The most violent year in the Holy Land in decades now culminates in outright war. The following article was published in the November-December 2023 issue of NewsNotes.
A deadly attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas shocked the world on October 7. In the days and weeks that followed, many people of faith and good will condemned the violence and called for Hamas to release all hostages. And, as the suffering grows for the people of Gaza under Israeli bombardment, so do calls by faith leaders for the violence to stop and safe corridors to open for delivering lifesaving aid to Gaza.
“Our hearts have been broken again and again as we have heard stories [of the Hamas attack] from the survivors and from the families of those murdered or kidnapped,” said more than 600 Jewish religious leaders in the United States and Canada in an open letter published on October 26. Signers of the letter, organized by the T’ruah rabbinic human rights organization, include prominent U.S. rabbis representing some of the largest congregations around the country. “In the depths of our pain, we also mourn the deaths and suffering of Palestinian civilians and call for immediate action to protect their lives,” the letter goes on to say. “Hamas’s war crimes do not justify further war crimes or collective punishment.”
Pope Francis noted that the Hamas attack on Oct.7 took place on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, which marks the completion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah scroll. “I pray for all those families that saw a day of celebration be transformed into a day of mourning,” the pope said. “And I ask that the hostages be released immediately,” he continued. Israeli government officials have estimated that Hamas is holding more than 200 Israeli hostages.
“One who is attacked has the right of self-defense,” the pope also said, “but I am very concerned about the total siege under which Palestinians are living in Gaza, where there also have been many innocent victims.” After more than a week of Israeli bombardment, the pope deplored the “desperate” situation in Gaza and urged Catholics to take “only one side” in the conflict, the side “of peace.”
On Oct. 29, Pope Francis called for a ceasefire during the Angelus in Rome.
In Jerusalem, the Roman Catholic Church’s top representative in the Holy Land, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, also known as the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, made headlines on Oct. 16 for offering himself in exchange for Hamas’s Israeli hostages if it would help bring children home. The invitation remains open. This creative nonviolent action is an alternative to meeting violence with violence and demonstrates that opportunities to de-escalate and mediate the conflict exist, if only we allow ourselves to imagine them.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem also wrote a pastoral letter to the diocese on Oct. 24 explaining the situation. He called for an end to the “decades of occupation” and “a clear and secure national perspective to the Palestinian people” which he said is the only way that a serious peace process can begin. “Unless this problem is solved at its root, there will never be the stability we all hope for,” he said.
“The tragedy of these days must lead us all, religious, political, civil society, international community, to a more serious commitment in this regard than what has been done so far. This is the only way to avoid other tragedies like the one we are experiencing now. We owe it to the many victims of these days and to those of years past. We do not have the right to leave this task to others.”
The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns has been working closely with Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches, to raise our voices calling for protection of Christians in the Holy Land and peace for all people in Israel Palestine. Together, we have met with White House staff, and representatives from the United Nations, and Egyptian and Jordanian governments, to discuss ways to de-escalate the conflict and to protect all Israeli and Palestinian people.
The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns also organized a letter from Catholic organizations to President Biden and joined prominent Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Arab-American groups, in a letter to the president and Congress. Both letters ask for support for a ceasefire and protection of all civilians, including by increasing humanitarian aid into Gaza and working for the release of hostages.
Faith in action:
Churches for Middle East Peace invites the public to attend weekly 30-minute online prayer time for peace on Wednesdays at 12:30pm ET and briefings on Thursdays at 10:00am ET. Register at www.cmep.org
Ask President Biden to call for a ceasefire https://mogc.info/CeasefireNow Look through the list of Jewish rabbis who signed the letter for peace to find one near you and offer your solidarity. https://mogc.info/T-ruah
Share A Prayer for Peace in Israel and Palestine written by Rose Berger of Sojourners Magazine. https://mogc.info/SOJO-MEP
Photo by Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages via WikiMedia.