for Palestinians, says Christian delegation
by Pat Ashworth
30 March 2001
A HIGH-PROFILE inter-Church delegation has brought
back from the Middle East reports of indescribable suffering
A HIGH-PROFILE inter-Church delegation has brought back from the
Middle East first-hand reports of indescribable suffering
among Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. It wants the Churches
to become advocates on their behalf.
Since the groups return last weekend, further violence has
broken out. Two bombs exploded in Jerusalem, killing the bomber
and injuring 30 others. The Israeli Prime Minister said that the
attacks were carried out by Palestinian forces.
They followed the killing on Monday of a ten-month-old Israeli
baby, Shalhevet Hass, in a Jewish settlement in Hebron, allegedly
by Palestian gunfire. An 11-year-old Palestinian boy died
in clashes on the West Bank on Tuesday.
The 12-strong delegation from Churches Together in Britain
and Ireland met government and diplomatic representatives,
church leaders, civil-society organisations, and ordinary
citizens. It split into groups to visit Palestinian refugee
camps, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan.
"Forty-two per cent of the land
had been expropriated for the 3000 Israeli settlers, guarded
by 6000 troops. The occupants of the settlements
pay no taxes to the Palestinian authorities; there is
water for their swimming pools, while many Palestinians
are without adequate supplies for drinking and sanitation."
Bishop of Exeter
The delegation has concluded that Palestinians are suffering under
a form of apartheid. Churches throughout the Middle East feel invisible
to and neglected by their fellow Christians in the West. Churches
in the West need to help reverse the catastrophic reduction
in pilgrimages. British and American governments need to re-examine
their Middle East policies.
The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish, was making
his sixth visit to the Middle East, but was deeply shocked by what
he saw of the increased sufferings of the 1.2 million Palestinians
in the 365 square kilometres of the Gaza Strip.
Forty-two per cent of the land had been expropriated for the 3000
Israeli settlers, guarded by 6000 troops. The occupants of
the settlements pay no taxes to the Palestinian authorities; there
is water for their swimming pools, while many Palestinians are without
adequate supplies for drinking and sanitation, he said.
The Bishop, who says that the future for the Middle East is a strong
and secure Israel and an independent Palestine, came back convinced
that the same broad coalition which produced the anti-apartheid
movement in South Africa must now come into play over the Middle
East. Palestinians saw double standards in the application of UN
resolutions to Iraq, but not to Israel, he said on Wednesday.
There is also a very strong memory that when Israel briefly
occupied the Gaza Strip in 1956, Eisenhower threatened Israel with
economic sanctions and they withdrew in 48 hours. There is no doubt
at all that if Western governments used their muscle, Israel would
respond, he said. There is a strong perception in the
Israeli government that the West is not going to interfere and that
the new Bush administration will not allow others to be involved.
To understand what was happening, it was essential for Christians
visiting the Holy Land on pilgrimage to meet living Christians,
said the Bishop. The delegation had met enormous gratitude
for McCabe Travels Living Stones pilgrimages and that companys
muscle had already brought an increase in the number of registered
The delegation called strongly for groups in Britain to resume
pilgrimages in order to support the Christian community. The
average pilgrimage is not going to be at risk. They will not allow
groups to go to Hebron and Gaza; but both sides have a vested interest
in ensuring tourists do not get hurt, said Bishop Langrish.
We want to encourage people to go, but on the kind of pilgrimage
where they do meet the living stones.