[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal and Anglican leaders are amplifying global prayers for peace after the militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel over the weekend, massacring hundreds of Israeli civilians and taking an estimated 150 hostages while igniting a new war that so far has killed hundreds more Israelis and Palestinians.
Leaders of the 13 Christian denominations in Jerusalem, known as the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches, released a statement Oct. 7 “to raise our voices in unity, echoing the divine message of peace and love for all humanity” and “to advocate for the cessation of all violent and military activities that bring harm to both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.” The group of patriarchs includes the Most Rev. Hosam Naoum, primate of the province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
“We unequivocally condemn any acts that target civilians, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity or faith,” the patriarchs said. “We implore political leaders and authorities to engage in sincere dialogue, seeking lasting solutions that promote justice, peace and reconciliation for the people of this land, who have endured the burdens of conflict for far too long.”
The Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church, underscored that the Diocese of Jerusalem, part of the regional Anglican province, “has consistently advocated for peace and justice, teaching us all what it means to walk in the way of love, to which Jesus points.”
“We pray for those who have been killed, injured, are searching for loved ones, and are struggling with grief and fear,” Robertson said in a statement released by the Office of Government Relations. “Please join us in praying that there is a de-escalation and that the root causes of violence and oppression may be confronted and challenged so that a new understanding of peace prevails.”
The Episcopal Church also emphasized a statement released by Churches for Middle East Peace, of which it is a founding member. “The actions of Hamas and the Israeli response in Gaza in no way advance peace, but rather cause loss of life and harm, grief and devastation,” the statement reads, “not only to the individuals affected, but also to the legitimate cause of the Palestinian people in seeking an end to the decades long occupation and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.”
Bishop Anthony Poggo, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, also released a statement on the violence. “As I watch the latest developments from Israel and Gaza, I weep for the peoples of the region and pray for peace,” Poggo said. “In particular, I pray for the safety of all civilians – whether residents or tourists and pilgrims – and I pray for a cessation of violence.”
Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on Earth, has suffered under a blockade by Israel and Egypt since 2007, when Hamas took control of the tiny Palestinian territory. The 140-square-mile strip of land on the Mediterranean Sea had been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, in which Israel also began its occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Golan Heights.
Periodic violence has erupted in the past between Hamas and Israel, including an 11-day war in 2021 that killed 248 Palestinians and 12 Israelis. The most recent attack by Hamas, however, has been called unprecedented for the militants’ coordinated land-and-sea incursion across the border coupled with barrages of rockets fired at Israeli towns. Israel has responded with airstrikes of its own and by further cutting off the flow of food, water, electricity and fuel to Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed his country to a “long and difficult war” to neutralize Hamas.
The sudden outbreak of violence comes as the United States had been supporting recent talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel over possible normalized relations between the two countries. Hamas’ attack, meanwhile, was praised by the militant group’s backers in Iran, which opposes closer ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
“I made clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu that we stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the government and people of Israel,” Biden said. “Terrorism is never justified. Israel has a right to defend itself and its people.” He issued a follow-up statement on Oct. 9 acknowledging that 11 American citizens were thought to be among those killed in “the appalling terrorist assault against Israel.”
The Diocese of Jerusalem includes Gaza and operates the Al-Ahli hospital in the territory. The American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem shared a message from Suhailia Tarazi, the hospital’s director, describing bleak conditions there.
“The situation is severely critical, and the consequences for people in Gaza are very bad, particularly in the health sector,” Tarazi said. “Life in Gaza is paralyzed, with all institutions and private sectors closed, affecting the people’s access to basic needs, particularly health. … Please pray with us that this wave of violence will be stopped, as there are no winners in wars. All are losers.”
Tarazi called for donations to address the urgent need for medications and other resources to support the hospital’s response to the crisis. Episcopalians are invited to support that cause through the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
Churches for Middle East Peace released a new statement on Oct. 9, calling for an immediate end to violence while also emphasizing some of the root causes of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Without attention to the core systemic issues of the war and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory, there will be no real peace,” the statement reads. “At a time when the rush by governments will be for more military responses, CMEP prays for the de-escalation of violence to prevail. We urge an escalation of diplomatic efforts by the United States, through the United Nations and other regional bodies. Too many people are already grieving the loss of loved ones.”
The Episcopal Church’s General Convention has approved a range of resolutions over the years reacting to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2022, the 80th General Convention approved a new measure to “recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist and condemn the continued occupation, segregation and oppression of the Palestinian people; recognizing that for Israel to continue as a democracy it must allow for equality of all its peoples.”
Three other resolutions were deferred until 2024 that would have labeled Israel’s unequal policies toward Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis as evidence of an apartheid state, like the South African government’s former policy of racial separation.
Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, some Episcopal bishops have issued individual statements reacting to the violence.
“The historic conflict in this region continues to weigh heavily on our global community as lasting peace seems elusive,” Western Oregon Bishop Diana Akiyama said in a written statement. “I ask your prayers in this time of violence and callous disregard for the lives of the innocent.”
Hawai’i Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick called for donations to support the Al-Ahli hospital while praying for peace. “As too often is the case in terror and war, it is the innocent that suffer,” Fitzpatrick said.
New Hampshire Bishop Rob Hirschfeld also commented on the attacks. “As we watch in shock the violence unleashed by these actions,” Hirschfeld said, “we followers of Jesus are called to pray, fervently, for a cessation of these hostilities, for protection for the most vulnerable on both sides of the Israel and Gaza border, and for a recommitment by the international community to find the way to a lasting and just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.