“The Current Cycle of Violence and Repression … Is Unacceptable”
WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 3, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. Catholic bishops in a letter have urged President George W. Bush to continue to give the Israeli-Palestinian peace process “the highest priority.”
The letter, signed by Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the episcopal conference, was delivered to the White House on Friday. The letter follows.
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Dear Mr. President:
I commend you for your vital efforts to advance the road map for peace in the Middle East and for your decision to involve yourself personally in this important peace process. The elements of the road map and the international commitment it represents offer a new opportunity to break the recurrent cycle of violence and bring about, within a short period of time, a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would create an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state while ensuring Israel’s peace and security.
The Catholic community in the United States has strong ties to our Jewish brothers and sisters. We strongly support the survival and security of Israel. As part of a universal Church, we also have strong ties to Christians in the Holy Land, many of whom are Palestinian. Moreover, through Catholic Relief Services and other aid programs, we are responding to the dire needs of Palestinians of all faiths. We strongly support their legitimate aspirations for an independent, viable state where they can live in dignity and security. These strong ties to both communities lead us to welcome and encourage your efforts to help both Israelis and Palestinians do what must be done to walk the path of peace. Our prayers and hopes go with you as you journey to the Middle East to advance the cause of peace.
Every effort must be made to ensure that this initiative succeeds. The current cycle of violence and repression, suicide bombings and aggressive responses is unacceptable. Palestinian attacks on innocent civilians cannot be tolerated — both because they are morally abhorrent and because they undermine the legitimate claims of the Palestinian people. Israeli occupation cannot be sustained — militarily or morally; nor can the indiscriminate and excessive use of force in civilian areas be justified.
The elements of the road map recognize that each side in this conflict has deep, long-standing and legitimate grievances that must be addressed if there is to be a just and lasting peace. Palestinians rightly insist on an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the continued establishment and expansion of settlements, and actions, such as the construction of a security wall, that create “facts on the ground” that further complicate efforts to find peace. Palestinians see this occupation, maintained by force and marked by closures, deprivation, abuse and violence, as a central underlying cause of the present crisis. Israelis rightly see the failure of some Palestinians to demonstrate full respect for Israel’s right to exist and flourish within secure borders as a fundamental cause of the conflict.
Palestinian leaders must clearly and unequivocally renounce and take effective steps to halt terrorist violence against innocent civilians, and must show the Israeli people that they are fully committed to prepare their people to live in peace with Israel. In short, both Palestinians and Israelis need to cultivate new attitudes of mutual understanding and mutual respect, which, in the end, are the only long-term bases for peace.
Given these legitimate grievances, the road map outlines the elements of a just and lasting peace: real security for the State of Israel, a viable state for Palestinians, just resolution of the refugee problem, an agreement on Jerusalem which protects religious freedom and other basic rights, and implementation of relevant UN resolutions and other provisions of international law. It also rightly recognizes the importance of rapid progress on alleviating the serious humanitarian and economic crisis in the Palestinian areas, and the need to build up a vibrant civil society.
The Israelis and Palestinians need strong international support to achieve a just peace. The United States, working in collaboration with the Quartet and others, has a special responsibility to provide leadership. For that reason, your direct and sustained involvement is most welcome and necessary. I support your own efforts and those of your administration to continue to give the peace process the highest priority in order to ensure that Israel and the Palestinians each move forward on the path to peace without delay. This is not only in their interest, but in the interest of the United States and the entire international community.
We are especially concerned that every effort is made to resist extremists on both sides who use religion to justify violence and terrorism or to justify opposition to negotiation and compromise, especially over territory. Those involved in this process cannot permit extremists in either community to undermine or destroy prospects for a just peace through unjustified terrorist violence or the denial of legitimate aspirations to live in their own homeland in dignity and peace.
God, the Father of all, the God of Abraham, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, created us as one human family. God calls us to be at peace with one another, a peace in which no one people dominates over others and all can live undisturbed in dignity. Today, the Holy Land, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is destined to be shared by two peoples and three faiths. The elements of the road map seek to move the parties toward realizing that common destiny.
Please be assured of our prayers as you use your position of leadership and the special role that our government must play to help bring about a just peace in the Holy Land.
Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville