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Call a ceasefire, say church leaders in Jerusalem

26 October 2023


The site of the compound of St Porphyrios’s, after it was destroyed by Israeli air strikes on Gaza City

The site of the compound of St Porphyrios’s, after it was destroyed by Israeli air strikes on Gaza City

CHURCH leaders in Jerusalem have made a renewed call for a ceasefire, after an Israeli air strike on the compound of St Porphyrios’s Greek Orthodox Church, in Gaza, reportedly killed 18 people, including nine children.

Among the dead were a staff member of Caritas Jerusalem, a Roman Catholic aid agency, along with her child and husband.

On Sunday, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches published a joint statement condemning the attack “in the strongest possible terms”, and describing it as “the latest instance of innocent civilians being injured or killed as a result of missile strikes against other shelters of last resort”.

The group, which includes the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Most Revd Hosam Naoum, pledge to maintain their “charitable institutions and houses of worship” in Gaza, despite orders to evacuate; “for there is literally no other safe place for these innocents to turn”.

The situation in Gaza has worsened as the enclave remains under bombardment and blockade from Israel. The church leaders call for a “humanitarian ceasefire so that food, water, and vital medical supplies can safely be delivered”.

On Saturday, the first aid convoys were able to enter Gaza from Egypt. The Egyptian government had reportedly been unwilling to allow traffic through the Rafah Border Crossing into the south of Gaza, owing to Israeli air strikes near to the border.

The previous day, Christian Aid had appealed for aid trucks to be let through in large numbers, emphasising the need for fuel, which was running short. Israeli concerns about bolstering Hamas have meant that aid supplies have not included fuel.

“Without fuel, hospitals and ambulances can’t operate, and it will not be possible to pump the clean water needed to sustain life in Gaza,” the organisation’s head of Middle East policy and advocacy, William Bell, said last Friday.

“The bottled water supply is running very low, with the UN saying that in some emergency shelters people are surviving on just one litre of drinking water a day. You cannot truck in clean water for over two million people, and waterborne disease is becoming an increasing risk to life”, Mr Bell said.

On Wednesday, a UN agency working in Gaza said that aid work would be forced to stop unless more fuel could be delivered.

Also on Wednesday, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, faced calls from Israeli officials to resign, after saying that “the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.”

He called for an immediate ceasefire and an easing of restrictions on aid entering Gaza.

A statement from the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) went further than the Heads of Churches, in describing the actions of the Israeli military as “genocide and ethnic cleansing”.

The statement, published on Wednesday, calls for an immediate end to the violence. “If humanity as a whole does not act immediately and in an appropriate manner, this crime will remain a stain of shame on the forehead of humanity forever.”

An open letter from Palestinian Christian organisations has attracted 10,000 supporters on change.org. The signatories, who include representatives of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center and Kairos Palestine, write that “the vast majority of Palestinian Christians do not condone violence — not even by the powerless and occupied,” but seek to put the current conflict in the context of long Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

“We hold western church leaders and theologians who rally behind Israel’s wars accountable for their theological and political complicity in the Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, which have been committed over the last 75 years,” they write.

Last Friday, 13 Christian organisations in the UK wrote to the Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, urging the Government to “use its influence to help create space for de-escalation and meaningful dialogue”, and to “urgently avert a deepening humanitarian crisis and military conflict that could cost many more lives than have already been tragically lost”.

Leaders of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, the Iona Community, Pax Christi, and the Third Order of the Society of St Francis were among the signatories.

On Monday, Rishi Sunak made a joint statement with the heads of government of the United States, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy, reiterating “support for Israel and its right to defend itself against terrorism”, and calling for “adherence to international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians”.

The leaders called for the immediate release of all the hostages taken by Hamas on 7 October. As of Wednesday, four had been released, but more than 200 were still being held in Gaza.

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