“Fifty years of occupation demands action”- Catholic Bishops


When they were blocked from entering Gaza in 2015 to meet with the Christian community there, a delegation of Catholic Bishops from around the world did a spontaneous “pray-in” in front of the checkpoint. After a 6 hour wait, embarrassed Israeli officials allowed the Bishops to enter. Powerful voices in the Catholic Church are speaking out about the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Read more.

“For fifty years, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have languished under occupation, violating the human dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis. This is a scandal to which we must never become accustomed.”  This is the opening sentence of a recent declaration by the Coordination of Bishops’ Conferences, of the Catholic Church “As Bishops we implore Christians in our home countries to recognize our own responsibility for prayer, awareness and action,” continues the document.

Officially entitled “The Holy Land Co-ordination”, the group is comprised of bishops from across Europe, North America and South Africa. It was established at the end of the 20th century at the invitation of the Holy See with the aim of visiting and supporting the Holy Land’s local Christian communities.The 12 member group includes Canada’s Bishop Lionel Gendron.

“Since we began these annual visits, we have seen that the occupation causes suffering for both Palestinians and Israelis”, commented Bishop Gendron a few days ago after returning from his most recent trip.

Significantly, the findings of the report were reinforced by a strong editorial in The Catholic Register, the most important Catholic publication in Canada.

The Catholic Church appears to be of two minds on the Israel/Palestine question. Powerful conservative voices are still of the opinion that the Church should not get involved in the struggle for human rights in the Holy Land. However, church opinion does appear to be evolving on the issue and the current Holy Father has shown more concern for the Palestinians than his predecessors did.

While many Catholic lay and clergy have promoted human rights for people around the world who live under situations of injustice and oppression, the work of the Coordination will nudge the official church toward increasingly vocal support of human rights for Palestinians.


“Raise the issue, but lower the temperature”

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  1. Thanks Peter. Globally, the Church is rapidly moving forward on these issues. That is in no small part thanks to Sabeel, and later other Jerusalem based CROs giving voice to Palestinian Christians.

    However, to talk about the “two minds” of the RC church overly simplifies a vastly complex structure. Suffice it say there are over 2500 jurisdictions (dioceses) and twice as many bishops (diocesan ‘governors’), speaking out of every culture on the planet. To get them on the same page on non-theological matters is neither possible, nor desirable.

    Incidentally, this reality can be reduced down to a national or even local level in considering “the mind” (or better, “the thinking”) of the broader church. The shift in the RC church, and especially on so many contemporary issues under Pope Francis, is based on understanding them as theological issues, where the Church indeed prays to be “of one mind.”

    Hence the impact on and of the delegation of Bishops to Palestine. And that is why it is so important to support local theology organizations such as Sabeel, and encourage many to attend their March conference which will build the links, in this case of the implications of 100 years of the Balfour Declaration and 50 years of occupation, to theology including Jubilee.

  2. Gaza needs a lot more than prayer. My heart goes out to the people of Palestine. Canada should be standing up for Palestine NOT the zionists who are murdering them.

  3. There are 350 Latin (catholic) Christians in Gaza, living under the Hamas theocracy that forces them to pay Dhimmi (a tax levied on non Muslims ) and limits their rights. Many of the Christians in Gaza fled the city in 2005 when Israel pulled out , they knew that they will be at the bottom of the packing order.
    At the same time, their 140,000 Christian cousins in Israel are prospering, enjoing similar education, income and democracy as Jews and Druze

    1. Ike, I gather you’ve never been to Gaza, much less care a whit about the people there. In addition to the Latin Christians, there are over 1000 Orthodox and others. There is no dhimmi in Gaza, just in Islamophobic propaganda. Nor was there an exodus in 2005. Our Gaza videoconference of Christians broadcast live across Canada a couple of months ago spoke truth in the face of ugly hate propaganda.

      Their Christian cousins in Israel do not enjoy the same rights to education or income. They are in fact second class citizens on the wrong-end of Israeli apartheid. Fact: Haredi school systems are 100% state-funded but the Christian school system was only 35% funded until that was slashed last year. Nuff said.

    2. Only ” similar” Ike?

      Why isn’t it the same?

      Isn’t Israel a state for all it’s citizens? Do Christians only have the choice, according to you, of being second class under Muslim rule or second class under Jewish rule?

    1. Thank you for the links Ike. It helps to know where you are coming from. No doubt Daniel Pipes is objective in his reporting.

      The odd thing for me is neither site mentioned the dozen plus churches vandalized and torched over a two year period by Israeli terrorists/etremists. Perhaps I missed those articles? Including churchs which have survived many hundreds of years of Arab Muslim rule.

      Rather odd that, isn’t it?

      1. the vandalizing of the churches is an act against the state of Israel. The Jewish extremists who did it call it a ‘price tag’. when the government is trying to evacuate settlers from ileagal settlements (illeagal based on Israeli law too) the extremists are trying to deter the government from doing that again in the future by vandalizing churches and thus trying to damage the close ties between Israel and its most important supporters the Evangelical churches in the US.

