Urgent calls for peace in the land of the Holy One

By Matthew Davies
Posted Jul 30, 2014
Medical staff at the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza receive a patient at the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem-led institution.

Medical staff at the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza receive a patient at the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem-led institution.

[Episcopal News Service] Religious and political leaders have stepped up their calls for a permanent ceasefire to the three-week-long conflict between Israel and Hamas, as the number of casualties topped 7,000 and the death toll reached 1,200.

“The continued and escalating violence in the land of the Holy One, the slaughter of innocents by actions of both sides, and the rigidity and absence of true political leadership is making the world weep,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote in a statement e-mailed to ENS. “God weeps as well, as brother kills brother. Will we permit Cain and Abel to play out their brief and bellicose act, or will we demand an end to this depravity? No one will live in peace in the Middle East – or the world – while this carnage continues. Pray for peace, shelter the innocent, support every humanitarian response, and insist on an end to this inhumanity.”

Since its Operation Protective Edge began on July 8, Israel has intensified its bombardment of Gaza in response to actions by Hamas, the Islamist militant movement that controls Gaza and continues to fire rockets into Israel. Several attempts at a ceasefire have collapsed.

On July 29, Gaza’s only power plant was destroyed as Israel targeted sites linked to Hamas. Meanwhile, Israel continues to intercept Hamas rockets over central and southern parts of the country. Fifty-three Israeli soldiers and more than 1,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the fighting.

“Like so many Episcopalians and others who have been in close contact with the U.S. government throughout these past dark weeks, I am grateful for the fair and determined leadership of Secretary of State John Kerry and other global leaders toward a ceasefire, but deeply frustrated that those efforts have yet to bear meaningful fruit,” Alexander Baumgarten, the Episcopal Church’s director of government relations, told Episcopal News Service.

“The most important thing Episcopalians can do at the moment is what so many have been doing: praying without ceasing; supporting the ministries of the Diocese of Jerusalem in Gaza and elsewhere; and challenging our political leaders to demand peace and stand in solidarity with both Israelis and Palestinians who yearn for peace are paying the unimaginable cost of continuing warfare,” he added. “If and when a ceasefire comes, the work of peacemakers will be as urgent as ever, as a just and lasting peace can only come through a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians that provides two secure and viable states for two peoples.”

The Rev. Canon John Organ, speaking by telephone from East Jerusalem, where he serves as chaplain to Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani, agrees that the road to peace is through a two-state solution, an objective long supported by the Episcopal Church and many of the Anglican Communion provinces.

“It doesn’t help to be pro this and anti the other,” Organ said. “We need to be pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian. We don’t have to take sides. But we do have to stand up for justice and stand against this occupation.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, in a July 29 statement, said that “only a costly and open-hearted seeking of peace between Israeli and Palestinian can protect innocent people, their children and grandchildren, from ever worse violence … We must cry to God and beat down the doors of heaven and pray for peace and justice and security.”

In Gaza, the Ahli Arab Hospital, an institution of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, has continued against all odds to provide emergency medical care for many of the wounded, as its staff members work around the clock, putting their own lives at risk for the sake of others.

Organ, who speaks with hospital director Suheila Tarazi on a daily basis, said that on July 29 many of the staff could not get to the hospital because it was too dangerous for them to travel from their homes, but that today those already at the facilities were being advised not to leave. “The hospital is working at full capacity around the clock, taking in additional patients as it is able to,” he said.

Through the support of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and various partners, on July 29 the hospital received 5,000 liters of fuel for its generator, a critical resource to run life-saving medical equipment, especially following the destruction of the power plant.

Bishop Barry Howe of West Missouri said that through the hospital “the Episcopal Church is there to offer healing and the embrace of compassion to all God’s children.”

Howe, as chair of the board of trustees for the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, said, “We’re so very grateful for the outpouring of support at this critical time. 100% of each gift goes to those who are suffering and to support people who are ministering to their needs.”

In its July 29 newsletter, AFEDJ reported that a portion of the hospital’s outer wall has been destroyed and that the main steam line into the hospital has been damaged, meaning there is now no hot water. Large pieces of shrapnel have reportedly hit patients’ rooms and the laundry.

“There is an immediate need for repairs to ensure patient safety,” the newsletter stated.

