The New Intifada and the Peace Process
After making substantial progress toward a political settlement, in the past eighteen months, the Holy Land has suffered the worst violence in more than a decade. The new intifada and the resurgence of terrorist attacks against civilians, and an often aggressive and counter-productive Israeli response has resulted in hundreds killed and thousands injured. Prospects for peace are as dim as they have been for many years. Christians have been emigrating in significant numbers.
The bishops have issued numerous statements and letters in recent years, and particularly in the past two years, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most important recent statements were issued by the full body of bishops at their General Meetings in November 2000 and June 2001.
Human rights and violence
- The escalating cycle of provocations, terrorist attacks, excessive force, assassinations, reprisals, destruction of homes, and closures only compound injustice and inflame hatred and fear.
- Palestinian leaders must clearly renounce violence and terrorist acts against civilians, take effective steps to stop them, and bring to justice those responsible.
- The Israeli government's often aggressive military response, its efforts to undermine the Palestinian Authority, its blockades of Palestinian areas, and its continued establishment and expansion of settlements only strengthen the opponents of peace.
- revival of the peace process, despite the many obstacles, is the only realistic way forward. Given the widespread disillusionment on both sides with the peace process, it must be based on, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "a return to the negotiating table on an equal footing, with due respect for international law ....[A]ll individuals [must] see their fundamental rights guaranteed: both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are equally entitled to live in their own homeland in dignity and security" (November 6, 2000) The USCCB has urged an end to the violence, the termination of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and prompt creation of a Palestinian state as steps that would advance the peace process.
- A just peace demands real security for the State of Israel, a viable state for Palestinians, just resolution of the refugee problem, an agreement on Jerusalem which protects religious freedom and other basic rights, an equitable sharing of resources, especially water, implementation of relevant UN resolutions, and other provisions of international law.
- Jerusalem is perhaps the most intractable of the issues in the peace process. During his visit to the Holy Land, Pope John Paul II witnessed to the universal religious significance of Jerusalem, calling for Jerusalem to be "a City of Peace for all peoples" (March 23, 2000). The Holy See believes the difficult issues of territory and sovereignty should be resolved by negotiations. It also has repeatedly urged "an internationally guaranteed statute for the most religious parts of this unique city" (Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, March 9, 1999). Such a statute would provide guarantees for equality of rights for all residents, freedom of religion for all, and free access to and protection of the Holy Places.
- While attention is rightly focused on the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, a comprehensive Middle East peace must address the situation in Lebanon as well.
- The withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000 was a welcome development. It is gravely troubling, however, that, a decade after the end of the civil war, Lebanon is not yet a fully sovereign state due to the Syrian presence. The U.S. should work energetically for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon, and for respect for its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence.
- In the pursuit of a just peace for all in the region, the Christian presence in the Holy Land must not be forgotten. The Christian communities of the Holy Land give witness to the Gospel in the Land of Jesus. Three hundred thousand Christians live in the Holy Land (Israel, Palestine and Jordan). The continuing fighting and growing despair about the future risks further marginalizing the Christian community and accelerating the departure of Christians from the Holy Land. Bishops conferences and Europe and the Americas, following a January meeting in Jerusalem, will decide on steps to be taken in support of the Holy Land Christians during the present crisis.
- The Bishops remain extremely concerned about the mosque being constructed adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation, the principal Christian shrine in Nazareth. In what it considered a compromise, the Barak government reversed a court decision against the claims of the proponents, permitting construction of a smaller mosque than that originally proposed. The Christian churches in the region and the Holy See have strongly objected to the "compromise." Last fall radical Islamists began illegal construction of the mosque, laying a foundation and supporting pillars. This winter the Sharon government announced a halt in the construction and appointed a committee to investigate alternative sites for the mosque. Subsequently, the committee has delayed its decision, has failed to communicate with Catholic church leaders, and is again claiming that threats of violence put the halt of construction in doubt.
- Interfaith efforts. Reach out to Muslim and Jewish communities to discuss areas of common ground as well as areas of disagreement
- U.S. Policy. The U.S. should continue to work tirelessly to stop the violence and to revive the peace process in a way that is truly balanced, responding to Palestinian as well as Israeli needs, does not acquiesce to unilateral actions which undermine negotiations, and that responds with respect to the legitimate claims and expectations of both parties.
- Holy Land pilgrimages. Groups going to the Holy Land should use it as an occasion to come to know Holy Land Christians and to establish ties of solidarity with them. The USCCB's Guidelines for Holy Land Pilgrimages provide detailed suggestions on how to conduct solidarity pilgrimages, as well as information about local contacts.
Resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis (6/2001) and The Path to Peace in the Middle East (11/00) by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops'; Holy Land Pilgrimage Guidelines, USCCB Committee on International Policy (3/99); "The Holy See and the Middle East," Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran (3/99); "The Future of Jerusalem," Archbishop Theodore McCarrick (11/17/98). For additional materials, see www.usccb.org/sdwp.
For Further Information
Fr. Drew Christiansen, S.J. or Gerard Powers, 202-541-3160 (ph); firstname.lastname@example.org