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Letter to President Bush on Escalating Violence in the Holy Land

 

April 10, 2002

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I write concerning the spiral of violence in the Holy Land, which, as Pope John Paul II has said, "has increased to unimaginable and intolerable levels." We welcome your strong, repeated calls in recent days for Israel to withdraw immediately from the Palestinian territories it has re-occupied and for the Palestinian Authority to renounce and do all in its power to halt suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. We also welcome your decision to send Secretary of State Powell to the region in an effort to bring about a cease-fire and to prepare the ground for a resumption of the peace process. In light of this visit by the Secretary of State, I wanted to reiterate our particular concerns, including regarding the serious confrontation at the Church of the Nativity, as well as some broader concerns about a peaceful resolution to this long-standing and deadly conflict.

First, it is clearer now than ever before that the present state of affairs is unacceptable. Palestinian attacks on innocent civilians cannot be tolerated – both because they are morally abhorrent and because they undermine the legitimate claims of the Palestinian people. Israeli occupation and efforts to dismantle the Palestinian Authority cannot be sustained – militarily or morally. Nor can the indiscriminate and excessive use of force in civilian areas, and the failure of the Israeli military to permit humanitarian access for the civilian population be justified. These and other actions indicate that the Israeli assault has gone far beyond efforts to combat terrorism and, in fact, risks fueling it. Immediate withdrawal is essential. This deadly cycle of action and reaction, suicide bombing and aggressive attacks must be ended.

Second, as the Holy See has made clear to Israeli authorities, the unprecedented and untenable situation at the Church of the Nativity must be resolved in a way that respects the 'Status Quo' of the Holy Places (i.e., the legal arrangements safeguarding the sanctity of these sites), as agreed in the Fundamental Accord of 1993 between the Holy See and the State of Israel, as well as the Basic Accord of 2000 with the Palestinian Authority. I urge you to do all that you can, publicly and privately, to insist that both sides withdraw from this confrontation and accept proposals of the religious leaders in the Holy Land to end it peacefully.

Third, with strong U.S. encouragement, the parties must embrace an immediate cease-fire and should seriously consider international monitors or peacekeepers to enforce it. As difficult as it may seem, there should be a return to the arduous task of negotiating a just peace, without delay or pre-conditions. We hope that your new diplomatic initiatives, the Arab League's embrace of the Saudi peace initiative, and elements of the Mitchell and Tenet reports can provide the basis for returning to serious dialogue based, as far as possible, on the last rounds of final status talks.

Fourth, despite recent events, the elements of a just and lasting peace remain the same: a viable state for Palestinians, real security for the State of Israel, just resolution of the refugee problem, an agreement on Jerusalem which protects religious freedom and other basic rights, and implementation of relevant UN resolutions and other provisions of international law. As a supporter of the State of Israel and a state for Palestinians, the United States, in collaboration with the international community, can play a constructive role by continuing to be clear that it recognizes that each side in this conflict has deep, long-standing and legitimate grievances that must be addressed if there is to be a just and lasting peace.

Palestinians rightly insist on an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and to the continued establishment and expansion of settlements. Palestinians see this occupation, maintained by force and marked by daily indignities, abuse and violence, as a central underlying cause of the present crisis. Israelis rightly see the failure of some Palestinians to demonstrate full respect for Israel's right to exist and flourish within secure borders as a fundamental cause of the conflict. Even in the current situation, Palestinian leaders must clearly and unequivocally renounce terrorist violence and terrorist acts against innocent civilians, and must show the Israeli people that they are fully committed to prepare their people to live in peace with Israel. Moreover, both Palestinian and Israeli leaders must refrain from inciting hatred against the other. One of the tragedies of the current crisis is that it has so damaged prospects for development of the new attitudes of understanding and mutual respect without which neither side will be able to achieve their legitimate goals.

With constructive and persistent U.S. involvement, it is not too late to help pave the way to a future of cooperation and accommodation rather than occupation and destructive conflict in the Holy Land. Please be assured of my prayers and best wishes as you attempt to provide this much needed leadership.

Sincerely,

Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville
President, USCCB

 


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