The escalating levels of fighting and destruction we have seen in Israel and Palestine since 7 October 2023 are fast turning the land we call holy into one of those places in the world where conflict and deep-seated violence is destroying any form of human society, based on a sense of the common good, and even levels of minimal human decency.
The injustices and aggression that characterise the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians tear me apart, forcing me into quiet contemplation of the horrors we are seeing. I’m wanting to cry out for ceasefires and humanitarian corridors, but almost despairing of whether it will make the slightest difference.
Finally, the international community needs to take responsibility for its role in fuelling the conflict, with its weapons exports to the Middle East.
The rhetoric of parties to the conflict, demonising their enemies as inhuman, is frightening in its familiarity to South Africans who lived under apartheid.
For as our Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard, it gave licence to soldiers on the ground to ignore the professed assurances of humane treatment by their leaders, and to commit gross violations of people’s human rights. Dehumanising rhetoric leads to crimes against humanity and, in Rwanda, it even led to genocide.
Just as we condemn Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, and the horrific 7 October attacks on civilians – reminiscent of the pogroms carried out against Jews in the past – so too we condemn the Israeli attacks on Gaza, which Amnesty International has documented as unlawful and indiscriminate, leading to mass civilian casualties.
Condemn any acts that target civilians
I stand with the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem in their statement that: “We unequivocally condemn any acts that target civilians, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity or faith. Such actions go against the fundamental principles of humanity and the teachings of Christ, who implored us to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. (Mark 12:31).
Together with the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Dr Hosam Naoum, I call for:
- An immediate cessation of violence; and
- The establishment of humanitarian corridors into Gaza to facilitate the provision of food, water, medical supplies and electricity to civilian infrastructure.
I also call for the unconditional release of hostages, and stand with the church leaders in Jerusalem as they appeal for sincere dialogue aimed at finding lasting solutions that promote justice, peace and reconciliation for all the people of the Holy Land. The occupation of the West Bank of Jordan has to be ended and the Palestinians given the right of self-determination there and in Gaza. Equally, Israelis need to be able to live in peace and security.
Finally, the international community needs to take responsibility for its role in fuelling the conflict, with its weapons exports to the Middle East. Any nation which arms a party to the conflict, whether directly or indirectly, implicitly makes this war its war too.
I reiterate the appeal by church leaders in Jerusalem: “We call upon the international community to redouble its efforts to mediate a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land, based on equal rights for all, and on international legitimacy.” DM