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Gaza needs a corridor of sanctuary, Welby tells House of Lords

25 October 2023


Border crossing: a truck loaded with humanitarian aid enters Gaza from the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing on Sunday. The convoy of 17 trucks is the second aid convoy to be allowed into Gaza since the beginning of the crisis

Border crossing: a truck loaded with humanitarian aid enters Gaza from the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing on Sunday. The convoy of 17 trucks is the second aid convoy to be allowed into Gaza since the beginning of the crisis

CALLS for a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza are “probably beyond hope” — but humanitarian action is not, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Children trapped in Gaza must be freed, Archbishop Welby told the House of Lords during a debate on the Middle Eastern crisis on Tuesday afternoon. He urged the Government to continue its work in the region, and called on the international community to unite in efforts towards peace and reconciliation.

Archbishop Welby was among the early speakers on a take-note motion on the situation in Israel and Gaza. It was moved by the Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and UN, Lord Wimbledon, and passed at 10 p.m., after six hours of discussion.

Opening the debate, Lord Wimbledon, who is Muslim, cited the rising number of dead — now more than 5000, while more than 15,000 have been injured — and said that, “irrespective of whether they are Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or of no faith — we, together, mourn the loss of every innocent life, of every faith and nationality.”

The attacks in Israel on 7 October had “shocked the world”, and he reminded the House that their focus should be on “Hamas, the proscribed terrorist organisation. . . It is Hamas that is responsible for that violence, not the Palestinian people or the Palestinian Authority. It is Hamas that is responsible for those abhorrent acts of terror.”

Archbishop Welby thanked Lord Wimbledon for his opening remarks about a complex situation. “One of the great dangers of such complexity is that we seek to find simple answers and there are none.”

Referring to his pastoral visit to Jerusalem at the weekend, the Archbishop said that the “situation of trauma in Israel” was “hard to exaggerate”. The hope over hate shown by the bereaved families whom he had met was a “ray of light” in “almost unredeemed darkness”.

He continued: “The hopes of peace and reconciliation are set not only after a military victory but by how that victory is achieved. The more heavy the casualties, the less chance there is of renewed peace, and Gaza has gone from level to level of violence over the last 15 years. War conducted with that aim is not fair.”

He agreed with peers who had said that “this is not a question of fairness. There is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas. The latter is a terrorist organisation; the former is a legitimate state whose citizens since 1945 have written many of the laws of war. They know how to do this.

Parliament TVThe Archbishop of Canterbury speaks in a House of Lords debate, on Tuesday afternoon, about the crisis in the Middle East

“May they be encouraged, and continue to be encouraged, by governments around the world, by the success of David Satterfield — President Biden’s brilliant envoy — and by pressure from our Government and others, which has opened the way for more than 50 trucks to go into Gaza. That is a huge success.”

His concluding remarks, however, focused on the “innocent sufferers” of war — children trapped in Gaza, including those with cancer or disabilities, and those who had been wounded in the conflict.

Archbishop Welby asked: “Can there be a corridor of sanctuary, at least on a temporary basis, to enable them to get the treatment without which they will die very rapidly? It is difficult.

“The call for a formal ceasefire is probably beyond hope, but can there be that humanitarian action? Can the children with autism and other extreme disabilities be allowed to come out so that they can attend school and not be in the midst of a war? What that does to them is beyond imagination.”

The Archbishop of York was among the last speakers to be called. Concurring with Archbishop Welby’s remarks, he said: “I, too, deeply mourn and cry out for all those who have been brutally murdered in this conflict and rightly note the duty of Israel to guard and defend her citizens; yet at the same time I cry out on behalf of the innocent in every community and appeal for a peace with justice.”

His contribution focused on the “interconnectedness” of modern society, which meant that the conflict was “felt deeply across the world and directly affects communities here in the UK, immediately and especially Jewish and Muslim communities. There are of course personal consequences. . .

“At the same time, is making the situation worse, creating an atmosphere of palpable fear,” which needed to be addressed, Archbishop Cottrell warned.

Faith networks, he said, were struggling to agree on “joint statements or hold vigils for peace, because it is all too raw, and emotions are running so high, and because there are still so many unhelpful voices around”.

But, where they had taken place, there was hope, and he thanked the “inspiring” teachers, priests, and youth and community workers “who are nurturing the values that we all hold dear, caring for one another and building community across strong difference”.

Archbishop Cottrell concluded: “In the last couple of weeks, I have noticed two things: first, that human blood is red — Jewish blood, Muslim blood, Christian blood; secondly, like the ocean, tears are salt water, and the flood levels are rising. Unless we pay attention, both internationally and at home, to the things that make for peace, unless we are clear about the evils we face and the need to strengthen international law to make safe passage, then we might be overwhelmed.”

He asked the Minister what efforts were being made to support people working for community cohesion and peace.

Responding to the debate, Lord Wimbledon thanked both Archbishops for their contributions, expressing his sorrow for the loss of life at the Anglican Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza (News, 20 October). The Government “stand strong against anti-Semitism”, he said, and “Yes, we want to strengthen the faith initiatives. We cannot let hate divide communities or spill into our streets.”

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