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Christian leaders add their voices to the call for a ceasefire in Gaza

31 October 2023


View of Gaza on Tuesday, showing the extent of the damage caused by the Israeli bombardment

View of Gaza on Tuesday, showing the extent of the damage caused by the Israeli bombardment

CALLS for a ceasefire in Gaza continue to grow. Pope Francis has joined the Archbishop of Canterbury and the United Nations in calling for an end to a conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians.

On Tuesday afternoon, the House of Bishops released a statement calling for “immediate humanitarian pauses” to enable evacuations, “holding out hope for a ceasefire in the longer term”.

In a speech on Monday evening, however, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, dismissed the idea of a ceasefire, referring to Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for peace and a time for war: this is a time for war, a war for a common future.”

The House of Bishops’ statement, meanwhile, quoted Isaiah —“They shall not learn war any more” — and continued: “Isaiah’s vision of peace was spoken to a nation in confusion and social discord, divided and fearful. It was a vision of a peace that, though not yet realised, was always to be sought in faith through living in obedient righteousness and generous community in society.”

The Bishops condemned the “terrorist actions of Hamas”, and said that the Bishops “wholly support the duty of the Government of Israel to protect its citizens”. “We affirm absolutely Israel’s right to self-defence,” but said: “Israel’s right to self-defence needs to be exercised in adherence to the key principles of international humanitarian law.”

In an address on Sunday, reported by Vatican News, Pope Francis said that he joined calls for a ceasefire. “Stop, brothers and sisters. War is always a defeat — always, always.”

The Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, in a statement on Monday, called for “an immediate cessation of violence” and the “establishment of humanitarian corridors”, as well as the “unconditional release of hostages”.

In his statement, Dr Makgoba, formerly the secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, paid particular attention to the “dehumanising rhetoric” being used by both sides. It was “frightening in its familiarity to South Africans who lived under apartheid”, he said.

In late September, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s Provincial Standing Committee carried a resolution declaring Israel an apartheid state.

In an interview with the Church Times in August, the Archbishop in Jerusalem, Dr Hosam Naoum, said that there were “a lot of similarities between South Africa and here in terms of discrimination, in terms of control”, but held back from using the term “apartheid” (News, 18 August).

The statement by the House of Bishops on Tuesday afternoon called for Hamas to release Israeli hostages — thought to number more than 200 — in Gaza, and said that “all parties to this conflict” should “adhere to international humanitarian law and . . . take all necessary steps to minimise harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure”.

The Bishops described the number of civilians killed in Gaza as a “humanitarian catastrophe”, and said that evacuation routes and “places of sanctuary” had been bombed.

The Bishops of the Church in Wales, in a statement on Tuesday, said: “We long to see the Israeli and Palestinian peoples discover the path to transcend the current hostilities and to find the will to live in harmony, since the way of violence can never be the route to reconciliation and lasting peace.”

The statement says that the attacks by Hamas on 7 October “cannot be justified and were morally repugnant”, but urges Israel to recognise that “peace in the Middle East cannot be established on the foundations of retribution, violence, and innocent suffering, however provoked.”

Like their counterparts in the Church of England, they stop short of urging a full ceasefire, instead urging “a pause in the attacks” for aid to be delivered, and state their support of the UK Government “in this regard”.

The Welsh Bishops also ask people to donate to “those who work for medical and peaceful healing in Gaza”, and to support a day of fasting and prayer on Friday 3 November.

On Sunday of last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury added his voice to those of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches — including the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Most Revd Dr Hosam Noaum — in calling for a “humanitarian ceasefire” (News, 27 October).

The term “humanitarian ceasefire” mirrors the wording of a resolution passed in the UN Assembly on Friday, calling for an “immediate, durable and sustainable humanitarian truce”.

The resolution passed with a majority of 120-12, with 45 countries abstaining, including the United Kingdom. The motion has no binding force but is seen as having political weight.

The Guardian reported that Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, condemned the vote, saying: “Today is a day that will go down as infamy. We have all witnessed that the UN no longer holds even one ounce of legitimacy or relevance.”

ON TUESDAY, Archbishop Welby and Dr Naoum launched a joint appeal for the Anglican-run Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza, which was hit by a rocket two weeks ago (News, 17 October).

UK supporters are being asked to donate to the charities Friends of the Holy Land and the Jerusalem and Middle East Church Association.

In a letter from the two leaders, Archbishop Welby wrote: “As war devastates the Holy Land, we ask where Christ is to be found amid the cries of his children. When the lives of the innocent are at risk, we strain our eyes for the light of the One who offers healing, peace, and justice.”

He said that the Al-Ahli hospital was an example of that light: “Despite being hit by rocket fire last week, it is still providing critical care to the injured and anyone in need of medical attention.”

Dr Naoum wrote that the reopening of the hospital just two days after the blast “demonstrated the determination we have in the Diocese of Jerusalem to persevere in our Christian mission to serve others as though we were serving Christ himself. Yet in order to accomplish this mission in the midst of a devastating war, we need to draw upon the strength of the larger Body of Christ.”

He asked people to pray for the work of the diocese, and to support it monetarily if they could. He also asked people around the world to “advocate with your representatives for a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land, so that all who dwell within these lands can live in security”.

On Friday, Christian Aid joined calls for a ceasefire, referring to UN figures showing that more than 7000 Palestinians had been killed, and more than 18,000 injured, in Gaza.

The aid agency highlighted the urgent need for supplies, including fuel, to keep hospitals such as Al-Ahli running. Since last weekend, a few aid trucks have been able to cross into Gaza from Egypt, but Israeli concerns about bolstering Hamas’s military capabilities means that the convoys have not been allowed to contain fuel.

Aid agencies have warned that, without fuel supplies, their operations in Gaza will be impossible.

On Friday, Christian Aid’s head of Middle East policy and advocacy, William Bell, said: “Our established partners in Gaza continue to respond as best they can, but to respond at scale we need unfettered humanitarian access with water and electricity reconnected. Only a full ceasefire will deliver aid safely and effectively.”

On Sunday, UN warehouses in the south of the Gaza strip were broken into by locals, Reuters reported. The UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, said that the incident was evidence that Palestinians trapped in Gaza had reached “breaking point”.

Read more on this story in this week’s Letters and Paul Vallely’s column

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