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Synod stands in silent prayer after Welby calls again for a ceasefire in Gaza

13 November 2023

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Archbishop of Canterbury delivers his presidential address to the General Synod on Monday afternoon

The Archbishop of Canterbury delivers his presidential address to the General Synod on Monday afternoon

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has repeated his call for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza, arguing that there can be no justification for the devastating loss of civilian life under Israeli bombardment.

Opening a meeting of the General Synod in Church House, Westminster, on Monday afternoon, Archbishop Welby used his presidential address to describe the trauma felt by Israeli and Jewish people around the world since the “barbaric slaughter” by Hamas on 7 October as almost unlike anything he had seen.

Parents of Israeli children who were being held as hostages were suffering enormously, and many had told the Archbishop during his recent visit to the region that they were in shock that such violence could happen in the world’s only Jewish state (News, 13 October).

But Israel’s bombardment of Gaza was also a “great wrong”, and the evils of Hamas were being paid for by the civilians of that land, Archbishop Welby continued. Parents there were having to write their children’s names on to their bodies so they could be identified if they did not survive the next airstrike.

In a social media post on Saturday, Archbishop Welby had deplored the “intolerable” and “relentless bombardment of hospitals and civilians” in Gaza, saying that this was “against international humanitarian law — it must stop and stop now.

“The misuse of hospitals by Hamas does not justify attacks by Israel. Two wrongs don’t make a right. The situation facing staff and patients in Gaza’s hospitals is catastrophic. Everything must be done to restore its healthcare system and protect those in desperate need.

“I pray especially for the courageous staff and the patients of the Anglican-run Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza. Please hold our Anglican sisters and brothers, and all the civilians of Gaza, in your prayers.”

In his presidential address, Archbishop Welby said that, in the West Bank, violence by settlers against Palestinians was also increasing, unchecked by Israeli authorities.

There was no equivalence between Hamas’s atrocities and Israel’s duty to defend itself, he repeated, but, at the same time, the killing of civilians and associated humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza could not be morally justified.

The Archbishop then reiterated his call for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, first made three weeks ago (News, 24 October).

“Thousands more innocent men, women and children in Gaza have been killed since then,” and hundreds of families in Israel still await the release of their loved ones taken as hostages, he said. “This bloodshed must cease, hostages must be released, and aid must reach those in Gaza in dire need.”

Archbishop Welby said that, while he had no military or political solutions to the crisis, a ceasefire was a moral imperative. “This violence will not secure for the people of the Holy Land — all the people, Israeli and Palestinian — the future they deserve.”

Here in Britain, the conflict in the Holy Land was also tearing communities apart, he said. Many British Jews knew people caught up in the 7 October atrocity, and suffered with them, while Muslims felt deeply the hardship of their brothers and sisters in the faith in Gaza and the West Bank.

Nobody was looking for solutions from the Church of England, Archbishop Welby conceded. Anglicans were nevertheless still called to be present and faithful in this crisis, to pray for enemies and proclaim the good news of Christ.

“We must rebuke those spreading vile anti-Semitic propaganda [and] those who engage in hateful Islamophobic attacks,” Archbishop Welby said. Instead, Christians must build bridges between communities, and above all, pray. “Prayer can put the world back on its hinges.”

Introducing a video message from the Archbishop in Jerusalem, Dr Hosam Naoum, Archbishop Welby said that the Church there was small, but “keeping the hope of a just peace alive in these immensely difficult times”.

Dr Naoum said that speaking of peace and reconciliation was falling on deaf ears at present in the Holy Land, but asked Synod members to continue to pray for both Israelis and Palestinians.

“As we celebrate Remembrance Day, we are reminded one day war will end,” he said. Guns and bullets must not be the way forward, for either Israeli security or an enduring free Palestinian state.

Archbishop Welby concluded that all must “weep, grieve, lament and protest” with their sisters and brothers in the Holy Land. He closed by inviting the Synod to stand in silent prayer for all people in Israel and Palestine, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim.

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