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Religious leaders demand peace after Israeli ‘tragic mishap’

29 May 2024

Sunday’s air strike in southern Gaza to be investigated

Alamy

Displaced Palestinians examine the destruction of their tents by Israeli bombardment, west of Rafah, in Gaza, on Tuesday

Displaced Palestinians examine the destruction of their tents by Israeli bombardment, west of Rafah, in Gaza, on Tuesday

THE death of at least 45 Palestinians this week after an Israeli air strike at an encampment for displaced persons — believed to be mostly women, children, and elderly people — has been widely condemned by religious leaders and the UN.

“Sunday’s strike underscores once again that there is literally no safe place in Gaza,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said of the incident in southern Gaza, near the Egyptian border.

Referred to as a “tragic mishap” by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the attack is to be investigated by the Israel Defence Forces. Israeli forces mounted a ground offensive on the city of Rafah three weeks ago (News, 10 May), where more than a million people had come for refuge.

Church leaders and aid agencies have once again demanded peace and an end to hostilities. “We call for an immediate cessation of this deadly violence, and appeal to both Israel and Hamas to desist from attacks on civilians and to urgently de-escalate the conflict,” the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, said.

“Strikes that kill civilians — especially innocent children — can never provide a path to sustainable peace or to justice, but only perpetuate the cycle of violence. We urge all WCC member churches to continue to pray for just peace in the land of Christ’s birth, and in solidarity with all the people affected and threatened by violence.”

At the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem, over the weekend, the Revd Dr Munther Isaac, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, said: “I honestly feel, after all these months, that I, we, the world . . . has failed the people of Gaza for not being able to stop this war.”

The programme manager for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory at Christian Aid, Julie Mehigan, spoke out “for the protection of Palestinian civilians” and invoked the recent International Court of Justice ruling on the prevention of genocidal acts (News, 2 February). “The order to halt military actions in Rafah needs to be implemented immediately. Crossings need to be opened so that aid can be delivered to starving people at scale.

“All states must get behind the ruling, and take whatever measures are necessary to ensure it is upheld. After almost eight months of terror, our partners, along with all Palestinian civilians and the hostages in Gaza, deserve nothing less.”

Mr Türk echoed concerns over Hamas activity. “Palestinian armed groups must stop the firing of rockets which are inherently indiscriminate, in clear violation of international humanitarian law. They must also unconditionally release all hostages at once.”

New initiatives have been launched to challenge and refocus churches on the imperative for peace. The Christ at the Checkpoint conference has a manifesto to “seek prayerfully a proper awareness of issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation . . . and compel a unified mission of the global Church”.

The Church of England has opened a new page on its website “for parishes and individuals seeking to better understand the Church’s response to the war and guidance on how they can how help whether through prayer, giving or action”.

With sections for “Pray”, “Give”, “Act”, and “Stay Informed”, it features several links and resources, including prayers for peace and hope.

christatthecheckpoint.bethbc.edu

churchofengland.org/about/topics/israel-gaza-war

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