For a Just Peace in Palestine

17th April 2002

Like Christians everywhere, we, the Catholic Bishops of Aotearoa/New
Zealand hold a special place in our hearts for the Holy Land and its
peoples. It is the world of our Scripture, the birthplace of our faith,
and the homeland of Christ in whom we hope. Indeed it is a Holy Land for
three of the world's great faiths.

And so it is with deepening anguish that we follow the escalation of the
conflict in occupied Palestine, the increasing violence, the destruction
of life and property, and the violation of the rights of individuals and
of peoples.

Attacks on innocent civilian lives, wherever they occur, are to be
condemned outright. They violate in the most extreme way the absolute
dignity of humanity and of every person. In this light, the actions of
Palestinian suicide bombers can only be abhorred.

Yet no less abhorrent are the actions of any state which does not
"safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person" 1 but which also
takes innocent lives.

We understand the fear which has beset the Israeli people as they have
witnessed so many horrible attacks on the innocent among them. Innocent
Palestinian people have lived with the same fear for the fifty years in
which their lands and villages have been occupied and expropriated by
others, while they themselves have been reduced to the status of
refugees in their own homeland. Our brother Bishop, Michel Sabbah, Latin
Patriarch of Jerusalem, throughout his unceasing work for peace and
inter-religious dialogue, has repeatedly made clear that it is the
occupation of Palestine by Israel - not terrorism - which is the root
cause of the problem.2

Israel has in recent months launched the most repressive attacks on the
populations and towns of occupied Palestine. These territories have been
isolated and cut off from one another. Tanks and bulldozers have
destroyed homes and the basic amenities which support the life of the
community. Civilian lives have been taken, and extra-judicial killings
carried out. Whole populations have been cut off from food, water, and
medical treatment. The media has been excluded and humanitarian and
human rights workers restricted as they have tried to bring aid and
communicate to the world what is happening in the occupied Palestinian
territories.

The word "terrorist" has become a label, used to justify retaliatory
acts of terror. In an occupied land, has the Israeli force over recent
weeks, or indeed since 1967, inspired any less terror than the
Palestinian suicide bombers whom they seek to destroy?

Across the world, governments, organizations and individuals are calling
upon Israel to step back from its path of escalation and destruction. We
join with them in calling Israel to a series of actions which may give
justice and peace some chance:

Withdraw immediately from all areas of the West Bank and Gaza;
Begin to dismantle the settlements established in Palestinian
territories in violation of the Oslo Agreement;
Allow journalists, humanitarian aid agencies and human rights workers
free access to the occupied territories;
Agree to an international peace-keeping force as called for by UN
Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Vatican.
Equally we call upon Palestinians to abandon the targeting of innocent
Israeli civilians. These actions are morally indefensible, and only
serve to escalate the conflict. They undermine both the legitimate cause
of the Palestinian people and any prospect for peace.

No amount of repression, occupation, or military force can dim the
desire of a people to live with dignity and freedom in their homeland.
In our own region the people of East Timor have provided powerful
witness to that desire in their long struggle to determine their own
future. We affirm the right of the Palestinian people to find dignity
and freedom through the establishment of an independent state, which
surely can be denied them no longer. Their freedom will also be freedom
for Israel - freedom from fear, and the opportunity to move on from a
conflict which has haunted the state of Israel since its birth. Justice
will bless both peoples with peace.

In New Zealand we are a long way from the conflict. Distance does not
separate us from responsibility for action. As Christians we must stand,
as Christ did, beside those who suffer, who are poor, powerless, or
oppressed. We urge all Catholics to learn more about the causes of the
current situation in the Holy Land, and to reflect upon this knowledge
in the light of the Gospel. We ask you to share your knowledge and
reflection with other New Zealanders, and to take whatever prayerful
action you consider to be needed. We encourage you to make an individual
commitment to prayer, and to find ways to join together in prayer in our
parishes.

In this Eastertide, as we celebrate the greatest miracle of all,
together we must seek a miracle for the peoples of the Holy Land.

+ Peter J Cullinane Bishop of Palmerston North
President

+ Leonard A Boyle
Bishop of Dunedin

+ Denis G Browne
Bishop of Hamilton

+ John J Cunneen
Bishop of Christchurch

+ John A Dew
Auxiliary Bishop of Wellington
Secretary

+ Owen J Dolan
Coadjutor Bishop of Palmerston North

+ Patrick J Dunn
Bishop of Auckland

+ Max T Mariu SM
Auxiliary Bishop of Hamilton

+ Robin W Leamy SM
Emeritus Bishop of Rarotonga

+ Cardinal Thomas Williams
Archbishop of Wellington

References:
1 Pacem in Terris, 60.
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_xxiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_j-xxii
i_enc_11041963_pacem_en.html

2 Caritas Internationalis Statement on Palestine, 5 April 2002.
http://www.cafod.org.uk/news/palestine_caritas20020405.shtml