Catholic News Service
While Israel has a right to protect its citizens, the security barrier separating Israel from the Palestinian territories and checkpoints along the barrier raise human rights concerns, said a U.S. cardinal.
“The most tragic thing I have seen is the miles-long wall that separates Jerusalem from Bethlehem and separates families and keeps farmers from the land that has been in their families for generations. It is humiliating and distressing,” Cardinal John P. Foley, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, told participants at the 11th international conference of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation Oct. 24.
“I appreciate the Israeli government’s concern for security” and respect it, he said. “But many of these measures raise serious human rights issues that they refuse to acknowledge and address.”
The wall the cardinal referenced is a series of barbed-wire fences, security roads and looming cement slabs that, if completed as planned, would stretch 400 miles through the West Bank and restrict the movement of 38 percent of the residents of the West Bank.
Cardinal Foley said the barrier already limits many Palestinians, who cannot find work or keep their jobs because they are never sure they will be allowed through the checkpoints or how long they will have to wait to get through them.
It also affects students, “eager to learn, who are unable to get to school regularly,” because they are unable to cross the barrier, he said.
“I visited the Catholic seminary over the Christmas holidays last year and was both saddened and inspired by the many seminarians who had not gone home because they were afraid that they would not be allowed to cross over the border between Jordan and Israel or through the (barrier’s) checkpoints and get back to the seminary,” Cardinal Foley said.
He said since Israel was established as a Jewish state in 1948 the Christian population in Israel has decreased “from 18 percent to less than 2 percent.”
“This is a result of both significant immigration of Jews to Israel and the great increase among Muslims and, at the same time, an exodus of Christians from there,” he said. Christians and Muslims are often the oppressed groups in the area, Cardinal Foley said.
“We believe that Jews, Christians and Muslims — all of whom place high importance (on) Jerusalem and, indeed, all of Israel … can and should live together in peace,” Cardinal Foley said.
The cardinal was the keynote speaker at the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation conference and received the Living Stones Solidarity Award, which honors those who have made “a sustained and extraordinary effort to love, support and stand in solidarity with the Christians in the Holy Land.”
Other award recipients were Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States; Samir Abu-Ghazaleh, a member of the foundation’s advisory board; and Mary E. Beahn, a foundation volunteer from Derwood, Md.
The conference was held at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center and included discussions of current developments in the quest for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how faith can be effective in resolving conflict.