22 February 2024, The Tablet

Israel continues Gaza siege despite global pleas for ceasefire

“Gaza has been transformed by Hamas into the largest terrorist base ever seen,” said a statement from the Israeli Embassy to the Holy See.

Israel continues Gaza siege despite global pleas for ceasefire

The Al-Huda Mosque in Rafah, destroyed in a bombardment earlier this month.
DPA Picture Alliance/Alamy

The Israeli Embassy to the Holy See criticised the Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin after he called military operations in Gaza disproportionate.

“I believe we are all outraged by what is happening, by this carnage, but we must have the courage to move forward and not lose hope,” said Parolin on 13 February, remarks termed “regrettable” by Israel’s embassy.

Parolin said that the Holy See has issued “a clear and unreserved condemnation of what happened on 7 October” as well as “a clear and unreserved condemnation of every type of antisemitism”.  However, he said, “at the same time” it has requested “that Israel’s right to defence, that was invoked to justify this operation, be proportionate…and certainly with 30,000 deaths it is not.”

The Israeli embassy promptly responded that “judging the legitimacy of a war without taking into account all relevant circumstances and data inevitably leads to erroneous conclusions”.

“Gaza has been transformed by Hamas into the largest terrorist base ever seen,” it said, insisting “there is almost no civilian infrastructure that has not been used by Hamas for its criminal plans, including hospitals, schools, places of worship, and many others”.

Addressing civilian deaths, it said that in Israel Defence Force (IDF) operations, “for every Hamas militant killed, three civilians lost their lives”, which contrasts favourably with “past wars and operations of Nato forces or Western forces in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan…the proportion was nine or 10 civilians for every terrorist.”

The official Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano affirmed Parolin’s “realistic view” in an editorial on 15 January.

“The Holy See is always on the side of the victims,” it said, pointing to the high number of “innocent civilians, one-third of whom are children”, killed in Gaza.

The Israeli government summoned the Brazilian ambassador in Tel Aviv for a meeting on Monday after Brazil's president accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had said Israel's military campaign was between a “highly prepared army and women and children” and likened attacks on Palestinians to “when Hitler decided to kill the Jews”.

Israel's foreign minister described Lula's comments as antisemitic and said he was “persona non grata” in the country until he retracted them.

Hundreds of thousands of people joined protests against the war in Gaza last weekend, as Israel pledged to begin its offensive in Rafah in southern Gaza. There were also protests in Tel Aviv and outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in West Jerusalem, with demonstrators calling for a prisoner exchange deal and immediate elections in the country.

In the West Bank, since 7 October, the Palestinian economy has been squeezed by the Israeli authorities, with Palestinians excluded from work in Israel or in settlements and their movement heavily restricted. Around 37,000 Christians in West Bank have lost their incomes from pilgrimages, according to Aid to the Church in Need.

Settler activity is increasing in the region. Daoud Nasser from Tent of Nations near Bethlehem reported that his family’s 100-acre property, where they have farmed for over a century and have welcomed pilgrims and volunteers to help cultivate the land and build bridges between people, is today surrounded by Israeli settlements.

Nasser said that access to Tent of Nations has become more difficult in recent months for “two additional roadblocks of earth and large stones have been placed on the road to the farm which comes in from Route 60”. He suggested that “the aim is clearly to make it more inconvenient for international visitors to get to the farm”. 

He appealed for prayers, and added: “We will continue to transform our frustration and pain into positive actions, believing that things are possible even in an unjust and hopeless situation.”

On Ash Wednesday, Catholic groups in the US launched a “Lenten Ceasefire Campaign”. They gathered near the White House in Lafayette Park for Mass, followed by an ecumenical public witness in mourning for the lives destroyed in Gaza and Israel since 7 October 2023.

They called on President Joe Biden to demand a bilateral ceasefire, to support demilitarisation rather than supplying additional military aid to Israel, to help secure a release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners held without due process, to support robust humanitarian assistance, to restart US funding for UNRWA (the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees) and to work diplomatically to end the siege on Gaza and the occupation of the Palestinian Territory.

Co-sponsors of the Lenten Ceasefire Campaign include the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces, the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, the Franciscan Action Network, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Sojourners and Pax Christi USA.

Johnny Zokovitch, executive director of Pax Christi USA, said: “We urge our fellow Catholic, Joe Biden, to choose the path of nonviolence, take clear steps to end this bloodshed, and promote a just peace.”

Representatives of the Armenian Church of America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the American Baptist Churches, the Mennonites and Churches for Middle East Peace were among the 22 Christian leaders who wrote to President Biden urging him to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

“Every day of continued violence not only increases the death toll in Gaza and the cost to civilians but also fosters further hatred toward Israel and the United States and irreparably damages the moral standing of the United States in the broader Middle East,” they said.

On 17 February, a delegation of over 30 Christians, mostly Presbyterians with some ecumenical partners, travelled from the US to Palestine and Israel “in solidarity with the suffering”.

Sponsored by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, the delegation was responding to an invitation from the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre and Kairos Palestine to show solidarity and to prompt Presbyterian networks “to mobilise Christians all over the USA to continue to push for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and a just peace for all in the Holy Land”.

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