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Catholic Bishops in Southern Africa Encourage Dialogue to End Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Image of buildings burning in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) are calling on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to engage in dialogue and put an end to the ongoing violence.

In a statement issued Monday, May 17, the members of the three-nation conference of Catholic Bishops say they “cannot remain silent on the escalation of Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the subsequent injuries and loss of life.”

“While understanding the decades of pain and suffering among Palestinians, we still pray and encourage dialogue as a path to peace,” the Catholic Bishops in Botswana, South Africa, and Swaziland say in the statement issued by SACBC’s Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) and shared with ACI Africa.

They caution against violence saying, “Disproportionate response to violence will not bring about sustainable solution to the current impasse.”  

Highlighting Israel’s plan to evict Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem and the annexation of the West Bank as some of the causes of the violence, the members of SACBC say that the evictions “must cease.”

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The crisis started when Hamas, a Palestinian military group that controls the self-governing territory of Gaza Strip, fired rockets towards Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. In retaliation, Israeli forces launched missiles on the Gaza Strip. 

At least 200 people, including 35 women and 59 children in Gaza have reportedly lost their lives in the week-long violence.  

In their May 17 message, the three-nation Catholic Bishops and their equivalents under canon law pray that “in Israel and Palestine, the spirit of the Lord will turn the hearts of stone into hearts of flesh so that there is a celebration of just peace in the Holy Land.”

World leaders including Pope Francis have bemoaned the ongoing violence. 

Making reference to Pope Francis’ May 9 message, in which the Holy Father implored that Jerusalem “be a place of encounter and not of violent clashes, a place of prayer and peace. Violence begets only violence”, SACBC members “invite all people of goodwill to pray for Israel and Palestine.”

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In his Sunday, May 16 message after the recitation of the Regina Coeli, Pope Francis made an impassioned appeal for an end to surging violence in the Holy Land.

“In these days, violent armed clashes between the Gaza Strip and Israel have taken hold, and risk degenerating into a spiral of death and destruction. Numerous people have been injured, and many innocents have died,” Pope Francis said.

Describing the loss of human lives in the violence as “terrible and unacceptable,” the Holy Father said that the deaths are “a sign that one does not want to build the future, but wants to destroy it.”

“Furthermore, the crescendo of hatred and violence that is affecting various cities in Israel is a serious wound to fraternity and peaceful coexistence among citizens, which will be difficult to heal if there is not an immediate opening to dialogue,” the Pontiff said.

He appealed for calm in the region, urging local leaders and the international community to help secure peace.

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“Let us pray unceasingly that Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness, to be patient builders of peace and justice, opening up, step by step, to a common hope, to a coexistence among brothers,” Pope Francis implored May 16.