Israel has turned Gaza into ‘large prison,’ Irish bishops say, questioning Ireland’s ties
DUBLIN, Ireland (Catholic Online) – Israel has turned the occupied Gaza Strip into “a large prison” incarcerating Palestinians who are subject to “systematic abuse of human rights,” said the Irish bishops in a statement that calls into question Ireland’s commercial ties with the Middle East nation.
At a Feb. 27 press conference before a meeting with Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern here, Bishop Raymond Field, auxiliary bishop of Dublin and chairman of the Irish Bishops’ Conference Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA), focused on “the intolerable situation that is the daily lot of the Palestinians who live in Gaza.”
Noting that 150-square-mile Gaza Strip is a crowded home to an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians, Bishop Field said that Israel “imposes severe restrictions on the rights of Palestinians in Gaza to either enter or leave the territory.”
He pointed to need for Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to have “freedom of movement to work, visit family, obtain medical treatment and be educated.”
The Irish bishops “are calling for an end to restriction on family reunification, and an end to humiliating treatment of people at checkpoints,” he said.
“This injustice,” he added, is exacerbated by further restrictions on commercial activities, including fishing, which is a “key source of income” for Palestinians there.
He added that Palestinian Christians face great difficulties in worshiping at major Holy Land sites, like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, when coming from outside those cities.
“As things presently stand,” Bishop Field said, “Gaza is little more than a large prison.”
While welcoming economic cooperation between the European Union and other countries, Bishop Field said that “such cooperation should not be at the expense of a large segment of the indigenous population.”
“Where there is evidence of systematic abuse of human rights on a large scale as in the Occupied Territories,” he said, “there are questions that must be asked concerning the appropriateness of maintaining close business, cultural and commercial links with Israel.”
Bishop Field was one of 10 bishops and other representatives from North America and Europe who signed a Jan. 18 document calling for bold, courageous efforts to break the cycle of Israeli fear, which drives counterproductive security measures, and Palestinian anger, which drives violence.
Entitled “Breaking the Hold of Fear, Anger and Despair in the Holy Land: Communique of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land,” the document stressed that 59 years after creation of the state of Israel and the beginning of hostilities with that nation and its Arab neighbors “the search for lasting security and just peace continues,” calling for a new direction.
“Clearly something new is needed to achieve justice and peace so that Israelis can move beyond fear, which drives counterproductive security policies that oppress the Palestinian people, and so that Palestinians can move beyond anger and despair, which drive violence that terrifies the Israeli people,” it said.
The document urged the establishment of “a viable Palestinian state, which would end the occupation” and affirmed the right of Israel to live in peace and security within its borders.
Noting the “profound suffering on both sides,” the bishops’ conference representatives urged specific measures to attempt to establish “mutual trust” between Palestinians and Israelis.
They questioned the presence of the Israeli Security Wall and the “expansion and establishment of settlements” in the West Bank, and called for the reduction in the number of Israeli checkpoints in the Palestinian Territories, the end of “humiliating treatment at the borders and checkpoints,” the release of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority and the permitting of reunification of families in Israel where there is a Palestinian spouse.
“Bold gestures are needed to break the cycle of Israeli fear and Palestinian anger that dominate the current situation,” the bishops’ conference representatives said in the communiqué.
Pointing to the daily “sufferings and deprivations” experienced in the West Bank and Gaza, they said that “Palestinians need freedom of movement so that they can work, visit family members, obtain medical treatment and get an education.”
The Catholic group called upon Palestinian leaders to enter into substantive negotiations for “a just peace and (to) create a better future” and urged them to find unity as necessary component to that effort.
“The restraint of violence and the recognition of the state of Israel by all elements of Palestinian society will help rebuild the international community’s confidence in and support of the Palestinian Authority,” they said.
The bishops’ conference officials called upon Israel to move forward on the more than decade-long negotiations toward completing “successfully and soon” a fundamental agreement between that country and the Holy See.
“The vitality of the church and its institutions in Israel, including hospitals, schools and hospices that provide valuable services to the whole community, will be enhanced when the agreement and other measures are ratified in law and fully implemented,” they said.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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