18 January 2024, The Tablet

New pleas for ceasefire after 100 days of Gaza war

“There will be no immediate solution. What is important now is to find channels of communication between the two sides. Between Israel and Hamas.”

New pleas for ceasefire after 100 days of Gaza war

IDF troops in Khan Younis, where a Cafod partner was forced to suspend operations amid airstrikes.
Associated Press / Alamy

Pope Francis prayed for the “people who have power over these conflicts” at the Sunday Angelus, 100 days after the 7 October Hamas terror attack which began the war in the Holy Land.

The Pope urged prayers for political leaders so that they might realise that violence is “not the way to resolve” problems. He described war as “a crime against humanity”.

Hamas and its allies killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages in its surprise assault. Israel responded with an intensive bombardment and operations in Gaza which have killed nearly 24,000 people, nearly two-thirds women and children.

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, met Pope Francis on Monday to discuss “the humanitarian situation of the Christian community in Gaza and in the Holy Land”, which the patriarch said was “a microcosm of the difficulties that the whole population is experiencing”.

“It is not easy, even for the Christians, to be in a situation of great division, where everyone is expected to take sides,” he said. 

“There will be no immediate solution. What is important now is to find channels of communication between the two sides. Between Israel and Hamas.”

Cafod reported that over 1.9 million people have been displaced in Gaza, with many families forced to move multiple times. Civilian areas including schools, homes, hospitals and churches have been attacked, it said, joining calls for an immediate ceasefire: “Civilians must be protected and full humanitarian access must be provided.”

The aid agency’s local partner has had to shut its centres in Khan Younis that were providing relief and shelter for thousands of children and their families, as Israel Defence Force strikes on southern Gaza intensified.

Elizabeth Funnell, Cafod’s country representative for the Middle East, said that “for 100 days, civilians – women, men and children – have paid the ultimate price in this terrible conflict that urgently demands a ceasefire”. She said that nowhere was safe “within the tiny Gaza Strip”.

“We stand in awe of the unwavering strength and courage of our local partners, who persevere in their mission despite losing their own homes and facing constant threats of aerial bombardments,” she said.

Gaza’s Catholic parish continues to celebrate daily Mass and to care for hundreds given sanctuary there.

The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba issued a prayer last week for the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ahead of the start of a hearing in The Hague last Thursday and Friday where South Africa asked it to interdict Israel for its actions in Gaza.

He prayed that members of the ICJ “will say ‘Yes’ to justice and peace, and ‘No’ to violence and conflict”.

South Africa lodged an urgent appeal demanding that Israel “immediately suspend” military operations in Gaza.

Public hearings commenced on 11 January, considering violations of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The Revd Jerry Pillay, general secretary to the World Council of Churches (WCC), said the day was a “significant moment for justice and the rule of law”.  

He said South Africa presented “a powerful account of the catastrophic impact of the ongoing Israeli military action in Gaza on the entire Palestinian civilian population of the territory, and rightfully demands an urgent adjudication by the ICJ”.

“The World Council of Churches expects all responsible members of the international community to respect and implement the ICJ’s rulings,” he said.

Pillay repeated the WCC’s calls for an immediate ceasefire and respect for international law.

“We underscore the imperative of accountability for atrocities and crimes perpetrated against civilians”, he said.

In South Africa, a statue of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu wearing a Palestinian scarf was put on display in Cape Town. The statue of the Nobel peace laureate will be temporarily on show on the balcony of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation’s headquarters “until the bombing of Gaza stops”, the foundation said last week.

“He was an outspoken critic of the State of Israel’s policies and treatment of Palestine and Palestinians, which he likened to the policies and actions of apartheid South Africa,” the foundation said, noting that he had visited both Israel and Gaza “on a number of occasions, including as an emissary of the United Nations”.

On 13 January, the “Global Day of Action for Palestine” saw protests across 45 countries in over 120 cities, including Oslo, Milan, Berlin, Tokyo, Johannesburg and Sydney, demanding an end to the bombing of Gaza.

Marchers outside the White House carried signs questioning President Joe Biden’s viability as a presidential candidate because of his staunch support for Israel.

Some signs read “No votes for Genocide Joe” and “Biden has blood on his hands”, while one called for Pope Francis to excommunicate Biden. One group of protesters threw “bloody” baby dolls at the White House.

Churches for Middle East Peace and Maryknoll missionaries joined a candlelit vigil after the march, praying for a ceasefire and demilitarisation in Israel and Palestine.  

In Amsterdam, thousands of shoes representing children that have died in Gaza were laid out in a square and their names read out.

In Rome, demonstrators lay down in the street and pulled white sheets over themselves as if they were corpses, while others knelt beside them, their palms daubed in red paint.

Thousands of people gathered outside the US embassy in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, waving Indonesian and Palestinian flags and “Ceasefire Now” banners.

More than 300 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank over the last 100 days, including a child and four others who died last Sunday.

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