07 June 2024, The Tablet

Call for ‘societal’ peace-building to end Holy Land war

UN offices also warned that the flow of vital lifesaving aid into Gaza had fallen two thirds since the start of the Rafah offensive.

Call for ‘societal’ peace-building to end Holy Land war

Palestinians inspect destroyed houses in Rafah in early May, ahead of the start of Israel’s offensive.
Xinhua / Alamy

Pope Francis signed a letter alongside 160 humanitarian organisations urging G7 leaders to prioritise societal peace-building to end the war in the Holy Land.

The letter, dated 21 May, was signed by Israeli and Palestinian peace groups, as well as Christian agencies including Churches for the Middle East, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and Pax Christi International.

“For peace to last it must be built from the ground-up,” the letter said. “Yet, every previous round of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy has lacked a ‘bottom-up’ strategy.

“To ensure the success of any diplomatic initiative, top-down negotiations among leaders must be matched this time by a peace-building process at the societal level between Israelis and Palestinians, even more critical now considering the trauma and polarisation from the unprecedented violence of past months.”

On 31 May, UN humanitarians renewed an appeal to Israel to respect international law regarding the safe passage of lifesaving relief to civilians in Gaza. 

Last week, Caritas Internationalis, said that over 30,000 people have died in the region and 1.7 million have been forcefully displaced, many of them facing hunger. It reiterated its call for a ceasefire and an end to the conflict “that has devastated the lives of countless Palestinians”.

The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East reported last week on Anglican support for medical facilities in Gaza. Archbishop Hosam Naoum described the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City, which has been subject to strikes since the beginning of the war, as “a beacon of hope for many Gazans”.

He said a new clinic opening in Rafah would bring “healing in a place that witnessed so much devastation". However, last weekend UN offices said there were almost no health services in Gaza, with clinics and hospitals forced to shut down.

Archbishop Naoum described the Irish government's decision last week to recognise the state of Palestine as “momentous”, adding: “I think to see that happening brings joy to a lot of Palestinians. I would say that it would have been even better if Israel was part of this move.”

UN offices also warned that the flow of vital lifesaving aid into Gaza had fallen to less than a third of the previous level since the Israel Defence Forces began their offensive in Rafah. After nearly eight months of war, almost all 2.2 million people in the region are dependent on humanitarian assistance.

Pax Christi International urged all faith leaders to forcefully condemn the IDF attack on Rafah and demand that Israel respect international law.  

“We demand a permanent and immediate ceasefire to allow the start of diplomatic negotiations,” it said. “These massacres must stop immediately, and critical humanitarian aid must not only be allowed to cross into Gaza without delay, with its safe delivery secured by the occupation forces.” 

Toine van Teeffelen, a Pax Christi partner at the Arab Education Institute in Bethlehem, warned last week of the danger of war in the West Bank.

He described “the active or passive cooperation between Israeli settlers and the army, complicit in chasing away dozens of semi-Bedouin communities in so-called ‘area C’ of the West Bank under direct Israeli military control.” The aim is “to free land for Israeli settlements and outposts.”

He reported new settlement plans around Jerusalem, in the Jordan Valley, and other places, and also warned of “the weakening of society” as the Palestinian economy collapses.

According to the World Bank, almost half a million jobs have been lost in the Palestinian economy since October 2023. This includes an estimated loss of 200,000 jobs in the Gaza Strip, 144,000 jobs in the West Bank, and 148,000 labourers from the West Bank working in the Israeli labour market, as Jerusalem and Israel are closed off to West Bank Palestinians.

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