“Al Ahli Hospital has become a refuge for families who are suffering, homeless and afraid,” said Anne Lynn, AFEDJ president, in an e-mail to ENS. “The doctors, nurses and support staff at Al Ahli Hospital, despite exhaustion and fear, despite deplorable conditions and chronic shortages, still provide compassionate care to each and every patient. They deserve, and have, our respect, our prayers and our support.”

Welby expressed his “utmost admiration” for all involved in the humanitarian efforts on the ground in Gaza, “not least the medical team and staff at Al Ahli Arab Hospital. Providing relief and shelter for those displaced is a tangible expression of our care and concern, and I encourage Church of England parishes and dioceses, as well as the wider [Anglican] Communion, to pray for them and support the Diocese of Jerusalem’s emergency appeal.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem launched an emergency appeal for the hospital on July 14, while Episcopal Relief & Development encourages ongoing support through its Middle East Fund.

Said Welby: “While humanitarian relief for those civilians most affected is a priority, especially women and children, we must also recognize that this conflict underlines the importance of renewing a commitment to political dialogue in the wider search for peace and security for both Israeli and Palestinian. The destructive cycle of violence has caused untold suffering and threatens the security of all.”

Jerusalem, about 50 miles from the Gaza Strip, has been a very different place – full of tension of fear – since the offensive began, Organ told ENS.

Late last week, Organ was driving back to Jerusalem through the West Bank and just before reaching Nablus, he encountered a demonstration in opposition to the conflict. “Then all of a sudden there was shooting and several Palestinians died. We had to drive through fires and debris,” he said. “So we are surrounded by this. The loss of life on both sides is tragic.”

In addition to targeting Hamas militants, Israeli airstrikes have attempted to destroy a network of tunnels in and out of Gaza, where Israel and Egypt have enforced a blockade since 2007. The Israeli government has said it will not stop the offensive until the tunnels are destroyed and Hamas has said it will not stop firing rockets into Israel until it ends the blockade.

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed a lengthy campaign in Gaza, saying the region had to be demilitarized in order to protect Israel. “We will not end the operation in Gaza without neutralizing the terror tunnels, which have the sole purpose of destroying our citizens, killing our children,” he said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency reported that some of its staff members had been killed and that the U.N. is currently caring for 182,604 Palestinians in its 82 shelters in Gaza.

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge began after a surge in militant rocket attacks. The violence erupted following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers, and the subsequent abduction and murder of a Palestinian youth in retaliation.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa called the conflict in Gaza “senseless [and] unnecessary.”

“No war will bring peace and security to Israel and Palestine, in particular not when it involves the heartless use of brute force which has been deployed in the past week,” he said in a July 29 statement, adding that he “joins those who are calling for a conversion of brief suspensions of hostilities into a permanent ceasefire.”

Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani, along with the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem, has called “upon both sides for an immediate ceasefire and the urgent resumption of peace talks.”

— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter of the Episcopal News Service.

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For further information, please visit:

Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem

Episcopal Relief & Development

American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem


Comments (17)

  1. Newland F. Smith, 3rd says:

    Thanks so much for this excellent coverage of the horrific assault on Gaza. I would only add that in addition to prayer and support for the Diocese of Jerusalem, here in Chicago people have been taking to the streets demanding an end to the siege of Gaza. The seven year old Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza must end. Today 1.8 million Palestinians live in an open air prison. Also some of us in Chicago conducted an civil disobedience action at Boeing Headquarters on July 16 given that Boeing produces armaments being sold to Israel and used by Israel in its assault on Gaza. We must remember that our government continues giving 3.1 billion dollars of military aid to Israel.

  2. martha knight says:

    Thank you so much for this coverage. Global protests emphasize the need for an end to this insanity of violence and destruction. It is an attack on humanity. As someone who has been immersed in protests and prayer for lasting peace I commend my church for speaking out.

  3. Thomas Bias says:

    I am a member of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and I support its Palestine Israel Network. Today, I called the White House comment line. I got a live operator and gave him the following suggestions for President Obama to do:
    1. Suspend military aid to Israel immediately and permanently.
    2. Demand that Israel immediately and unconditionally cease fire and begin talking with Hamas on the basis of Hamas’s proposal for a 10-year truce. The President should read Hamas’s conditions to the American people—they are quite reasonable.
    3. If Israel refuses point (2) cut off ALL aid to Israel forthwith.
    4. Instruct Attorney General Holder to begin an investigation of AIPAC and its financing of political campaigns.
    In the unlikely event that President Obama decides to do these things, even the threat of a break in U.S. support to Israel might be enough to wake the Israeli leaders up. It was enough to wake up Harry Oppenheimer and F.W. de Klerk in South Africa, leading to the end of apartheid in 1994. If peace could be made between white and black in South Africa, it can be made between Jew and Arab in Palestine. May God grant it!

