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Archbishop pleads with Israel to consider ‘atrocious human cost’ of incursion

16 May 2024

Church leaders renew call for ceasefire in Gaza

Alamy

A displaced Palestinian girl from the city of Rafah plays in a building in Deir Al Balah, Palestinian Territories, destroyed by Israeli warplanes

A displaced Palestinian girl from the city of Rafah plays in a building in Deir Al Balah, Palestinian Territories, destroyed by Israeli w...

ANGLICAN leaders have repeated their appeals for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, as international attention stayed fixed on Israel’s military presence in Rafah.

On Tuesday evening, the Archbishop of Canterbury appealed to the Israeli government to “consider the likely atrocious human cost of an incursion into Rafah”.

In a post on social media, he asked people to join him in “urgent prayer that the protection of civilians, central to international and humanitarian law, is honoured”, and once again urged an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages.

“This war cannot achieve the aims either of security for Israel, or a free and secure Palestinian state,” he wrote.

Archbishop Welby’s comments echoed those of the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, who spoke to the Church Times last Friday after a three-day visit to Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

“I think that we need to be much more vocal and confident in calling for a permanent ceasefire . . . [the war] needs to stop and it needs to stop now,” she said, calling for all hostages to be released, and for “unrestricted aid allowed into Gaza”.

On Monday, the Middle Eastern regional lead for World Vision, Eleanor Monbiot, warned of the worsening situation in Rafah.

“Countless children stand on the brink, facing the peril of death, injury, and the harrowing prospect of yet another forced displacement,” she said, and called for greater access for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

As of Wednesday, the Rafah crossing had been closed for more than a week, after the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) took control of the Gaza-side of the border. Israeli and Egyptian government figures have blamed each other for continued closure of the crossing to aid vehicles.

According to the UN, almost 450,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah in the past week. The secretary-general, António Guterres, said that he was “appalled by the escalation of military activity in and around Rafah”.

A full-scale incursion into the city, where the pre-war population of 250,000 has been swelled by hundreds of thousands displaced from the north of Gaza, has been cited by governments around the world, including the UK and US, as a red line for their continued support of Israel’s campaign in Gaza (News, 10 May).

AlamyThe coffin of the British aid worker James Kirby, one of the seven World Central Kitchen workers killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza, is carried into St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, on Wednesday

 

IN AN interview for the Church Times podcast, Dr Francis-Dehqani emphasised the importance to both sides of bringing the war to end: “This is not just for the Palestinians: it’s also for the Israelis. I don’t see any advantage in this war for Israel. Violence only begets violence, until at some stage the violence stops, and people begin to talk.”

Church leaders in the West needed to be “more forthright in being part of the solution”, she said, and acknowledged that Palestinians hadn’t always felt heard.

In the first month of the war, Archbishop Welby was criticised by members of the Anglican community in the West Bank, who said that his public statements did not articulate the context of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory (News, 27 October 2023).

Last Friday, Dr Francis-Dehqani said that a fear of being considered anti-Semitic was stopping people from speaking out. “We have to find a way of distinguishing between anti-Semitism, which is abhorrent and wrong, and proper criticism of the State of Israel. It’s a really difficult thing to say that, and I say it really cautiously and carefully,” she said.

There was a danger, she warned, that “we become paralysed because we don’t know what to say, for fear of saying the wrong thing; so we say nothing.”

Overcoming this reticence was vital, though, to avoid hypocrisy; and she cited the contradiction of calling for a ceasefire while still supplying weapons to Israel.

She also highlighted the quarter of a million people living in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the thousands of Palestinians — including many young people — who were currently in “administrative detention” without charge or trial.

Layan Nasir, a 23-year-old Anglican from Birzeit, in the occupied West Bank, has been held for more than a month without explanation. Archbishop Welby has called for her release (News, 3 May). During her time in the West Bank, Dr Francis-Dehqani met Ms Nasir’s family.

She told Ms Nasir’s mother that she would pray daily for her daughter and all those “who are held illegally and unjustly”.

For Dr Francis-Dehqani, the encounter had resonances of her own family history, of growing up as part of a Christian minority in Iran and the murder of her brother, Bahram, in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution.

The anniversary of his murder fell during Dr Francis-Dehqani’s visit, and she lit a candle for him in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Her father, the Rt Revd Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, was the Anglican Bishop in Iran. He survived an assassination attempt before the family fled to the UK, where he led the Iranian Church in exile.

The war was likely to destroy the last vestiges of the Christian community in Gaza, Dr Francis-Dehqani warned. The humanitarian situation there was “like hell on earth”, she said.

A land dispute over a portion of the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem (News, 12 April) also had significant implications for the continued Christian presence in the Holy Land, she suggested.

Listen to an extended interview with Dr Francis-Dehqani here or search the Church Times Podcast on any major podcast platform.

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