THE Archbishop of Canterbury and the RC Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, hosted a two-day conference on Christians in the Holy Land at Lambeth Palace this week.
Dr Williams said that participants at the conference, which was attended by about 60 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders and politicians, expressed concern that the restriction of movement for Palestinian Christians “cuts against the principle of religious liberty”. There was a “renewed stress on pressing for better guaranteed access to the holy sites, particularly during festivals”.
Speaking on Tuesday at the end of the conference, in response to an accusation of bias, Dr Williams insisted that the Church of England was not anti-Israel: “Proper solidarity with Palestinians is looking towards a just solution which is good for Israel as well. There is no security in the region that is not shared security.”
He said that the delegates at the conference had discussed how “time seems to be running out for the two-state solution. . . The settlements question was of course in everyone’s mind, and the sense that settlements presented one of those great threats to a two-state solution.”
Dr Williams called for a “step change” in how the Church in the UK engages with Christian communities in the Holy Land. He said Christians needed to “rethink how we approach pilgrimage, [so it is] not just a tourist venture, but engages with the realities on the ground”. He described how participants at the conference had expressed fears of its becoming a “Christian Disneyland rather than living communities”.
Dr Williams stated that the conference had not “set out to solve the political problems”, but was focused on “problems that might be solved”, such as questions of access for Palestinian Christians and how to make life “slightly more bearable, slightly more just” for them.
“We cannot wait for politicians to sort it out. Therefore we as civil society, as people of faith, need to get on with making the difference we can make.”
Earlier this month, Dr Williams was criticised by Christian Palestinian groups after he gave a BBC interview on the plight of Christians in the Holy Land that did not mention the Israeli occupation (News, 1 July). He said on Tuesday that his remarks in the interview had related to “a very specific case”, and he had not intended to make “any general comment” about the situation facing Palestinians.
The conference had been attended by the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Suheil Dawani, whose residency permit was revoked earlier this year (News, 11 March). Dr Williams said the situation was “still unresolved”.
Dr Williams launched an appeal at the General Synod last week for funds for Christian communities in the Holy Land. He said that he had returned from a visit last year “with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there”.
In response to his appeal, members of the congregation at Southwell Minster have invited six Palestinian Christians from Jerusalem, including a priest, to visit the diocese in October. A statement from the Minster said that it hoped the group would “give a fresh insight into oppression in the Middle East and how Christians can support those who are battling injustice”.