The Catholic Church will speak out against injustice and avoid any attempt to normalize the “festering wound” of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, a commission from the region’s leading Catholic bishops has said.
“The Church, given the nature of her mission, has her own values and criteria to define her position in a situation of conflict, like the one in Israel-Palestine. No single brand of political discourse, no particular party position nor any particular ideological option binds the Church,” the Justice and Peace Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said May 14. The commission is headed by Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah.
“However, at the same time, the Church cannot ignore fundamental injustice or acts that endanger peace and the welfare of the human person,” the commission said.
“By her very nature, the Church opposes occupation and discrimination and is committed to promote justice and peace as well as the unique dignity and equality of every human person,” it continued. “The Church can never ignore injustice as if all is well but rather is obligated to speak out, resist evil and work tirelessly for change. Like the prophets of old, the Church, a prophetic body, points out injustice and denounces it.”
The Church must discern what is necessary to maintain relations with the occupying power, but avoid any activities that would help the situation appear normal.
The Justice and Peace Commission saw an important intersection between the Church’s position against injustice, and political discourse against “normalization” of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The local Church is responsible for reminding the universal Church that the situation is “an open, festering wound and that the situation cannot be considered normal,” the commission said.
While in the State of Israel, Jews and Arabs have equal rights in principle, in practice Arabs face discrimination in access to development, jobs, education, and public funding for their cities, the group added.
“Some of these forms of discrimination are embedded in legislation, but others are indirect and hidden.”
The military occupation of Palestine undermines the residents’ daily lives, through settlement, road-building, Israeli construction on Palestinians’ private land, but also military incursion, assassination, arbitrary arrest, collective punishment, confiscation of land, and destruction of houses. Checkpoints limit their freedom of movement, which hinders economic development and family reunification.
“In both societies, Israeli and Palestinian, the life of the Palestinians is far from normal and acting as if things were normal ignores the violation of fundamental human rights.”
Palestinian citizens need Israeli permits and approval for many parts of life, such as visiting holy sites and Palestinian parishes, schools and hospitals in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem. Similarly, they need Israeli permits to build homes and businesses in Israeli-controlled areas.
The Church, too, must apply to Israeli authorities for these permits and visas.
While daily life in Palestine requires some relations with Israeli authorities, the commission said, everyone involved should be aware that there is something “abnormal” that must be set right.
There are over 300,000 Christian citizens of Israel, including Arab citizens, Hebrew-speaking citizens, and long-term migrant laborers and asylum seekers.
“Citizens and long term residents are law abiding yet they have the right and the moral obligation to use all available legal and non-violent means to promote full rights and complete equality for all citizens,” the commission said. To ignore this duty is to collaborate with “structures of discrimination, the permanence of injustice and the lack of peace.”
The commission stressed the Church’s effort to work with everyone who shares her values, Palestinian or Israeli.
“The Church seeks and encourages dialogue with all people, including Israelis, individuals and organizations, who recognize the need to end occupation and eliminate discrimination,” the commission said. “The Church is committed to identifying these individuals and organizations, all those who do not perpetuate the situation by presuming that dialogue or cooperation can ignore the struggle to achieve justice.”
Further, the Peace and Justice Commission stressed the Catholic commitment to finding partners and strategies “in order to repair our broken world.” The commission exhorted church communities, leaders and individual believers to seek ongoing discernment to work closely together to find “the best ways to testify to a just and equal society for all” and to cultivate respectful relations with fellow citizens while working for “a just and lasting peace.”