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This week, our staff prayer at the beginning of each day has included thoughtful prayers concerning the Voice referendum and the conflict in the Middle East. Anthony Wentzel invited us to be mindful of the people of the Holy Land. We have been deeply shocked and saddened by the terrorist attack perpetrated by militants in southern Israel, which began on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Tora. We are also distressed by the retaliation by the Israeli military in Gaza. Christians, world leaders, and humanitarian groups are calling for the protection of innocent people caught up in the rekindled conflict between the Israel military and the Palestinian terrorist group. Unrest has erupted in Gaza, not far from the Judean lands in the south where Jesus once walked.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict revolves around disputed territory, with Palestinians seeking an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while Israel insists on its security and sovereignty. From the Byzantine battles following the Romans, to the Crusades nearly a millennium ago, to the Ottoman Turks a century ago, this region has been plagued by strife. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 expressed British support for a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, leading to increased Jewish immigration and tension with the Arab population. In 1947, the United Nations proposed dividing Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, triggering conflict as Arab states rejected the plan, leading to fighting. In 1948, after Israel declared independence, neighbouring Arab states invaded, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, known as the Nakba or "catastrophe." Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day War led to the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and other territories, intensifying the conflict and creating a complex situation.

In our lifetime, Israel's construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories has been a major point of contention, viewed as illegal by Palestinians under international law. The issue of Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled during the 1948 war and their right to return remains a deeply divisive issue. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, leading to disputes over its control and sovereignty. Israel's security concerns due to conflicts and attacks have influenced policies and negotiations, leading to a cycle of violence.

This region has a long history of conflict, but the current situation is among the worst we have witnessed in a long time, with between 4000-5000 deaths in the last fortnight alone. It has the potential to escalate further and endure. Innocent victims on both sides of this bloody conflict are experiencing terror and anguish.

Decades of violence, failed negotiations, and deep-seated mistrust perpetuate the conflict. To achieve peace, both sides must engage in sincere dialogue, addressing the core issues of a two-state solution which so far has been fragile at best. Building trust, fostering economic cooperation, promoting people-to-people initiatives, and recognizing mutual rights in the historical narratives can pave the path to peace.

Anthony raised a poignant question: If Jesus were present there now, what would he do? Would he affirm Israel’s prophesied right to live in the land, or would he side with the Palestinians as a weak and suppressed minority?

Jerusalem’s International Christian Embassy emphasizes the Church's responsibility to pray and care for both sides, recognizing the complexities of the situation. Pope Francis has prayed to "stop the attacks and to understand that terrorism and war do not lead to any solution but only to the death and suffering of many innocent people." May the present crisis of violence between Palestinians and Israelis come to an end. Let us do whatever we can to facilitate dialogue leading to peace and justice.

Fr Peter Hosking SJ

From the Parents and Friends
College Calendar 2023