Covid-19 has exacerbated the situation in the Holy Land to the point where “there is today less cause for optimism than at any time in recent history”, according to the Holy Land Coordination group.
The group, which includes Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor and Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian SJ, says in its latest statement that the impact of Covid-19 has been “compounded by conflict, occupation and blockade” and the related “absence of international pilgrims” has “exacerbated widespread economic hardship, increased levels of unemployment and pushed many more families into poverty”.
They encouraged “cooperation by the Palestinian Authority, heeding Pope Francis’ message that “in the face of a challenge that knows no borders, we cannot erect walls”.
The Holy Land Coordination group was founded to address the immense spiritual and physical problems of the region and its peoples and is comprised of bishops from across Europe and America, including one Church of England bishop. The group meets and travels to the Holy Land every January with a focus on prayer, pilgrimage and persuasion, but has had to suspend its annual visit in the face of the pandemic.
The group lamented the ongoing “lack of political progress” and the “relentless expansion of illegal settlements” as well as the “impact of Israel’s Nation-State law” which, according to the group, “erode any prospect of a peaceful two-state solution”. In their statement they call upon the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to “recommit” to “direct negotiations” and on “our own governments and political leaders urgently to renew their active participation in the search for a just peace, supporting dialogue between all sides, upholding international law, and reaffirming the plurality of Jerusalem”.
The statement also addresses itself to the leaders of the “international community” asking that they “hold Israel accountable for its moral, legal and humanitarian responsibility to make Covid-19 vaccines accessible for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza”. The group acknowledged the “severe hardship” that every country is going through during the pandemic but spoke of “a profound responsibility to support our fellow Christians in the Holy Land”.
The Vatican has recognised Palestine’s statehood since 2015, and in a statement in July 2020 reiterated its support for the two-state solution, asserting that the two states “have the right to exist and to live in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders”.
The communique was signed by Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton andChair of the Holy Land Coordination plus 15 other bishops from around Europe, North America and South Africa.
Meanwhile, the Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem has thanked the Jordanian government for incorporating refugees from Iraq and Syria into its Covid-19 vaccination programme. Palestinian Bishop William Hanna Shomali, Auxiliary in Jerusalem, said, “this confirms that Jordan’s refugees are recognised and treated as people with equal rights”. Also, “extending the vaccination campaign to refugees right from the start represents a health protection for the rest of the inhabitants in the country.”
Jordan is one of the world's first countries to start coronavirus vaccinations for UN-registered refugees. Around 1.5 million refugees are hosted in the country.