The assembly of Roman Catholic bishops in Canada is publicizing a position stating that Israel’s 50-year “occupation” of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem is a “scandal” that calls for action by Christians.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has prominently posted a Jan. 19 statement on its website expressing that position. It was made by an international delegation of a dozen bishops who visited the Palestinian territories from Jan. 14 to 19.
The CCCB’s vice-president, Msgr. Lionel Gendron, bishop of the diocese of St. Jean-Longueuil, south of Montreal, was among them.
Together, they represented a body called the Co-ordination of Bishops’ Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land.
Opposition to Israeli settlement construction
Titled “Fifty years of occupation demands action,” the statement claims the occupation is “violating the human dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis,” and that “the suffering” continues, despite the bishops’ repeated calls over the past two decades for justice and peace.
“So this call must get louder,” they state. “As bishops, we implore Christians in our home countries to recognize our own responsibility for prayer, awareness and action.” They urge “solidarity” with those living under occupation, and support “non-violent resistance.”
The statement expresses opposition to the construction of Israeli settlements and to the ongoing building of the separation wall “on Palestinian land,” citing specifically the Cremisan Valley. It supports a two-state solution.
“The 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 recognized, also imperils the chance of peace.”
Gaza is described as “a man-made humanitarian catastrophe” after a decade under blockade, “compounded by a political impasse caused by ill will on all sides.”
The statement applauds “the life-changing work” carried out by the local church, its agencies, volunteers and NGOs “in the most testing circumstances.”
The other delegates were from Europe and the United States. The statement was also signed by representatives of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community and the South African Bishops’ Conference.
Catholic News Service reported that the bishops visited the West Bank and Hebron, and three of them also went to Gaza.
Mgr. Gendron told The CJN in an emailed response, “Our intention was not to accuse Israel, but to affirm that it is necessary to achieve peace, because the present situation is causing harm to Israel and to Palestine.”
He said the CCCB was not consulted on the content of the statement, but that he signed on as its representative.
“The final statement of the Co-ordination’s annual visit to the Holy Land is always signed only by the bishops who participated,” the CCCB’s media relations director Deacon René Laprise added.
When the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) was asked for its reaction, its senior political adviser Richard Marceau emailed: “It is deeply disappointing to see our Catholic friends issue a one-sided, distorted statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that only serves to obscure the real path to peace…
“Frankly, we expect far better from the leadership of a faith community for which we have tremendous respect, and which should have a realistic grasp of the complex and tragic situation on the ground.”
CIJA finds it “astonishing” that the statement does not mention ongoing terrorist attacks against Israelis or the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state.
CIJA notes that, for decades, polls have consistently shown that the Israeli people want a two-state solution and are prepared to make significant compromises to achieve it. Since 2000, CIJA continues, Israeli leaders have made three separate offers for a comprehensive peace that would have established a Palestinian state, “each of which were rejected without counter-offer by the Palestinian leadership.
“The fact that none of this is mentioned in the bishops’ statement suggests a fundamental lack of understanding of the core barriers to peace.”
Mgr. Gendron told The CJN that he is available to meet face-to-face with CIJA on this matter.
CIJA has a collaborative relationship with the CCCB. In November 2015, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, the CCCB and the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus, an affiliate of CIJA, entered into what was described as the first national, bilateral dialogue between Catholics and Jews in this country. It was stressed at the time that Catholics must understand the importance of Israel to Canadian Jews.
Among the two organizations’ commitments were to oppose anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred and to work together on public policy issues of common concern. Last June, for example, they were part of an interfaith statement on the need for palliative care.