An international delegation of Catholic and Anglican bishops, including two from Ireland, has called on the international community to “hold Israel accountable for its moral, legal and humanitarian responsibility to make Covid-19 vaccines accessible for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and encourage co-operation by the Palestinian Authority”.
Among the delegation are two Irish Catholic bishops, Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian and Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor, as well as 13 other bishops, from England and Wales, Scotland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada, the US and South Africa.
They called on “our own governments and political leaders urgently to renew their active participation in the search for a just peace, supporting dialogue between all sides, upholding international law, and reaffirming the plurality of Jerusalem, given its unique significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims”.
They also stressed “the importance of the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships recommitting to direct negotiations”.
The Holy Land Co-ordination Group, to which the international delegation of bishops belongs, usually travels there every January in solidarity with the local Christian community “as it experiences intense political and social-economic pressure”. It was unable to do so this year due to the pandemic.
In a statement on Thursday, the bishops said that “over the past week we have been privileged and moved to hear from Christians across the West Bank, Gaza and Israel about their mission, resilience and witness in these unprecedented circumstances”.
‘Lack of political progress’
They said “the lack of political progress, along with relentless expansion of illegal settlements and the impact of Israel’s Nation-State law, continues to erode any prospect of a peaceful two-state solution”.
It had become “painfully clear that there is today less cause for optimism than at [any time] in recent history”, on top of which “the health challenges of Covid-19, felt by the entire world, are compounded by conflict, occupation and blockade”.
In addition, “the absence of international pilgrims has exacerbated widespread economic hardship, increased levels of unemployment and pushed many more families into poverty”.
They said that “while many of our own countries continue to face severe hardship amid the pandemic, we have a profound responsibility to support our fellow Christians in the Holy Land”, adding that “the Christian community, though small, is an important guarantor of social cohesion and a bearer of hope for a better future”.