THE heads of the Churches in Jerusalem have called for an end to the escalating violence which has led to the deaths of at least 32 Palestinians and seven Israelis in the past few days.
A statement on Monday from the Archbishops of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran Churches called on “all parties to reverence each other’s religious faith and to show respect to all holy sites and places of worship”.
In the past week, two gun attacks by Palestinians took place in East Jerusalem, including a shooting near a synagogue on Friday night, Holocaust Memorial Day. The day before, nine Palestinians were killed in an Israeli military raid in Jenin, in the occupied West Bank. This was followed by rocket fire into Israel from Gaza, which Israel responded to with air strikes.
The Archbishops’ statement said: “In the aftermath of this latest, tragic wave of violence, we pray for those killed and injured, and we ask that God stay close to their families and loved ones. We pray also for healing for the wounded, and that the Almighty would give strength and perseverance to those caring for them.
“Finally, we ask that God grant wisdom and prudence to political leaders and people of influence on all sides, leading them to devise ways to help us overcome violence, keep our communities safe, and work tirelessly to bring about a just and peaceful solution for our beloved Holy Land.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted his support for the statement, saying: “I join with them in praying for restraint and for a just and peaceful solution that gives security and freedom to all communities in the Holy Land.”
Canon Richard Sewell, the Dean of St George’s College in Jerusalem, the Anglican study and pilgrimage centre, said: “The situation is escalating, and fear and anger are prevailing on both sides, and, as a result, the two sides are growing further and further apart, and there is no clear understanding of how we reverse that trend.”
His Palestinian staff had been too frightened to leave the college premises over the weekend, he said. “Things are on a knife edge and people are waiting — the police are hyper-vigilant. People are at their wits’ end.”
He urged Christians in the UK and beyond to continue to support the Christian community in the Holy Land, by continuing to come on pilgrimage, and to support and donate through partnerships and charities working with them.
He said: “We do not feel unsafe, as churches are not a target. Pilgrims and tourists are not in the firing line, and we constantly take advice to keep pilgrims safe and change itineraries if needed. The College here has survived two intifadas and the 1967 war, and people are incredibly resilient.
“What I would say to people is, if you care about this situation and this place, now is the time to write to your MP, write to the Foreign Office, and support the networks which are supporting people here. The Christian community particularly is a very small minority, and very vulnerable; their position in the Holy Land is now very tenuous at just around one per cent of the population. They need pilgrims to keep coming here. Pilgrims are a lifeline for Christian community; so, if pilgrims do not come, it hits them very hard.
“My plea if for Christians to keep coming; but, if you can’t, please support people financially and prayerfully — do not abandon people here because of this situation.”
The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, visited Jerusalem this week and called for Israel and the Palestinians to take “urgent steps” to restore calm.
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Most Revd Linda Nicholls, and and her Evangelical Lutheran counterpart, Bishop Susan Johnson, have also written to the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to urge him to put pressure on the Israeli government to de-escalate the violence and reverse “increasingly inflammatory rhetoric and politics” .
They called for him to act more strongly on the world stage: “Canada must . . . take a more active role in the international community in affirming the necessary conditions for peace and security for both Israeli and Palestinian citizens.”
On Sunday, Pope Francis appealed for calm and swift solutions to a “death spiral” of violence that had developed between Palestinians and Israelis over the past week: “The death spiral that is increasing by the day only closes the few glimmers of trust that exist between the two peoples.
“I appeal to the two Governments and the international community to find other paths — immediately and without delay — which include dialogue and the sincere search for peace.”
Read more on this story in this week’s column by Paul Vallely