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.
Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, represented Canadian
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.
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
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.”