07 December 2023, The Tablet

Church grieves collapse of Gaza ceasefire

Palestinian families said that maps circulated by the Israeli military directing them to safe areas are sowing confusion.

Church grieves collapse of Gaza ceasefire

A family moves towards safer areas following the resumption of Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, after the end of a seven-day truce between Israel and Hamas.
Sipa US/Alamy

Pope Francis expressed his “pain” as hostilities resumed in Gaza, using his Sunday Angelus address to call on combatants to “take courageous paths of peace”.

He was speaking after the Israel-Hamas ceasefire agreement broke down last Friday. Pope Francis has repeatedly called for the release of all hostages in Gaza and an immediate end to hostilities.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) reported that they had struck hundreds of locations in the Gaza Strip on Monday as it expanded its ground operation against Hamas to the south. Almost 1.9 million people in Gaza are now internally displaced, equivalent to 80 per cent of its population, according to the UN. 

In an interview on 1 December, the parish priest of the Church of the Holy Family in Gaza Fr Gabriel Romanelli said that the small Christian community in the region had elected to remain in the parish, where “they have great trust in God’s divine protection”, rather than follow IDF evacuation orders.

“It was dangerous as bombings were taking place both north and south. They chose to remain where they were, trusting in Jesus, so they truly felt the presence of God,” he said.

He added that the parish could not conduct its normal Christmas celebrations but was trying “to help prepare spiritually for Jesus to be born in our hearts and lives by cleansing the grotto of our hearts and experience the simplicity of a grotto”.

“In regard to the spiritual life, despite all the things we lack, it is still a beautiful, rich, and important life in the parish,” he said. “We try to be one, not only assisting the Christians but also the Muslims, anyone who comes to Gaza, allow them to experience the special presence of the Lord.”

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk appealed for an end to the fighting: “Silence the guns and return to dialogue – the suffering inflicted on civilians is too much to bear. More violence is not the answer. It will bring neither peace nor security.”

Aid groups and Palestinian families reported that maps circulated by the Israeli military directing them to safe areas are sowing confusion and lack detail.  They said those areas became overcrowded or were subject to attack.

Gaza’s health ministry issued new casualty figures earlier this week, saying that nearly 16,000 Palestinians have now been killed by Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza strip. It says 70 per cent of those killed in Gaza are women and children.

The Israeli government has begun to publish further details from its investigations of the 7 October attacks which killed 1,200 people, revealing the sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas and other terror groups.

In Bethlehem, the Lutheran church presented its Nativity scene for Advent with the child Christ trapped under rubble.  The West Bank has seen a surge of violence by Jewish settlers against Palestinians.

Yesh Din, a human rights group that monitors settler violence, said there had been at least 225 incidents in 93 Palestinian communities in the West Bank since the war started.

Among the recent arbitrary detentions by the IDF is Anas Abu Srour, 35-year-old director of the Youth Centre in Bethlehem’s Aida Refugee Camp, who has collaborated with Pax Christi, Caritas and parish groups who visit Bethlehem from around the world. They demanded his release after he was detained on 28 November.

The tiny Christian community of Bethlehem welcomed the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr Francesco Patton OFM, to Manger Square for the First Sunday of Advent, where a smaller, quieter ceremony replaced the customary procession.  He reflected that “the truce showed negotiation is possible”.

Tourism in the town has been stalled by the war in Gaza during one of its busiest pilgrimage seasons. Souvenir sellers in Bethlehem who rely on tourism for a living say the streets are empty and Christmas decorations have been removed. The Franciscans, who care for 65 of the holy sites, have said that while they have not suffered direct attacks they face an intangible threat from the disappearance of pilgrims.

Almost 400,000 Palestinians have lost jobs due to war, reported the International Labour Organisation last weekend.

Last Sunday saw a “Ceasefire Now” protest inside Expo City at COP28 in Dubai, calling for human rights to be protected in Gaza.  Médecins Sans Frontières and the Jesuit Refugee Service demanded that governments put pressure on Israel to stop the attacks on civilians and end the siege.

Pax Christi International has organised an international webinar, “For a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine”, on 10 December, International Human Rights Day. It will honour the work of the Parents Circle – recipients of Pax Christi’s Peace Award for 2023 – which works with the group Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Families supporting Peace, Reconciliation and Tolerance.

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