Chairman, Committee on International Policy
United States Catholic Conference
October 16, 2000
A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation:
Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.
(Jer.31:15 in Mt.2:18)
The violence that has swept the Holy Land these last days has gravely wounded hopes for peace in the Middle East, and has left a disturbing number of victims, especially children. All the victims and their families, Palestinian and Israeli alike, need our prayers. Their suffering is tragic testimony, if any were needed, to the importance of today's summit meeting and other efforts to end the violence and revive the peace process.
This is not a time for blame and recrimination. It is a time to break the escalating cycle of violence, and to uncover the embers of hope that remain for a just peace. It is a time for moral leadership, at every level of Israeli and Palestinian society, that can look beyond the crisis of the moment lest hatred and revenge today poison the opportunities for peace tomorrow.
Support must be given those who, in the midst of conflict, stand against violence and for the peace which the Holy Land should symbolize. As Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah reminds us:
"This is a holy land, a land of faith and prayer. It is written nowhere that it should remain a land of hatred and blood. On the contrary, in the mercy of God, this land is determined to be a land of redemption and love." Religious leaders bear a special obligation to work unceasingly for peace, especially when religious symbols are under attack and are used to provoke and incite. We have been distressed by attacks on shrines and places of worship in the Palestinian Territories and Israel, beginning with Joseph's Tomb, and including, among others, attacks on mosques in Tiberias and Jaffa, a Catholic church in Beit Hanina, and a synagogue in Jericho. As children of the one God, with a common love for the Holy Land, our respect for the holy sites demonstrates our reverence for God among us.
Today's summit and the many other political initiatives to end the violence and restart the peace process should be a reminder of the importance of the Holy Land for all humanity, and how vital the peace of Jerusalem is to the peace of the world. At the same time, the failure to reach a political settlement and the violence of recent weeks remind us that peace cannot be achieved without justice and justice cannot be secured by violence. The peace process must satisfy the particular, legitimate, and reasonable aspirations of both peoples, and must respect principles of justice.
A first step is for leaders on both sides to do more to escape the cycle of violence, including unequivocally condemning and effectively controlling mob violence, especially of their own people; halting the excessive use of force; and avoiding other actions that further exacerbate the conflict. It would also be helpful if both sides could work together to establish an international commission, whose members would be mutually agreed upon, to examine the cause of the current violence and to search for ways to avoid such bloodshed in the future.
With our Holy Father, we "pray to God that the people and leaders of the region may return to the path of dialogue and rediscover the joy of feeling themselves to be children of God, their common Father." We pray especially for men and women who, despite the odds, work to help Israelis and Palestinians regain the road to peace together. Blessed are they "who guide our feet into the way of peace." (Is.1:16; Lk.1:19)