Call to Action for Peace in Israel and Palestine
1st October 2012 - by Ellen Teague
Ellen Teague of our Columban JPIC (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation) Team represented the Columbans at a Pax Christi Day looking at reasons for and ways to respond to violence in the Holy Land.
The discrepancy between 400 Palestinian deaths and 20 Israeli deaths over the period 2009 to July 2012 sadly highlights the injustice of the Israeli government’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, according to the General Secretary of Pax Christi UK. “If the Israeli government wants peace and security, the way they have approached it is irrational,” commented Pat Gaffney last Saturday, “for military occupation raises tension and conflict”. She was speaking at a study day ‘Untold Stories from Israel/Palestine – A Call to Action for Peace’, held at the Niland Conference Centre of the Dominican Sisters’ Rosary Priory in Hertfordshire. She lamented that, “it is possible for Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy Land and Holy places and not to be aware of the realities on the ground”.
Pat, who visits Pax Christi partners in the Holy Land regularly, focussed on the West Bank in her presentation to an audience of around 40, including a number of Dominican Sisters. The massive growth of checkpoints installed by Israel over the past decade intimidates and humiliates Palestinians. Those who work in Israel often queue from early morning to get through them in time for work. There are 98 fixed checkpoints in the West Bank and flying checkpoints can appear overnight. A kindergarten run by the Comboni Sisters in Bethany was severely affected last year when work finished on the separation wall, dividing the convent and school from local Palestinian families.
“Settlements are a major feature of occupation” she said. The growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank has become a major block to the peace process. They may be illegal under international law but there are 124 of them and by-pass roads, which are barred to Palestinians, link settlements to Israeli towns. The Israeli government continues to build the separation wall which is eight metres high and 440 kilmetres long. Because much is built inside the Green Line border of 1967 it affects more than 60 Palestinian communities. Agricultural land, water supplies and olive groves are confiscated to make way for the wall. The Palestinian town of Bethlehem is now virtually surrounded by it, meaning that the population can hardly travel to Jerusalem which is only six miles down the road. “Militarism supports all this” said Pat, “and you can see soldiers and military encampments throughout the West Bank”.
Nonviolent resistance is supported by Pax Christi, and this is undertaken by both Palestinian and Israeli groups. Campaigns range from trying to save Palestinian homes from Israeli army bulldozers, to supporting young Israel conscientious objectors who reject military service, to linking with Rabbis for Human Rights. Pax Christi also challenges the British Government’s arms trade with Israel – both buying and selling; advanced drone technology is being developed by Israel.
Three other speakers highlighted initiatives they were involved with to promote peace in the Holy Land. Mike Barnes from Watford Friends of Salfeet twinning project was an ecumenical accompanier in the West Bank village of Salfeet for three months in 2009. “I used to accompany Palestinians through a checkpoint to get to their land and olive groves”, he said; “a process which took about two hours”. Moved by “one of the greatest experiences of my life” he now gives talks and supplies Zaytoun products from Palestine. His Palestinian olive oil was in great demand at lunchtime. Michael Mitzam from Oasis of Peace UK, British Friends of Neve Shalom helps support the educational programmes of a place where Jewish and Arab (Palestinian) Israeli citizens have made a determined choice to live, work and educate their children together in the spirit of equality, respect and understanding. Lauri Clarke, member of the North London Justice & Peace Network and Edmonton
Parish in Westminster Diocese, spoke of her exposure visit two years ago with Pax Christi which left her determined to speak to any group trying to raise awareness of the situation of Palestinians living in places so familiar to Jesus.
Pat asked the audience to spread the word about reconciliation initiatives taking place and to support a lobby of parliament in November focusing on obligations of the Peace Process.