Pax Christi International statement after Holy Land Coordination visit

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To be with those who have been forgotten!
TheTo be with those who have been forgotten! is a group of mainly European, North America (USA and Canada) and South African bishops who annually visit different places in the Holy Land meeting with church and political representatives, as well as with local Christian communities and NGOs active in the field of peace, human rights, caritas and development. Church related organisations such as Pax Christi International are always invited to participate and Fr Paul Lansu, Senior Policy Advisor represented the movement again in 2016.

The coordination’s raison d’être is framed in “prayer, pilgrimage, pressure and presence”. Presence in the Biblical sense of “come and see” (John 1:39) is an expression of hope and solidarity, especially to remind the “living stones” of the Holy Land that they are not forgotten by other parts of the world. “You Are Not Forgotten” was the main theme of this year’s visit.

Focus of action this year was on the very tough situation of the people in the Gaza Strip, the Cremisan Valley in the West Bank and on the refugees from Iraq and Syria in Jordan.

End the economic blockade of Gaza

The economic blockade against the people of Gaza continues to make their lives desperate. They effectively live in an open prison. The adverse effects of three wars in five years’ time (the last one in 2014), continues to have a huge impact on the destruction of thousands of homes and the physical and social infrastructure of Gaza. Reconstruction of the houses and roads goes much too slowly. Many remain homeless and traumatised from these wars. The number of unemployed is more than 60%. The Holy Family Parish in Gaza City is a sign of hope in bringing Christians and Muslims together at a time when many seek to divide communities.

Cremisan Valley split into two parts

Palestinians and particularly the Christian community in Beit Jala (Bethlehem region) are in the midst of tensions with the Israeli authorities. Israel started confiscating land for the expansion of the separation wall in the Cremisan Valley which is a violation of international law. The wall is splitting up once-connected neighbourhoods and cleaving many Palestinians from their best lands and water resources. The Parish of the Annunciation in Beit Jala brings Christians together in sharing their faith and expressing their hope and perspectives in the midst of severe setbacks. The Latin Patriarchate is calling the international community to halt this grave injustice in Cremisan and in the Holy Land. The expropriation of lands does not serve the cause of peace.

Focus on Ending the Occupation after 50 years!

The continuing occupation of the Palestinian Territories by Israel eats away at the soul of both occupier and occupied. The occupation will have lasted for 50 years in June 2017. In international law textbooks, occupation is by definition temporary and enforced exclusively by armed forces. It is absurd to stretch the concept of occupation to include a rule that has lasted nearly 50 years and that besides a military army also comprises a huge civilian army of more than half a million settlers. Political leaders across the world must put greater energy into a diplomatic solution to end this occupation and resolve the ongoing conflict. A two state negotiated agreement should be the solution for the two peoples and three faiths so that they can live in justice and peace.

It is hoped that the coming into force on 2 January 2016 of the Comprehensive Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Palestine, offers a new dynamic for dialogue and cooperation, in particular for other Arab and Muslim majority countries.

Meeting those who have been forced to flee their homeland

The last years have been difficult years in the Middle East, with hundreds of thousands of people facing extraordinary challenges such as war, persecution, displacement and poverty. It is hoped that the Fourth Humanitarian Conference scheduled for 3-4 February 2016 in London will ease the suffering of the peoples in the region and contribute to the overall settlement of the conflict. While focus of the conference will be on the Syrian refugees, the Iraqi refugees living in countries such as Jordan should not be forgotten.

Iraqi Christian refugee families are staying in Jordan, many of whom fled ISIS/Daesh in the summer of 2014 from the Mosul region (Nineveh). Their situation is considered as temporary, with Jordan just as a transit station until they can move to a third country. Refugees are not permitted to find permanent work. They are living meagre lives, lacking even the most basic necessities. Returning home is not an option. Jordan is struggling to cope with almost more than 1.2 million refugees staying in the country. The local Church and its communities, as well as NGOs are reaching out to both Christians and Muslims in terms of addressing the refugees’ loss of human dignity.

Brussels, 1 February 2016

Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor Pax Christi International