Presiding Bishop renews call for Gaza ceasefire

January 5, 2009

Israel's ten-day military operation in the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip was stepped up with a ground assault January 3 amid renewed calls from religious and political leaders for an end to the violence that has claimed more than 500 lives.

 

"The high number of civilian deaths and injuries, which continue to include noncombatants, women, and children, will only prolong the violence years into the future," said Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in a January 5 statement. "The first steps toward peace will only come if all parties unite behind an immediate ceasefire.”

Episcopal Relief and Development has donated an initial emergency grant of $15,000 to the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem in support of the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City. An institution run by the Jerusalem diocese, the hospital is providing critical healthcare services to Christians, Muslims and anyone in need.

The Rev. Charles Cloughen, Jr., president emeritus of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, relayed a January 5 conversation with the hospital's director, Suhaila Tarazi. "The injured are in their homes and unable to get to the hospital and the International Red Cross can't reach them," Cloughen said, noting that Gaza is now divided into three areas and several staff members, including two doctors, are unable to get to the hospital.

Cloughen reported that a bomb exploded 30 meters from the hospital and blew a hole in one of its walls. A surgeon's 19-year-old son who volunteered to work in a government ambulance was killed when the vehicle was hit by a missile, Cloughen said.

"We are deeply saddened by the first-hand reports we are receiving from Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza about the casualties they are treating under the most horrific circumstances," Jefferts Schori said. "Not only do they lack basic medical supplies, but with windows blown out they are even struggling to keep patients warm."

Israel says the motive behind its military operation is to force Palestinian militants allied with Hamas to stop firing rockets into southern Israel. Hamas became the government in Gaza after it forcefully evicted the ruling Fatah party in June 2007.

As Israel took control of northern Gaza and surrounded Gaza City, much of the Palestinian Territory was without electricity. An already-critical humanitarian crisis worsens each day as necessary supplies fail to reach most of the 1.5 million Palestinian residents in the densely populated territory. Furthermore, Israel has not yet allowed journalists to enter Gaza to report on the latest developments first-hand.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to the Middle East January 5 to add his voice to those seeking a ceasefire while Israel's foreign minister Tzipi Livni continued to argue that Hamas is targeting civilians and Israel is expressing its right of self defense.

Jefferts Schori has described Israel's response to the rockets being fired by Palestinian militants as "disproportionate" adding that the military operation "may well encourage violence beyond Gaza and Israel." In her January 5 statement, she noted that "Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded the world that 'an eye for an eye soon leaves the whole world blind.' May we seek to end this blinding violence."

On December 29, the second day of Israel's airstrikes, Jefferts Schori issued a statement urging a comprehensive response to the attacks. In March 2008, she visited Gaza to meet with religious and community leaders and tour the Al Ahli Arab Hospital. "Since that visit, the situation, which was already devastating, has only worsened, with supplies of food, fuel, power, and medical supplies either cut off or indefinitely delayed," she said.

Americans for Peace Now, a Jewish Zionist peace activist organization, has said the Israeli government "has the right -- indeed, the obligation -- to take measures to bring to a halt the terror of incoming fire from the Gaza Strip into communities of southern Israel."

Yet the group argues that the only way out of the current crisis is to reestablish a ceasefire, "but this time not as a short-term fix but rather as part of a serious, longer-term strategy to deal with the core issues at play in Gaza."

Speaking about Israel's war objective, Yossi Alpher, an Israeli political consultant, writer and former intelligence officer in the Israeli Defense Force, said that Hamas "has only to refuse Israel's ceasefire terms to deny it a decisive victory."

"One way or another, Israel is not looking for a renewed bilateral ceasefire with Hamas, but rather multilateral arrangements that are somehow imposed on Hamas or that Hamas accepts willingly," Alpher said in an interview distributed by Americans for Peace Now.

However, Alpher noted that more than 4,000 rockets over the past eight years "have made life hell for tens of thousands of Israelis; no self-respecting government can be expected to tolerate these attacks."

Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in a December 31 statement, said that "the spiraling violence in Gaza tragically illustrates the fact that the cycle of mutual threat and retaliation have no lasting effect except to reinforce the misery and insecurity of everyone in the region."

An earlier ENS article is available here.