As long as they rely on armies and intimidation and don’t follow the international laws, they will never win any kind of real peace.
“What is needed instead is to break down the walls of hatred inside people’s hearts and help them to find other ways to solve their differences.”
Benedict XVI’s May pilgrimage to the Holy Land was a sign of hope, the archbishop affirmed.
He also lauded U.S. President Barack Obama’s June 4 statement in Cairo, Egypt about the need to recognize Palestine as a state in its own right.
The prelate added, however, that Obama’s words about a “two-state solution in the Holy Land” were unclear.
He continued: “What type of state does he mean? That needs to be clarified before we can go very much further.”