Catholic Bishops Call Gaza Conditions a ‘Shocking Scandal’

Christmas Flood: Heavy rains in December overwhelmed the decrepit infrastructure of Gaza City.

Bishops from North America, Europe and Africa called on international leaders to act immediately so people living in the Gaza Strip can have access to basic necessities.

“Gaza is a man-made disaster, a shocking scandal, an injustice that cries out to the human community for a resolution,” the visiting bishops said in a joint statement released on Jan. 16. “We call upon political leaders to improve the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza, assuring access to the basic necessities for a dignified human life, the possibilities for economic development and freedom of movement.”


The bishops spent two days of their tour of the Middle East on Jan. 11-16 visiting Christian schools and social and health institutions in Gaza as well as meeting with the local parishioners. Their visit, known as the Holy Land Coordination, is an annual event that began in 1988 at the request of the Vatican. The delegation also visited Palestinian Catholic schools in Gaza, East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, on the occupied West Bank.

“In the seemingly hopeless situation of Gaza, we met people of hope,” the bishops said. “We were encouraged by our visit to tiny Christian communities which, day after day, through many institutions, reach out with compassion to the poorest of the poor, both Muslim and Christian.”

The Christian community of Gaza is made up of about 2,500 Christians out of a total Gazan population of more than 1.5 million people. The majority of the Christians belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, with just under 200 Catholics living in Gaza. Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control in 2007, although it loosened restrictions in 2010. Egypt opened one border crossing to Gaza in 2011.

In their statement, the bishops noted the warmth with which they were received in Gaza and also the Christians’ request that they not be forgotten by Christians in the rest of the world. They wrote: “We urge public officials to become leaders of hope, not people of obstruction.”

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was struck by the important role Christian institutions and organizations play in reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. “We often picture Muslim-Christian relations in the rest of the world being antagonistic but least where Christian institutions are running [programs], they really build relationships. It is quite remarkable and hope-filled.”

Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, South Africa, said he felt a “great affinity” with the Palestinians, whose suffering he compared to that of blacks in South Africa under apartheid. “I personally would not call [Israel] an apartheid state. I believe there are nuances in the Holy Land which must be recognized...but it is very similar to apartheid in the sense of the loss of human dignity and of the subjection of people to the political will of others,” Archbishop Brislin said.

He said South Africa’s example should offer hope to the people of the Holy Land.

“We must never forget that democracy in South Africa brought not only liberation to black people but also to white people because it freed whites from the burden of oppressing people and allowed us to develop normal relationships with our fellow human beings,” the archbishop said. “The same can be true of the Holy Land, and I believe it will be.”

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4 years 11 months ago
Your recent report on the conditions in Gaza (Signs of the Times, February 3, 2014) reminds us all of the intense suffering Palestinians, especially those in the Gaza Strip, are enduring. But you only tell part of the story. You report that “Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control in 2007, although it loosened restrictions in 2010. Egypt opened one border crossing to Gaza in 2011.” First of all, Israel’s blockade is a partial blockade; even at its strictest when Israel and Hamas are at war, the blockade allows for passage of food, fuel and medicine necessary to prevent a full-blown humanitarian crisis. Egypt has been in complete control of the Rafah border crossing since 2005 and chose to close it completely when Hamas took over. While Egypt did reopen the border in 2011, after the overthrow of President Morsi they have kept it closed much of the time. Second, Israel has not imposed its partial blockade without any cause. Your article failed to report the fact that over 12,000 rockets from Gaza have rained down on the heads of Israelis since 2000 and there have been frequent attempts by would-be terrorists to infiltrate the border crossing into Israel. Just this past January the Israel Security Agency arrested three Palestinians from East Jerusalem who were recruited online by an Al Qaeda operative in Gaza, as they were in the midst of preparations to carry out a string of large-scale bombing and shooting attacks on multiple targets in Israel. This situation has created a non-stop crisis for Israelis, especially those living near the Gaza border who have been forced to live under siege for years now. Do we care nothing for their suffering? By just ignoring the very serious terror threat that Israel lives under America makes it appear that Israel imposed a punishing blockade on wholly innocent people for no reason other than to hurt them. This amounts to inaccurate reporting and false accusation. Please -- as readers of America, we deserve better. Rev. James Loughran, SA
Michael Fordham
3 years ago
Unfortunately Fr.Jim the above article is very much nearer to the truth than the view you put forward. The Israeli blockade is an almost a total blockade with just enough to keep the population from mass starvation and keep it on the edge of a full humanitarian disaster, but just enough not push it over. That way means that most of the world would not see it for what it is - collective punishment of innocent men, women and children. This is a deliberate policy of the Israelis and a former foreign minister of Israel actually stated that this was the case on the BBC some years ago. This follows Sharon's statement that they were going to "Put the Palestinians on a diet"! He laughingly stated this as if it was amusing. Egypt only closed the border crossing because they were asked to do so by the US on condition of receiving further very large sums of military and other aid. The new Egyptian president Sisi did this as he is a military man who took power after a military coup to depose the democratically elected president Morsi. Yes, the West didn't like Morsi but he was democratically elected. As was Hamas. Is that a sufficient reason for punishing the people who democratically cast their vote. Should the rest of the free world punish Americans if the vote Donald Trump as president? It's easy to say that Palestinians in Gaza have only themselves to blame. This is the propaganda put out by a lot of the western press, including the BBC and other UK papers unfortunately. Yes they fired lots of pathetic rockets into Israel. However, Israeli war planes and drones continuously invade Gaza airspace to kill people and often just fly over at night to create sonic booms to make life even less bearable for the Palestinians. It should also be remembered that these rockets were fired in anger due to the brutal racist actions of the IDF just beforehand in the occupied west bank of Palestine. Homes being raided, hundreds of people being rounded up and imprisoned without trial, Their valuables stolen by the IDF. Homes raided in the middle of the night and children dragged away to be terrorised by the IFD to give information on their brothers, cousins and fathers. Doesn't this remind you of another regime? Unfortunately this is still going on in the west bank. It's a brutal racist policy of the Israeli government against the Palestinians. Following the rockets, the Israelis deliberately destroyed all the basic infrastructure and simply flattened whole neighbourhoods. Now that is collective punishment and a war crime. We saw apartments building being hit several floors from the ground being. Then Israel says that this was to destroy "terrorist tunnels" - seven floors up?! Simply put, Gaza is an open air prison camp and ghetto. It is an appalling injustice and the fact that we don't make enough protest about it is a shame on the west. The Bishops are absolutely right to try and bring it to the world's attention.


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