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Pope and Welby plead for end to fighting in Gaza

01 August 2014


Amid the ruins: a Palestinian woman at a UN-run school that was sheltering Palestinians displaced by the war in northern Gaza. Witnesses say it was hit by Israeli shelling that killed at least 43 people, and wounded many others

Amid the ruins: a Palestinian woman at a UN-run school that was sheltering Palestinians displaced by the war in northern Gaza. Witnesses say it was ...

THE strategies on both sides of the current war in Gaza are self-defeating, and cannot bring about peace, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

In a long statement released on Wednesday, Archbishop Welby condemned both the firing of rockets into Israeli towns by Hamas, and the aerial bombing of civilian areas in Gaza by Israel.

"Populations condemned to hopelessness, or living under fear, will be violent," he said. "Such actions create more conflict, more deaths, and will, in the end, lead to an even greater disaster than the one being faced today. The road to reconciliation is hard, but ultimately [is] the only route to security."

Praising the humanitarian efforts of the diocese in Jerusalem, Archbishop Welby urged Christians in the West to "beat down the doors of heaven, and pray for peace and justice and security".

His comments were echoed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols. In a statement on Thursday, he said: "The pain, anguish and sense of hopelessness of those men, women and children cry out that war is not the answer. As this conflict shows, violence breeds violence. 

"I plead for an immediate truce in Gaza that will not only put an end to this latest carnage but that will also address at last the core problems behind this conflict which has so blighted the lives of all the peoples of the Holy Land."

Archbishop Wrlby also urged people to give to the diocese of Jerusalem's emergency appeal for more than £300,000 to run its Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City. So far, the diocese in Jerusalem says, donations have reached less than one-fifth of the target. The Bishop's Chaplain in Jerusalem, Canon John Organ, said on Tuesday that, overall, although some individuals had contributed money, "the pledges have not yet materialised into solid funds."

The biggest items on Al-Ahli Hospital's list of needs is psycho-social support for women and children ($100,000), medical supplies ($95,000), and fuel ($60,000) (www.j-diocese.org).

Among the contributions received so far are donations in kind from the Catholic Relief Services in the form of medical kits, and $5000-worth of fuel for the hospital generators. Canon Organ said that supplies were reaching Al-Ahli Hospital via the Red Cross; however, more funds were urgently needed. The view of staff at Al-Ahli, he said, was that the current bombardment was the worst ever in terms of the number of people killed and wounded.

Palestinians in Gaza enjoyed only a brief lull in the violence on Monday, as Muslims worldwide celebrated the end of the sacred month of Ramadan. The tiny Christian community in Gaza City opened up the courtyard of St Porphyrius's to provide sanctuary for Muslims marking the day of celebration. About 500 people made homeless by the fighting were already sheltering in the church.

More than 1200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks on Gaza, and 55 Israelis have been killed during the conflict. At least one Christian is among the Palestinian fatalities: Jalila Ayad died when her family's house collapsed during an airstrike last Sunday. One of her sons was seriously wounded. Her funeral was held at St Porphyrius's.

The Christian humanitarian organisation World Vision says that it continues to support 7000 mothers whom it has trained in what it calls Psychological First Aid, to help their children cope with traumatic events. The programme began after the previous war in Gaza, in November 2012. In a statement, World Vision said that the training had been of great benefit during this cycle of violence, as mothers could support their children and help them deal with fear and anxiety.

World Vision ended its statement with a call for "an immediate halt to this vicious cycle of violence, and for a lasting and just peace in the region".

The national director of World Vision's Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza office, Alex Snary, said that children were witnessing things that they would never forget. "The trauma they are exposed to can take years to recover from, and is for ever imprinted in the memory. It transforms a child's understanding of how the world works and how they need to behave in order to survive. No child, whether Israeli or Palestinian, should have to live this way."

Calls for an immediate ceasefire have come from all over the world. Pope Francis last Sunday deviated from his script to make an impassioned plea, apparently choking back tears as he spoke: "Please stop, I ask you with all my heart, it's time to stop. Stop, please."

The Evangelical Episcopal Church's Bishop in Israel & the Palestinian territories, Dr Hani Shehadeh, and four other churchmen from the Holy Land wrote to the Church Times this week urging Christians to pray for peace.

They urge all Christians to stand up for the rights of the Christian family in the Middle East: "Lobby your parliament, speak up in your media, and pray for the well-being and safety of Christians facing persecution." The letter said that the latest conflict in Gaza meant that "the Christian community of this corner of the Holy Land faces extinction."

Kairos Britain, a network of individuals, organisations, and faith communities seeking peace in Gaza and Israel, also urged people to ask their MPs to influence politicians to end the fighting in Gaza. The group called for "prayers for an end to the violence, and for the creation of a just peace for Palestinians, which we believe is the only way to bring about peace and security for Israel, too".


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