In a press release yesterday, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ international policy committee said that provocative acts of violence by extreme factions of Hamas and Hezbollah, along with disproportionate military responses from Israel, undermine efforts to create a just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and endanger the vulnerable democracy in Lebanon.
“Once again the land that is holy to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim believers is wracked by violence and fear,” said Bishops Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, (FL) “The tragic and terrifying cycle of provocation and response, of occupation and resistance, has erupted in another spasm of deadly violence. This cycle must be broken, especially before it continues to expand into a broader and deadlier conflict. The violence must stop and a ceasefire must be secured.”
“The conflicts in the Holy Land and Lebanon are distinct, but they bear some fearful similarities. In both cases there were violent and provocative cross-border attacks on Israeli military personnel. The extreme armed factions of Hamas and Hezbollah, and their supporters, including Syria and Iran, bear grave responsibilities. It seems clear that these acts were intended to damage prospects for negotiation and to provoke strong responses that further weaken the chances for dialogue, agreement and progress.”
While the U.S. bishops recognize with great compassion the Palestinians’ “harsh realities of occupation and the yearning for a viable state of their own,” Bishop Wenski said, he stressed that attacks against innocent civilians, “violate the principle of civilian immunity and undermine the possibility of a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As strong friends of the people of Israel, we share their frustration and anger at the provocative attacks. It is long past time for all Palestinian leaders, including Hamas, to reject violence and terror and to act in ways that will lead to the establishment of a viable state for the Palestinian people living side-by-side in peace with a secure Israel.” He also called for Hezbollah to, “renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect its security.”
Israel has a right to defend itself, Bishops Wenski said, but support cannot be given to “sweeping counterattacks on civilian areas, civilian infrastructure, blockades and other acts of war in Gaza and Lebanon. Punishment of an entire population for the indefensible acts of extreme armed factions is wrong and causes unjustified harm to noncombatants. Such actions are also counterproductive because they deepen hostilities and widen the circle of violence. Israel must act with restraint. Otherwise we fear that Israel could isolate itself, undermine its long-term security interests and play into the hands of extremists who seek a wider confrontation and an unending battle with Israel.”
Bishop Wenski also said a secure and democratic Lebanon is in the best interest of everyone in the region.
“As steadfast friends of the Lebanese people, we believe that Lebanon, as the late Pope John Paul II said, should be ‘a model’ for people of different faiths living together in peace. The current conflict puts at risk the progress that has been made to free Lebanon from outside domination and from being used as a pawn in a larger struggle. Our Conference is deeply disturbed by the provocative acts of Hezbollah against Israel that precipitated the current crisis and provoked the disproportionate Israeli military responses. Both the initial act and the resulting reactions endanger the Lebanese people and their vulnerable democracy.”
The bishop urged greater participation from the United States to help end the conflicts.
“Our Conference calls upon the United States to exert greater leadership with all parties to the conflicts and to work more intensively and multilaterally to end the provocations and violence, to secure a ceasefire, to restrain Israel, to move toward negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to bring about security for Israel and a viable state for the Palestinians, and to ensure the independence of Lebanon.”
The bishop concluded by echoing Pope Benedict’s prayer for peace through Mary, the Queen of Peace.