The bishops are clearly and justifiably frustrated at the stalled peace process and how that standstill continues to inflict hardship on everyone in the region. Photo courtesy of Eoghan Rice, Trocaire via Flickr [https://flic.kr/p/d9PA9D]

Editorial: Bishops' opposition to Israeli settlements is a cry for peace

By 
  • January 26, 2017

Early each year bishops from North America and Europe join bishops from the Holy Land on an information tour of those sacred but troubled lands. The visit this January had added significance because 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War and the start of the ongoing occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

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.

Comments (1)

Re: Editorial: Bishops' opposition to Israeli settlements is a cry for peace. January 26, 2017

In a recent letter to the editor, I objected to ongoing hierarchical stonewalling of laity who approach the diocesan doors with concerns about various...

Re: Editorial: Bishops' opposition to Israeli settlements is a cry for peace. January 26, 2017

In a recent letter to the editor, I objected to ongoing hierarchical stonewalling of laity who approach the diocesan doors with concerns about various forms of abuse. I thank "The Register" for printing that letter....which was meant to explain emptying pews; a plea for listening in diocesan offices. It needed to be said, and heard.

The January 26, 2017 editorial on the "Bishops in the Holy Land" is a wonderful reminder of the Catholic Church I admire. These bishops did us proud by taking this tour and speaking truths to power. Truths which many do not want to hear. Truths which mainstream media do not tell out of fear of being labelled.

I walked those streets of Hebron with peacemakers: amidst a mixed team of Christian and Jewish believers. I saw ten year old boys being bullied by Israeli troops at checkpoints with guns stuck in their bellies. I watched a series of these incidents; their crime was simply being there. (Hebron, by the way, is in Palestine, AKA West Bank, not Israel. What right do Israeli troops have to be here? None.)

I, too, visited Daoud Nassar and The Tent of Nations. I joined them in singing "We shall Overcome",and prayed with other visitors and followers in their cave chapel. I, too, took a picture of the sign at the gate of their land: "We refuse to be enemies'....a belief, in spite of continuous road blocks and harassment from local 'settlers'.

Our bishops' story is rarely told in mainstream press. Many Holy Land tours and pilgrimages conveniently miss these places; miss the ongoing aggression, the evictions; miss the explanation of differently coloured licence plates, miss the ad-hoc checkpoints, even miss the correct name of the country they are in. Most visitors seem to believe that it's all Israel below their feet.

Again, a huge "Thank you" to a group of exemplary bishops who witnessed the inconvenient truths! I would readily join them in arranging another peacemaking and fact-finding tour. The truth will eventually set us free.

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