Perhaps that was why the bishops were uncharacteristically, but understandably, blunt in a post-visit assessment of the failed situation. They denounced the “scandal” of occupation and the “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land and insisted the “call must get louder” for peace and justice.
Or perhaps the bishops were emboldened by a landmark United Nations resolution in December that demanded a halt to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. That resolution passed 14-0 and was adopted when the United States, normally Israel’s staunchest UN ally, declined to block the resolution with its veto, as it had done in the past.
“We all have a responsibility to oppose the construction of settlements,” read the statement signed by 12 bishops, including Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Que., vice president of the Canadian bishops’ conference. “This de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the UN recently recognized, also imperils the chance of peace.”
The bishops are clearly and justifiably frustrated at not just the stalled peace process, but how that standstill continues to inflict hardship on everyone in the region, particularly the Palestinians of Gaza “who continue to live amid a man-made humanitarian catastrophe” due to a decade-long blockade. There is ill will on all sides, the bishops acknowledge, but attempts to build peace are imperilled by Israeli determination to expand settlements.
The bishops don’t say so, but these settlements are a provocation that are illegal under international law. It’s difficult to imagine peace while their construction continues. The bishops rightly oppose them and the UN justifiably demands that Israel stop building them. Yet construction continues.
Excluding those who’ve settled in East Jerusalem (a separate issue altogether), more than 400,000 Israelis now live in some 130 West Bank settlements. They claim the land based on religion and history and, as their numbers grow, they are becoming an ever-expanding obstacle to the peaceful establishment of a Palestinian state. This isn’t the only obstacle — questions about East Jerusalem, terrorism and Palestinian refugees remain unresolved — but these settlements are a daily, visible affront to the legitimate aspirations of those Israelis and Palestinians who long for a negotiated peace.
As the bishops say, the current situation violates the dignity of people on both sides. The call for justice must grow louder.