OTTAWA (CCN) — A spokesperson for B’nai Brith Canada says a Jan. 19 communiqué from Catholic bishops condemning 50 years of occupation seems to blame Israel for lack of progress on peace in the Holy Land.
“We’re disappointed that the communiqué seems to ignore important issues dealing with the conflict in Israel, including such important issues as ongoing Palestinian incitement to violence and the fact the PLO and Hamas Charters both continue to call for the destruction of the State of Israel,” said Michael Mostyn, the Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “While we all wish for peace in the region, it is important to acknowledge the very serious security concerns that Israel faces on an ongoing basis and when communiqués such as this ignore security issues, it is not helpful.”
Mostyn said he would be writing to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to outline B’nai Brith’s concerns.
The vice-president of the CCCB, Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, one of the bishops who signed the communiqué, said blaming Israel was not their intent.
“We truly wanted to show the occupation as it is problematic not only for the Palestinians but also for Israelis,” he said upon his return from the Holy Land Jan. 24.
Gendron was one of a dozen bishops primarily from Europe and North America who issued the communiqué after an annual pilgrimage to the region sponsored by the Co-ordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land, also known as the Holy Land Co-ordination. This was Gendron’s third participation in the pilgrimage.
Gendron said many of the bishops, some who have participated in the pilgrimage for 10 or 15 years, had become “tired” of encountering the same problems, so they decided to focus on the occupation and the settlements. The communiqué also called for non-violent resistance, based on Pope Francis’ message Jan. 1 for the World Day of Peace that spoke of how non-violent means had “changed the situation in many countries,” Gendron said.
Though Isreali occupation after the 1967 war was “supposed to lessen and disappear, that has not happened,” Gendron said. “It has not happened because of the violence from Palestinians.”
“But same time occupation provokes a reaction,” he said. “Often, if rights of people are not respected, some of them become violent.”
The bishops were also influenced by the Dec. 22 United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the building of illegal settlements in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a violation of international law, Gendron said. For the first time, the United States abstained rather than vetoed such a move, he noted.
Mostyn objected to the communiqué’s reference to the UN resolution. “When the Security Council of the United Nations calls even the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem occupied, and the United Nations attempts to remove the Jewish history from even areas such as the Western Wall and Temple Mount, this has caused widespread outrage within the Jewish community worldwide,” Mostyn said. “Re-writing history is not the pathway forward to peace.”
The communiqué makes no mention of the Jordanian occupation of East Jerusalem prior to 1967 during which Jewish inhabitants of the ancient Jewish quarter were banned from living there, he said.
“There is no question that any future peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians will involve a certain exchange of land and this will be a result of direct negotiations between the two parties,” Mostyn said. “However, so long as incitement to violence is not roundly condemned by the worldwide community, then unfortunately, it will be very difficult to find a Palestinian peace partner.”
“It only mentions one factor,” he said. “So it appears they are blaming the Israelis, and that’s how many will read this release.”
Gendron agreed the Hamas Charter does call for the destruction of Israel, but said the PLO has recognized the State of Israel and a two-state solution. “Hamas is not all the people of Palestine,” he said. “Lots of people who do not agree with that would like to live in a free country.”
Gendron said they met with a number of Israeli NGOs who do not support the right-wing policies of the present government and its support for the building of settlements, which the communiqué described as the de facto annexation of Palestinian land.
As for the plight of Palestinian Christians in the Cremisan Valley who have been fighting a proposed route for the separation wall that would separate 58 families from their agricultural land, Mostyn said, “There’s no question this is a very difficult situation and people are suffering.”
He defended the existence of the wall. “There’s nothing more valuable than human life,” he said. “The security fence was built to save lives and in fact it has saved many lives from Palestinian terrorist incursions.”
“Hateful words lead to hateful actions and unless internationally respected bodies are willing to address the root causes, which is incitement to violence, then unfortunately peace may continue to elude us into the future.”