Holy Land visit: Welby rebuts criticism

05 July 2013

CHRIS COX/LAMBETH PALACE

Handshake: Archbishop Welby meets the general secretary of the Palestinian Authority's excutive committee, Al Tayeb Abdul Rahim, in Ramallah, on Thursday of last week

Handshake: Archbishop Welby meets the general secretary of the Palestinian Authority's excutive committee, Al Tayeb Abdul Rahim, in Ramallah, on Thu...

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has responded to criticism that he ignored Palestinian Christians during a five-day visit to the Holy Land ( News, 28 June).

Press reports last week suggested that some Palestinian Christians were angry that, during a visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Archbishop Welby did not visit Nazareth or Bethlehem. He did, however, meet Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Writing in the Church Times today, Archbishop Welby says: "In the Holy Land, it is impossible to say anything without treading on toes, or to go anywhere without some people feeling that you should not have, or that somewhere else was more important."

Archbishop Welby argues that it would be "absurd to imagine that there are simple solutions to the total absence of trust that prevents progress towards peace. . . Both sides are eloquent about the reasons for the fear and insecurity. Going through checkpoints and hearing of the indignities suffered daily by many Palestinians explains much. So does visiting Yad Vashem, or hearing from those who have endured rocket fire."

Peter Rand, vice-chairman of Friends of the Holy Land, an ecumenical charity that supports Christians in the Holy Land, said last week that Archbishop Welby had "clearly demonstrated his concern for Palestinian Christians".  peaking in the Peace Garden at St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, on Wednesday evening of last week, Archbishop Welby called for "full access" to the holy sites of Jerusalem, and spoke of the need for "peace with justice and security" in the Middle East.

In an apparent reference to the security wall, he said: "It is essential that Jerusalem remains an open city, with full access to the religious sites which are holy to three faiths. . . Where people are left out, there will be no security, no justice, no peace." 

During his visit to Jerusalem, Archbishop Welby prayed at the Western Wall, reading Psalm 15 from his personal prayer-book. He visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine. He also met the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, at his residence in Jerusalem.

Travelling from Jerusalem to Ramallah, on Thursday of last week, Archbishop Welby passed through the Qalandiya checkpoint, and spoke with human-rights observers from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Archbishop Welby said later that he had been struck by "the frequent indignities that are suffered by people who deserve only dignity and respect, like all human beings should have".

Archbishop Welby said earlier this year that he should have voted against a General Synod motion that endorsed EAPPI, on which he abstained ( News, 28 March, 13 July 2012).

On Tuesday of last week, Archbishop Welby met the Foreign Minister of Jordan, Nasser Judeh, in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

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