      2. No, it’s an act against the churches. Geeze… Ignore the victims why don’t you. No one accussed Israel of perpetrating the attacks. The reason for perpetrating the attack matter not a wit to the victims. Terrorism is terrorism. The church did nothing to those settler extremists.

        According to those links and you the churches and Christians are not the victims of these attacks. It begs the question as to why the sites linked to by Ike ignore these terrorist attacks.

  4. I was in Gaza about 15 months ago, hosted by the Near East Council of Churches. I spent several days talking to the small christian community there. Everybody talked about the hardship imposed on them (and everybody else) by Israel’s blockade, bombing, etc. Nobody mentioned any “hardship” imposed by Hamas or Muslims generally.
    I suspect that there may be issues, but they seem to pale in comparison to the issues they have with Israel.

    1. Palestinians are discouraged regarding talking to outsiders about problems that come from their society. Obviously the political context creates a situation where criticism of Palestinian culture becomes a reason for generalized oppression. Take an example of the social pressure to wear Hajib which has grown over the last 50 years. Palestinians understand this as part of a broader cultural change that has effected the middle east generally. There is among many Palestinians quite a lot of resentment regarding the social pressure being applied. And while there are outside forces at play, the locus of the pressure is within families. What has strengthened families is the political context. Were a government to intervene in the Hajib issue it would have to do in a way that weakens family authority and family structure. There are government structures that aggressively undermine family authority: the USA being a good example of a mild case, Mao’s reforms being a more aggressive government. In the current context the only government that would be likely to intervene to that extent in family would be the Israeli government and that would likely be in the context of Israel starting to adopt explicitly totalitarian aim’s, i.e. a reprogramming of Palestinian society through education and government terror very similar to Mao’s reforms.

      So I wouldn’t conclude to much regarding conversation. Palestinians don’t want outside intervention on this issues of intra Palestinian oppression. What is a good counter point though is how much Israeli Arabs don’t want to return to Palestinian rule. Another good counter point is that Middle East Christians are leaving in massive numbers. Emigration statistics are a pretty good measure of oppression, I think better than adhoc conversations.

  5. @Anonymous

    I’m going to throw out a theory here regarding the context. Canadians may not be as familiar with the history of the war against communism in Latin America because they were less directly involved than the USA. During the Reagan administration El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala had strong Communist insurgent movements which had Soviet support and were centered in the Catholic Church. Politically the governments couldn’t maintain the support of the population while conducting a terror campaign against the churches. So they utilized a structure that had earlier worked in Brazil in Argentina with some changes.

    What they did was they had an anti communist military. But the military operated within a legal system under the rule of law. They also had an independently funded terror organization that didn’t operate within the rule of law. The death squad organizations were technically illegal and the military did act against them (chasing them off) but the deep state supported both. The people in villages were faced with a choice, if they wanted military protection they needed to collaborate with the military so they could operate safely including establishing a non communist legal system. If they acted against the military and supported the communist insurgents the military would pull out and the death squads would war directly against the soft targets which were needed for ongoing support of the communist insurgents. The villagers would be horrified by the terror they were being subjected to and ask for help and when they did that was conditional upon collaboration with the military.

    Through a series of cycles the terror changed the political philosophy of the central American people and drove out the communists. Behavior changes belief. As people were terrorized into collaboration, they justified this collaboration by changing their political philosophy. This was a successful “counter terrorist” movement and today communism is not a major player in Latin American politics. Israel was lightly involved in this as there was strong congressional opposition to the USA being directly involved in mass killings to the extent required by this policy and so Reagan often had to turn to allied 3rd party actors.

    Right now the Israeli state is much too strong to need to make use of this sort of policy. However it does appear they have laid the groundwork for it in a situation where the occupation being too politically costly. Obviously the collapse of the PA with a broadly supported Hamas government is the most likely cause in the near term but one can imagine other situations where the Palestinians have strategic depth (I’d assume Jordan falls is the situation they are most worried about). A successful BDS would obviously qualify where the Israeli military had to be overtly pulling out to avoid a sanctions regime. I think they way the way this would work is that individual villages in the West Bank would choose whether they wanted military rule (I’d assume only the Jewish ones would choose that initially) or independence. The independent ones would face settler led death squads. After a very short period of time those village would demand military protection. The military would come in but would require security collaboration (think the PA’s situation). That would make the political leadership into collaborators and the insurgents (Hamas, ISIS, Islamic Jihad…?) would directly attack them which would tie their self interest to Israel. In those villages where Hamas (or whomever) was dominant their inability to provide basic protection would undermine their popularity and or cause a population migration into the villages under military rule.

    The net effect of a generation of this technique would be a West Bank Palestinian population that supported ongoing Israeli rule. It would also be a lot of dead people. El Salvidore which is about 2x the population of the West Bank saw 80k dead, 500k internally displaced, 500k externally displaced. Halving those numbers for the West Bank is probably about what it would take to drive Hamas out.

    The violence against churches is obviously not in the Israeli state’s interest. Having the sorts of fanatics who would attack churches on a short leash that can be released in case of trouble is in the Israeli state’s interests. One of the things I think BDSers need to think about are realistic scenarios of how BDS plays out were it to work in isolating Israel and forcing their back against the wall.

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