The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa welcomed the release of some Hamas hostages and Israel’s corresponding release of Palestinian prisoners as a first step toward the end of the war in the Holy Land.
He said “a first step has been taken towards easing both internal and international tension” and “it is also a way to start implementing solutions other than military ones”. He has called for interreligious dialogue and new political perspectives for Gaza.
The patriarchate’s chief executive Sami El-Yousef said “please keep praying that this war comes to an immediate end now”.
He called for a permanent ceasefire and emphasised that the Christian message “does not change during times of war and it is critical that this message continues to guide our society so that some tracks can be found to move forward to reach justice and peace for all who call the Holy Land home”.
Hannah Redekop of Christian Peacemaker Teams welcomed the negotiations that brought a four-day pause in fighting on 24-27 November – extended on Monday by 48 hours – and brought both Palestinians and Israelis back to their families, but said it was “not sufficient”.
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), a US-based coalition of more than 30 national Church communions and organisations working, also said the temporary ceasefire was “not enough”.
“To prevent the further loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives, diplomatic efforts must be redoubled to bring to fruition a durable end to hostilities,” it said, following a UN report on 22 November that more than 14,500 Palestinians have been killed by bombing in Gaza, including 6,000 Palestinian children and 4,000 women.
CMEP called on the Biden administration to use its diplomatic weight to bring all parties “to address the core issues underlying the current violence”, including the Israeli military occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
In the US on Sunday, more than 1,500 Jewish peace campaigners, together with Palestinians, rabbis, imams, pastors, priests, parents, and elected officials held up traffic at Manhattan Bridge in New York, calling for a permanent ceasefire In Gaza.
In a statement, Jewish Voices for Peace said: “We represent the majority of people in the US. 66 per cent of Americans and 80 per cent of Democrats want the bombing of Gaza to stop.”
Cafod’s Middle East programmes representative, Elizabeth Funnell, said: “For Palestinians in Gaza in desperate need of life-saving food, water and medicine this will bring some respite. For the released hostages and their families, this is such an important moment, and will give hope to those hostages that remain.”
However, she called for “a full ceasefire” and urged the UK government “to show leadership in support of a political solution which will address the causes of the conflict, ensure accountability for violations of international law and enable a just and long-term peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike”.
On 22 November, Pope Francis met two delegations from the Holy Land, one of Israelis with relatives held hostage by Hamas and the other of Palestinians with relatives in Gaza. The latter was accompanied by Fr Gabriel Romanelli, the parish priest of the Church of the Holy Family in Gaza.
“They suffer so much. I heard how they both suffer,” said Francis in his general audience address later that day. He asked for prayers that both sides would “not go ahead with passions, which, in the end, kill everyone”.
The Vatican subsequently disputed the Palestinian delegates’ claim that the Pope had used the word “genocide” to describe events in Gaza.
Three nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, based near Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital, have been struggling to support roughly 60 residents, handicapped and mentally challenged children and old people bedridden with bedsores, who have no food, water, medicine, electricity, or gas, reported Fr Francis Xavier Rayappangari, commissary of the Holy Land in India.
However, he said “generous and courageous people” brought them food. “One day they had just one loaf of bread shared among the three,” he said, “the other day it was just an orange, and the three sisters shared it among them.”
He reported that an estimated 700 people are still sheltering in the nearby parish.