    1. Donna Hicks says:

      And the EPF Palestine Israel Network supports the call for a military (arms) embargo on Israel. You can sign onto the Call here: http://www.bdsmovement.net/stoparmingisrael and read the press release here: http://pressreleases.religionnews.com/2014/07/30/faith-groups-join-call-arms-embargo-israel/

  4. Charles Robideau says:

    The statements by Bishop Katharine and Archbishop Justin are basically boilerplate, the same mantra that both sides must agree to cease fighting and killing noncombatants, and that our main action must be to pray for such a resolution. The plain fact is — as everyone must recognize who pays any attention to these events — that the cause of this violence is Israel’s determination to have the Holy Land to itself, with Arabs and other non-Jews either ejected or suppressed. This has been clear even before 1948. Our churches, committed to interfaith harmony, ignore that Israel’s revanchism flies in the face of everything Jesus taught and exemplified in his ministry. Israel’s denigration and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians makes a mockery of the ancient Biblical history we celebrate every Sunday. Our churches, especially our Episcopal Church, must acknowledge how our faith is being trivialized by our timid response to the atrocities not just in Gaza but in all of the occupied Palestinian territory. The two-state solution, which our church still supports, is a dead hope, killed by Israel’s deliberate destruction of Palestinian land and society. Moreover, if a two-state solution should come to pass, the Israeli state would be a monstrosity, xenophobic, fearful and militarized. With such a neighbor, violence would be inevitable, no matter how much we prayed. As Biblical brothers and sisters of the Israeli people, it’s our duty to call them back from this course. Unfortunately, our U.S. government is lost in complicity with our alleged “ally.” It’s up to the churches to be the country’s conscience and call our leaders to account. When the current fighting ends, as it surely must one day, the question will be, how can Gaza recover from its state of utter destruction? The traumatized Gazans can’t do it on their own, and Israel is not likely to help. Other countries are bogged in their own fights. The only alternative I see is a massive air and sea peaceful invasion by the United States, with ships and planes bringing food, medicines, construction equipment and supplies — whatever is needed, on an emergency basis. Having served for 65 years as Israel’s chief supporter, it’s the least we can do, for both Palestinians and Israelis.

    1. Ann turpin says:

      Exactly, Charles. thank you!

    2. Judy Neunuebel says:

      I am enormously disappointed with this report. It is clear that Matthew Davies is not reporting from Gaza or even the West Bank. His words merely parrot the grossly inaccurate message of the U.S. media. Surely the Episcopal church can do better than this.

    3. Janet Jones says:

      Thank you Charles for your enlightened response.

    4. Donald Veach says:

      I have always been dissapointed in Bishop Schori’s comments on Israel/Palestine. The term “both sides” leads one to believe that side A and side B are equally matched and deliberately obscures the fact that side A maintains a brutal military occupation of Palestine and brually oppresses the Palestinians. “Balance” is not possible in this paradigm and evoking “balance” simply maintains the horrid status quo.

  5. Ann turpin says:

    I am disappointed in Bishop Schiori’s response of equivalence.

  6. George E. Packard says:

    The “two state solution” is naive and not worthy of a Church which had a front row seat in the dismantling of South African apartheid and the construction a “one state solution” there. Even Sec. John Kerry noted in 2013 that the window of opportunity for such “two state” talk was closing quickly. Why? Settlers are moving into occupied territories in record numbers. The tipping point is passed for re-colonization and re-balancing. We add far more to the conversation by addressing distressing, de-humanizing Palestinian hardship and urging Israelis to step down overblown Zionist rhetoric. See South African political scientist Steven Friedman for more.

    1. “Overblown Zionist rhetoric?” Really? Really want to play that card? Ever heard how Muslims refer to Jews in that part of the world? Because that’s just fatuous nonsense.

