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Holy Land 2011

Once again I call for a universal recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist and to enjoy peace and security within internationally recognized borders. Likewise, the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign and independent homeland, to live in dignity and to enjoy freedom of movement, ought to be recognized. I would also like to request the support of everyone for the protection of the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem, and of its cultural and reli-gious heritage, which is of universal value. -- Pope Benedict XVI, January 11, 2010

The Middle East is a land holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, but tragically it is also a violent land that yearns for a just peace. USCCB has had a long history of pursuing justice and peace by supporting a two-state solution: a secure and recognized Israel living in peace alongside a viable Palestinian state.

The conflict between Jewish and Arab populations dates back to before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Tensions rose between Arabs and Jews in response to Jewish migration to the region. In 1947 the UN rec-ommended partition of Mandate Palestine, at the time under British rule, into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. Armed conflict ensued as British forces withdrew and Israel declared its independence in 1948. Many Arab Palestinians became refugees. The 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors resulted in the occupa-tion of Gaza and the West Bank. In 1979 and 1994 Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan respective-ly, but no other Arab countries recognize Israel and a Palestinian state has not been established.

Events of the past few years have created a particularly volatile situation. In January 2005 Palestinians elected President Mahmoud Abbas. Despite new leadership, the Palestinian Authority was viewed as plagued by cronyism and inefficiency that crippled its ability to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. The unilateral Israeli with-drawal from Gaza in 2005, while welcome, was not seen as a result of the peace process or of President Abbas' efforts and led to a collapse of security in Gaza. Palestinians believe Israeli settlements and the route of the secu-rity barrier which Israel constructed in Gaza in 1994 and began constructing in the West Bank in 2002 effectively confiscate Palestinian lands and water resources in the West Bank.

These factors and others contributed to the Hamas party winning a majority in the January 2006 Palestinian par-liamentary elections. This was a serious setback for the peace process. Hamas, unlike President Abbas and his Fatah party, refuses to recognize Israel, accept previous agreements and renounce violence. Its designation as a foreign terrorist organization led to reductions in international assistance to the Palestinian Authority as donors struggled with how to assist Palestinians without supporting Hamas. In 2006 armed conflict was precipitated by unjustifiable acts by Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, including cross-border raids against Israeli mili-tary personnel and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. Israel defended itself, but its military response was dis-proportionate and indiscriminate in some instances, endangering civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure.

In June 2007 Hamas took control of Gaza. In response President Abbas dissolved the Hamas-Fatah unity gov-ernment and formed a new Palestinian Authority (PA) government. The PA remains in control of the West Bank and is trying to implement political and economic reforms. But persistent rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza and continued indefensible suicide attacks on civilians contributed to legitimate Israeli security concerns. In late December 2008, Israel launched a major military response that resulted in high levels of civilian Palestinian casualties in Gaza and significant destruction of property and infrastructure. Israel's military response, its contin-uing blockade of Gaza, expansion of settlements, maintenance of numerous check-points within the West Bank, and construction of a security wall deep in Palestinian areas have contributed to a dramatic decline in the Palestin-ian economy, deepening poverty and rising Palestinian anger and hopelessness.

USCCB Advocacy:USCCB insists that a just peace demands an end to violence, recognition and security for the state of Israel, an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the establishment of an internationally-recognized and viable Palestinian state. It also requires an agreement on Jerusalem that protects religious freedom and other basic rights for all faiths, and an equitable sharing of resources, especially water. USCCB supports consistent and persistent U.S. leadership to challenge and restrain both parties to the conflict and to hold them accountable for mutual steps needed for a just peace. Palestinians must improve security by halting attacks on civilians, blocking illegal arms shipments and disarming militias, and improve governance and transparency as they build capacity for a future state. Israel needs to freeze expansion of settlements, withdraw "illegal outposts," ease movement for Palestinians by reduc-ing military check points, and refrain fromdisproportionate military responses. The dire humanitarian situation in Pal-estinian areas is not in the best interests of either Israelis or Palestinians. Non-governmental organizations, including Catholic Relief Services, play a crucial role in delivering aid.

The Christian Communities in the Holy Land: Concern for Christians in the Middle East, particularly in the Holy Land, led the Holy Father to convene a Middle East Synod of Bishops. Christians continue to emigrate due to the con-tinuing conflict, fears about the future, a lack of economic opportunities, and Israeli residency requirements and visa regulations that separate family members. Negotiations on the 1993 Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Holy See, which is critical for the future of the Church and for religious freedom, remain incomplete. Some Church institutions are put at risk by Israeli tax policies and land confiscation, and the ministry of Church personnel is ham-pered by visa problems. Since 1998 leaders of bishops' conferences from Europe and North America have met annually in the Holy Land to visit with public officials and the local Church.

ACTION REQUESTED:Engage in prayer, pilgrimage, persuasion, and projects; see website for guidelines. Despite discouraging developments, Catholics cannot abandon the Holy Land's people or pursuit of a just peace.

Support strong U.S. leadership that holds both parties accountable for building a just peace: the Palestinians to halt violence, improve security and governance; the Israelis to stop settlements and allow movement of people and goods. Ask Congress to support funding to build the Palestinian Authority's capacity for governance and to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid for Palestinians.

Join the Catholic Campaign for Peace in the Holy Land. Reach out to Jewish and Muslim religious leaders to work together to support strong U.S. leadership. Website:

Support the Church in the Holy Land. Urge members of Congress and Jewish leaders to press Israel to success-fully conclude negotiations with the Holy See related to the Fundamental Agreement.

Contact: Stephen Colecchi, Director, USCCB Office of Internation-al Justice and Peace, 202-541-3160 (phone), 541-3339 (fax)


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