A group of Catholic bishops from throughout Europe, North America and South Africa have called on their governments to insist on the application of international law in Israel and Palestine.
The plea by 34 bishops of the Holy Land Coordination, followed their five-day visit to the region this week. Based in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, the religious leaders toured key locations in Jerusalem and expressed support for the local church in promoting dialogue and peace.
They added that they had also been inspired by the enduring resilience of the people they met in Gaza, East Jerusalem and Ramallah despite the worsening situation.
Jamal Khader, pastor of the host Latin Church in Ramallah, told Arab News that the choice of Ramallah for their residency was excellent because they had the chance to meet the local community.
“The bishops were extremely moved by their visit to the Comboni Missionary Sisters outside of Jerusalem. The convent was divided in half as the Israeli-built wall divided their community and made it impossible for many to reach the school and nursery that is part of their mission.”
The bishops also met with PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi and Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amer in addition to the visit to Jerusalem with the leader of the Catholic church.
Fr. Ibrahim Shomali, secretary of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Arab News that the visit and the final communique had been well received. “We welcome the visit of the Catholic bishops and we applaud their statement that calls on their governments to follow the position of the Holy See and recognize Palestine.”
However, Shomali feared many governments would not listen. “While the visit is very positive and we hope that the church’s voice will be heard, we are not sure that this will happen because many of the Western governments are not listening to the voice of peace and justice.”
Kamal Shamshoom, a member of the Ramallah Latin, said the bishops, many of whom had visited the area before, had “a good idea of the situation” and made a strong communique. “While we welcome such visits, it is important to note that we don’t want just sympathy, we need action that is effective.”
Shamshoom, who is also an elected member of the Ramallah city council, added that the church leaders must use their moral authority with their political leaders. “They are bishops and it means something if they decide to do something concrete. What I would like is for them to talk to their leaders like bishops and make a strong intervention for peace and justice.”
The final communique of the bishops spoke about the importance “of the application of international law” and the need to “follow the Holy See’s lead in recognizing the state of Palestine; addressing the security concerns of Israel and the right of all to live in safety; rejecting political or economic support for settlements and resolutely opposing acts of violence or abuses of human rights by any side.”
The local bishops also warned that people were facing further “evaporation of hope for a durable solution. We have witnessed this reality first
hand, particularly how the construction of settlements and the separation wall is destroying any prospect of two states existing in peace.”
In the same message, the local bishops sounded the alarm about living conditions becoming “more and more unbearable. This is painfully clear in the West Bank where our sisters and brothers are denied even basic rights including freedom of movement.”
In Gaza, the bishops noted that the “political decisions of all sides have resulted in the creation of an open-air prison, human rights abuses, and a profound humanitarian crisis.”
They said they were welcomed by families “whose focus is now day-to-day survival and whose aspirations have been reduced to bare essentials such as electricity and clean water.”
The bishops added that they “encourage Christians in our own countries to pray for and support this mission. The increase in people making pilgrimages to the Holy Land is encouraging and we call for those who come to ensure they encounter the local communities.”
In their conclusion, the bishops said that they would continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.