Over the past two and one-half years the Holy Land has suffered the worst violence in more than a decade. The new intifada and the resurgence of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks against civilians, and an often harsh Israeli response have resulted in thousands killed and injured, the majority Palestinians, and a terrible humanitarian crisis. With moderates marginalized on both sides, prospects for peace are as dim as they have been for many years. Meanwhile, the dwindling Christian community feels increasingly isolated and some Christians are emigrating.
Violence, Human rights, and the Humanitarian Crisis
- The escalating cycle of provocations, terrorist attacks, excessive force, assassinations, reprisals, destruction of homes, curfews and closures, only compound injustice and inflame hatred and fear.
- Palestinian leaders must clearly renounce violence and terrorism, take effective steps to stop them, and bring to justice those responsible. Lifting up suicide bombers as "martyrs" is particularly reprehensible.
- The Israeli government"s often aggressive military response; its virtual destruction of the Palestinian Authority, civil society, and civilian infrastructure; its blockades of Palestinian areas, and strict limits on humanitarian access; and its continued establishment and expansion of settlements only increase the misery that breeds terrorism and strengthen the opponents of peace.
- Revival of the peace process, despite the many obstacles, is the only realistic way forward. As Pope John Paul said, "the solution will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution" (Address to Diplomatic Corps, 1/13/03). The peace process must be based on "a return to the negotiating table on an equal footing, with due respect for international law ....[A]ll individuals [must] see their fundamental rights guaranteed: both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are equally entitled to live in their own homeland in dignity and security" (Pope John Paul II, 11/6/00).
- A just peace demands an end to the violence, real security for the State of Israel, an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the establishment of an internationally-recognized and viable state for Palestinians, just resolution of the refugee problem, an agreement on Jerusalem which protects religious freedom and other basic rights, an equitable sharing of resources, especially water, and implementation of relevant UN resolutions and other provisions of international law.
- Jerusalem is perhaps the most intractable of the issues in the peace process. During his visit to the Holy Land, Pope John Paul II called on Jerusalem to be "a City of Peace for all peoples" (3/23/00). The Holy See believes the difficult issues of territory and sovereignty should be resolved by negotiations. It also has repeatedly urged "an internationally guaranteed statute for the most religious parts of this unique city" (Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, 3/9/99). Such a statute would provide guarantees for equality of rights for all residents, freedom of religion for all, and free access to and protection of the Holy Places.
- A comprehensive Middle East peace must address the situation in Lebanon as well. The withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000 was a welcome development. It is gravely troubling, however, that, a decade after the end of the civil war, Lebanon is not yet a fully sovereign state due to the Syrian presence. The U.S. should work energetically for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon, and for respect for its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence.
In the pursuit of a just peace for all in the region, the Christian presence in the Holy Land must not be forgotten. The Christian communities of the Holy Land give witness to the Gospel in the Land of Jesus. Three hundred thousand Christians live in the Holy Land (Israel, Palestine and Jordan). The continuing violence and growing despair about the future risks further marginalizing the Christian community and accelerating the departure of Christians from the Holy Land.
- In recent months, the Israeli government has been denying visas and residency permits to priests and other church workers, as well as relief and development personnel. Some government officials have also been increasingly open in their public efforts to discredit and harass Church leaders. Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah has been dismissively referred to as "the Islamic Patriarch," the Greek Patriarch has not been recognized by the government, and church leaders have faced difficulties when traveling abroad.
- The USCCB and other episcopal conferences have been coordinating efforts to strengthen bonds of solidarity with the Church in the Holy Land during the present crisis. An appeal was sent to all dioceses in August 2002 urging support for the major national organizations that are providing support for the Church"s humanitarian, development, educational and pastoral programs. Dioceses and parishes are also encouraged to establish twinning relationships with counterparts in the Holy Land.
- Visas. Urge your Member of Congress and Jewish leaders to press the Israeli government to end the denial of visas and work permits to clergy, other church workers, and personnel of relief and development agencies, such as Catholic Relief Services. Insist on an end to harassment of Church leaders such as Latin Patriarch Sabbah.
- Interfaith efforts. Consider reaching out to Muslim and Jewish communities to discuss areas of common ground as well as areas of disagreement
- U.S. Policy. The U.S. should renew efforts to stop the violence and to revive the peace process in a way that is truly balanced, that does not acquiesce in unilateral actions, such as the expansion of settlements, which undermine prospects for reviving negotiations, and that responds with respect to the legitimate claims and expectations of both parties.
Statement of USCCB Administrative Committee (3/02); USCCB, "Resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis" (6/01); USCCB, "The Path to Peace in the Middle East" (11/00); Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, "The Holy See and the Middle East" (3/99); Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, "The Future of Jerusalem" (11/98). For additional materials, see www.usccb.org/sdwp.
Information: Fr. Drew Christiansen, S.J., Gerard Powers, 202-541-3160 (p); 541-3339 (f); email@example.com