Bishops visiting Holy Land: Christians must oppose Israeli settlements

IMAGE: CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales


JERUSALEM (CNS) — Christians have a responsibility to
oppose the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, said
bishops from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

“This de facto annexation of land not only undermines
the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as
the U.N. recently recognized, also imperils the chance of peace,” said
bishops who participated in the Holy Land Coordination Jan. 14-19.

“So many people in the Holy Land have spent their
entire lives under occupation, with its polarizing social segregation, yet
still profess hope and strive for reconciliation. Now, more than ever, they deserve
our solidarity,” said the statement, issued Jan. 19, at the end of the

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of
the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, was among the
12 bishops who signed the statement. Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil,
Quebec, represented Canadian bishops. The statement also was signed by representatives
of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, the Commission of the Bishops’
Conferences of the European Community and the Southern African Catholic
Bishops’ Conference, as well as bishops from the United Kingdom and other European countries.

During their visit, the bishops visited Hebron, West Bank, where
the main market area is closed off to accommodate the security needs of some
800 Israeli settlers. Afterward, Bishop Cantu told Catholic News Service, “It
becomes clearer that (the settlements) are not just about outlying settlements
but something more systematic; more about infiltrating Palestinian land and
forcing Palestinians out by making them so uncomfortable with such limited
freedom they don’t want to continue living there.”

Three of the bishops also visited the Gaza Strip, where an
Israeli blockade has made it difficult to get supplies for reconstruction of buildings
destroyed by Israeli shelling. Bishop William Nolan of Galloway, Scotland, one
of the bishops who visited Gaza, said he left feeling “sad and
helpless” at the poverty and lack of basic commodities.

In 2006, a government led by Hamas was elected in Gaza. Israel,
the United States and the European Union have listed Hamas — an Islamic political party with an armed wing — as a terrorist
organization and have imposed economic sanctions against Gaza.

In their statement, the bishops said Christians had a
responsibility to help “the people of Gaza, who continue to live amid a
man-made humanitarian catastrophe. They have now spent a decade under blockade,
compounded by a political impasse caused by ill-will on all sides.”

They also said Christians must continue to encourage
nonviolent resistance, as encouraged by Pope Francis.

“This is particularly necessary in the face of
injustices such as the continued construction of the separation wall on
Palestinian land, including the Cremisan Valley,” the statement said.

The barrier is a series of cement slabs, barbed wire fences
and security roads snaking across part of the West Bank. If completed as planned, the
separation wall would stretch nearly 400 miles and restrict the movements of 38
percent of residents of the West Bank. Israel maintains that the barrier contributed significantly to a decrease in the number of
terrorist attacks, while Palestinians contend that the barrier is simply
another Israeli land grab, imprisons them and imposes travel limitations.

The bishops said that each year since 1998, they have called
for justice and peace, “yet the suffering continues.”

“So this call must get louder,” their statement
said. “As bishops, we implore Christians in our home countries to recognize
our own responsibility for prayer, awareness and action.”

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