(From our correspondent in Bethlehem) The occupation that has been going on for 50 years (1967-2017) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Gaza blockade that has been in place for 10 years, violate “the human dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis. This is a scandal to which we must never become accustomed”. This is what the Bishops of the EU, the USA, Canada and South Africa (HLC) wrote in their final statement released at the end of their traditional solidarity trip to the Holy Land (14-19 January). The pilgrimage this year was attended by 12 Bishops, Mgr. Duarte da Cunha, CCEE Secretary General, and Fr. Peter-John Pearson, representing the Bishops of South Africa; it was held in Gaza (12 and 13 January), Jaffa, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron, with the Israeli military occupation as the main focus of attention. “So many people in the Holy Land have spent their entire lives under occupation, with its polarising social segregation, yet still profess hope and strive for reconciliation. Now, more than ever, they deserve our solidarity”, reads the communiqué in which the Bishops reaffirm their “responsibility to oppose the construction of settlements”. According to the HLC Bishops, “this de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the UN recently recognised, also imperils the chance of peace”.
The Bishops also reiterated their “responsibility to provide assistance for the people of Gaza, who continue to live amid a man-made humanitarian catastrophe”, exacerbated by “a decade under blockade” and “compounded by a political impasse caused by ill-will on all sides”. Echoing Pope Francis’ words, the Bishops encourage “non-violent resistance” which “has achieved great changes across the world. This is particularly necessary in the face of injustices such as the continued construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land including the Cremisan Valley”. The final statement promotes the two-state solution, in line with the position already expressed by the Holy See, and reaffirms support to the local Church, its agencies, volunteers, and NGOs. “In the most testing circumstances – the statement reads – they show great resilience and carry out life-changing work. It is our faith in God that gives us hope. It is the witness of Christians in the Holy Land and especially the young people we met that inspires us”. “During this fiftieth year of occupation – the statement ends – we must pray for the liberty of everyone in the Holy Land and practically support all those working to build a just peace”.