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Bishops call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza

13 February 2024

They and charities urge Government to take action on Gaza

Alamy

Bombed buildings in Rafah where two Israeli hostages were reportedly held before being rescued on Monday

Bombed buildings in Rafah where two Israeli hostages were reportedly held before being rescued on Monday

THE House of Bishops has called for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, saying that the “manner in which this war is being prosecuted cannot be morally justified” — and that it must not end with the Palestinians’ living under occupation.

More than 29,000 people are reported to have been killed since the conflict began on 7 October (News, 9 October 2023), most of whom (about 28,000) are Palestinian. More than 60,000 people are said to have been injured.

Israel has moved to expand its ground operation into Rafah in southern Gaza, the single entry point for humanitarian aid. More than half the remaining population (2.3 million people) are currently living there, having been displaced by widespread violence. The area was hit by several air strikes this week.

On Tuesday morning, the House of Bishops jointly released a statement condemning the offensive. “The relentless bombardment of Gaza and its huge cost in civilian lives and civilian infrastructure must stop,” they write.

The statement also argues “for the release of the remaining hostages and an end to the missile attacks on Israel by Hamas. All sides must begin to imagine a future beyond this conflict: for a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians. This war can’t result in the consolidation of a system of occupation that has for too long denied Palestinians their rights and freedoms.”

Earlier this month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled that “the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is at serious risk of deteriorating.” It ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all [potentially genocidal] acts” against the Palestinian people (News, 2 February)

The Bishops write: “We urge Israel to adhere to the ICJ order and to ensure that Palestinians have access to food, water, healthcare, and safety, that have long been denied to them.

“We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recent call for an immediate pause in the fighting and would also welcome further representation to the Government of Israel about the way that it is exercising its right to self-defence and to affirm adherence to international law.”

The Bishops conclude their statement by condemning “all anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment” that has arisen in the UK.

Speaking to the Church Times on Monday, the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, who in social-media posts has been calling for a ceasefire, said: “What is happening now is not good for Israel, as this war will cast a shadow over the Middle East for at least a generation.”

He continued: “I have the people of Israel on my heart as much as I do the Palestinians. I want everyone to flourish, and this war is not the way, because all sides are suffering.”

Pressure for a ceasefire has increased in recent days. On Monday, representatives of Christian Aid delivered a letter to Downing Street, urging the Government to call for an immediate end to hostilities. The letter, signed by 22 other humanitarian agencies and Churches, including CAFOD and Quakers in Britain, states: “We are losing confidence in ministers as the UK appears utterly incapable of restraining Israel in its current attempts.”

It asks the Prime Minister “to use the UK’s full diplomatic pressure to demand Israel halt its military campaign, which has already resulted in the killing of 28,000 people” and notes with “urgent concern about the overnight attacks on Rafah . . . a destructive military campaign on the most densely populated stretch on earth”.

The Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, said on Monday that Israel should “stop and think seriously” before going into Rafah. “We think it is impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people. There’s nowhere for them to go.”

At the weekend, the US President, Joe Biden, had a telephone call with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, during which he said that a “military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan” for the evacuation of civilians first.

The letter quotes figures from the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, which lists 28,340 Palestinian deaths and close to 68,000 people injured in the Strip since last October. A further 164 people were killed and 200 injured in hostilities in Gaza at the weekend.

The UN’s latest estimate of casualties at the weekend were: 1.7 million people displaced; 27,947 deaths; 97,459 injured; and 156 UNWRA colleagues killed. UNWRA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

 

The House of Bishops’ statement in full

With the onset of Israel’s ground offensive into Rafah, we call for an immediate ceasefire. The relentless bombardment of Gaza and its huge cost in civilian lives and civilian infrastructure must stop. The manner in which this war is being prosecuted cannot be morally justified.

We urge Israel to adhere to the ICJ order and to ensure that Palestinians have access to food, water, healthcare, and safety, that have long been denied to them. We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recent call for an immediate pause in the fighting and would also welcome further representation to the Government of Israel about the way that it is exercising its right to self-defence and to affirm adherence to international law.

We continue to advocate for the release of the remaining hostages and an end to the missile attacks on Israel by Hamas. All sides must begin to imagine a future beyond this conflict: for a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians. This war can’t result in the consolidation of a system of occupation that has for too long denied Palestinians their rights and freedoms.

In praying for all those in Israel and Palestine living in the midst of war and the fear of war, we pray particularly for the Palestinian Christian communities, that they may know strength and the presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

As we consider the impact of the current conflict in the Middle East on community relations here in the UK, we again condemn all Antisemitic and anti-Muslim sentiment. We are horrified by the growing threats and abuses of Jews on university campuses, in our neighbourhoods, and online. We appeal to our communities to be safe for all people whatever their nationality, ethnicity or religion. For our own part, we commit to working alongside our fellow faith leaders for the common good, despite and with our differences.

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