  7. Doug Desper says:

    Hamas began all of this by launching over 1,600 rockets into Israel with the hoped for result of what? That is the same as starting a war. Israel is defending itself and uprooting militarily offensive tunnels constructed by Hamas costing millions of dollars that could have been better used to comfort the people of Gaza. Israel uses rockets to protect its people but Hamas uses people to shield its rockets. Weapons are being found in the hospitals, mosques, and schools of Gaza. The casualties are horrific, yes. It must be stopped, yes. But Hamas started a war. A war. A war like the previous wars waged against Israel by the Arabs in 1948 and 1967. Hamas’ charter calls for the entire annihilation of Israel. How do you negotiate with that? Would we be so eager to negotiate with a border country who is killing our people by the hundreds, launching rockets into our homeland, and calling for our elimination from the planet?

  8. Will Berry says:

    I think our presiding Bishop’s comments, as well as those of our Director of Government Relations, are unfortunate examples of the luke-warm fence sitting that the Episcopal Church has the sad reputation of often doing. The reality is, the Israeli government, the United States, and the foreign powers that created the state of Israel are all to blame. I do not condone the acts of Hamas, however, as a Christian I cannot ethically support a nation or government that was founded by pushing its natives out and creating a system of Apartheid for the natives who remained, which is just what the state of Israel has done. As Christians, we cannot take luke-warm stances on issues of blatant injustice and genocide. There is a side in this conflict who bears far mar responsibility than it’s counter part, and it must be held accountable for its’ actions. Christ does not call us to complacency or to fence sitting, He calls us into the Kingdom of God.

    1. Doug Desper says:

      Let’s recall that the Jewish people had (since BCE) a claim on the land that they now occupy as Israel. They are natives of the land that they occupy (but they were dispersed through captivity and aggression over the ages). Likewise, Arabs and others have freely moved through the region occupying the lands. The second distinction about Israel’s claim to land is that the Jewish people were targeted for extermination throughout time, most recently in the horrific holocaust of the 1920s-1940s. The world’s powers sensed that it was, therefore, only right that the Jewish people — including Nazi holocaust survivors — be allowed a sliver of earth the size of New Jersey to live without threat of further extinction (since most nations of Europe — and even America) did not have the will to assimilate the survivors. The ink wasn’t dry on Israel’s birth in 1948 before the Arab nations launched an attack on the new Jewish nation. The bigger question that isn’t being addressed is why there isn’t more outcry from our leadership about the ongoing violence against Israel that has postured them to maintain a constant state of readiness. The Arabs attacked them in 1948, 1967, and now in 2014. Each time their charters or marching orders were in favor of the annihilation of Israel. This isn’t about land. In the evident minds of the aggressors a single square mile would be too much to allow Israel.

  9. Julian Malakar says:

    Hamas and Islamic Jihadist should learn to accept the reality to live with Israel peacefully and work for building dream land for Palestine people for current and future generation to come. Jihadist should spend scarce money for welfare of its people creating more sustainable jobs, not to build tunnel to destroy Israel. No civilized world would allow Hamas, Islamic Jihadists and suicide bomber to kill innocent Israelis by shooting missile in public places thru underground tunnel. They must learn lesion from past 60 years of fighting history with Israel.

  10. The Rev. Vicki Gray says:

    As I wrote elsewhere last week, Israel is having a nervous breakdown and the level of violence it has unleashed has reached the level of obscenity. And our Church and its Presiding Bishop maintain their obscene, hand-wringing silence.

    As someone who has worked assiduously for the two-state solution, I am near despair as I watch it being killed.

    Unless there is a lifting of the blockade of Gaza and an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, this will not end well – not for Israel, not for Palestine, not for America…and not for this church that continues to meander blindly down its via media. There are no longer any arguments for a continuation of the unjust status quo. They are all sophistries. All that remains – as Israel destroys Palestine and, eventually itself – is the fecklessness of our country and our church.

    And this, if we need reminding, is not the first time that a strong man, eyeless in Gaza, has brought down the whole house of cards in mindless, self-destructive vengeance. “Once,” we’re told in Judges 16, “Samson went to Gaza.” And “then Samson called to the Lord and said, ‘Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. Then Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life.”

    All that’s left to do is to give what you can to AFEDJ…and pray for the dying. The prayer on the Al-Alhi website is most appropriate:

    “O God of wholeness and healing, we lift up the staff and patients of the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. Strengthen and guide the Management and all the staff as they treat the poor and injured. Bless the patients who receive care with Your healing touch. Give us a renewed awareness of the blessing of health and grant us the courage to support the caregivers in their work.”

    To which I would add: Forgive us those sins we have committed “by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”


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