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JERSUSALEM – With tensions growing surrounding the formation of Israel’s new government, on the heels of an especially deadly year for Israelis and Palestinians, Church leaders in the Holy Land have urged peace, saying inflammatory remarks will only lead to further violence.
In a Dec. 12 statement from the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, church leaders voiced hope that Israel’s new government would bring “political stability,” but also cautioned that “the political context in which this government is being formed” is a source of concern.
“The gradual deterioration of the general social and political situation in the Holy Land,” is worrying, they said, noting that some members of the coalition incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to form have made statements that are “very divisive toward the Arab or otherwise non-Jewish community.”
These statements, they said, “are contrary to the spirit of peaceful and constructive coexistence among the various communities that make up our society.”
“Such statements favor those in this country who want division; create distrust and resentment; and they lay the groundwork for further violence,” they said, saying “violence in language inevitably, sooner or later, turns into physical violence as well.”
After Netanyahu and his Likud party emerged victorious during Israel’s legislative elections in November, he is set to be named Prime Minister and has been tasked with forming a new governing coalition, expected to be Israel’s most rightwing government to date.
Some coalition members have come under fire by top Christian authorities in Israel for past anti-Christian remarks and actions seen as discriminatory and even violent.
One of them, Juergen Buehler of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem (ICEJ), during a speech at a major gathering of American evangelicals in Jerusalem voiced hope that Netanyahu would intervene.
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In their statement, Holy Land ordinaries voiced hope that under the new government, “the attention of the country’s civil authorities will be returned with fairness to the diverse communities that make up Israeli society, avoiding discrimination or preference.”
They issued several appeals, calling for greater attention to be paid to Arab citizens in Israel and voicing concern about “the violence and lack of security” within Arab communities, “which is wounded by continuous incidents and widespread crime.”
These communities ought to be developed, they said, stressing the importance of education in both Jewish and Arab contexts, especially “In light of the current trends of division and violence.”
The ordinaries also lamented recent cuts in government funding to Christian schools, saying these schools are now “on the brink of a crisis,” and a lack of resources will “jeopardize the future of quite a few of our educational institutions, which still play an important role in the field of education within our society.”
An appeal was made on behalf of foreign workers and asylum seekers, especially those living in “a kind of legal limbo” with no guarantees for the future.
Pointing to the “progressively and rapidly deteriorating” situation in Palestine and the Occupied Territories, the religious leaders called the uptick in violence alarming, saying the decay of the situation is evident in the numbers.
As this year draws to a close, it has turned out to be among the deadliest in recent history for both Israelis and Palestinians, with around 31 slain in terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank and more than 165 Palestinians killed as part of a fresh crackdown from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), making 2022 the year with the highest death toll since 2007, according to the Times of Israel.
Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency, found that 27 Israeli civilians and foreigners had been killed in terror attacks committed either by Palestinians or Arab Israelis in the West Bank as of Tuesday. An additional three soldiers were killed in direct attacks on troops.
In 2015, some 29 people were killed during a series of violent knifings, shootings, and ramming incidents, most of whom were civilians. A year prior, in 2014, 93 people were killed, most of whom were soldiers who died during a bombing spate in the Gaza Strip.
This year’s fatalities mostly occurred in or around Tel Aviv and the West Bank. In addition to those killed, around 130 people have been wounded.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry has reported the death of 167 Palestinians as a result of Israeli gunfire, with the latest being a 16-year-old girl whose death the IDF said was “unintentional.”
Among this year’s fatalities is Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, a household name throughout the region, who was shot and killed while covering an IDF raid in Jenin in May. Her death sparked global outcry and eventually elicited an apology from the IDF, though they stand behind their actions and maintain her death was accidental.
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Meanwhile, the IDF claims to have arrested more than 2,500 people this year, and to have foiled roughly 500 potential terrorist attacks.
“Violence is never justified and must always be condemned, no matter where it comes from. No one should die because they are Jewish or because they are Arab,” the ordinaries said, and condemned the arrest and detention of Palestinian minors in East Jerusalem.
Calling the practice “politically biased,” they said it should “never be a norm in a democratic country. Everyone, especially young people, is entitled to live in peace and security, to build a better future, and to be treated justly and with dignity.”
They also lamented what they said was the lack of “a real process of peace based on international law,” saying this void will only cause further suffering.
Violence, they said, is a result of “deep distrust and perhaps even hatred” that is taking root in both the Israeli and Palestinian populations.
“It is the common responsibility of everyone, especially religious and political leaders of all denominations, to foster mutual respect and not division or sentiments of hatred,” they said.
The ordinaries asked that Palestinians be granted “dignity and freedom in their land,” and that a stable and just solution is found for the roughly five million Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.
In addition to their concerns, the ordinaries also highlighted what they said are several recent positive developments, the first of which is the return of pilgrims to the Holy Land following a nearly 2-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pilgrims, they said, “bring life and movement back to the streets and alleys of the Holy City, Bethlehem, Nazareth and the other places of pilgrimage, and thus bring smiles back to many families” who have been able to return to work thanks to the growth in tourism.
They also pointed to what they said are several signs of consolation, including “many individuals, local associations and movements, of different national and religious backgrounds, wish to build friendship and solidarity in this divided social and political context of ours.”
“Their love gives us hope and belief that there are still strong ‘antibodies’ in our society, that is, those who still want to react to the ever-strong temptations of closure and refusal to dialogue and encounter, with initiatives of encounter and solidarity open to all,” they said.
They closed urging faithful to pray for peace in Jerusalem and throughout the Holy Land, and “in every place in the world where violence, hate and division are a source of suffering.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen