Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service
15 January 2004

Catholic bishops condemn Israel's security wall blocking Palestinians

By Ross Dunn

Jerusalem, 15 January (ENI)--Roman Catholic Bishops from Europe and the
Americas, visiting the Holy Land, on Thursday condemned Israel's building of
a West Bank security barrier, saying they will lobby for the project to be

"We have seen the devastating effect of the wall currently being built
through the land and homes of Palestinian communities," the bishops said at
the end of a four-day visit, in a statement issued at a news conference in
Jerusalem's walled Old City. "This appears to be a permanent structure,
dividing families, isolating them from their farmland and their livelihoods,
and cutting off religious institutions."

The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Wilton D.
Gregory, said he would be taking the issue up with the Israeli President,
Moshe Katsav. Gregory added that protests against the barrier had already
been made to the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

At the same time, he indicated a willingness to hear more from the Israelis.
He said he intended to visit an Israeli hospital, where he hoped to have the
opportunity to meet with victims of the violent conflict,  including
survivors of Palestinian suicide bombings.

The auxiliary bishop of Stockholm, William Kenney, who also represented the
Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community said the
matter would be referred to the Brussels-based commission.

"I will also be personally doing this with the Swedish Government, when I
return, giving my impressions of the situation I have seen," he said.

Israeli authorities say that the barrier, which is being constructed in and
around the West Bank, is aimed at stopping more suicide bombings and other
terror attacks.

On Thursday, Israel closed access to the Gaza Strip after a female
Palestinian suicide bomber killed four Israelis at a Gaza crossing the
previous day. The Catholic bishops expressed condolences for all deaths that
occurred during their visit and affirmed their opposition to all bloodshed.

Palestinians argue that the building of the barrier is an attempt by Israel
to seize more land in territory where they live, and to unilaterally
determine the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Israel denies that the barrier delineates a new political boundary and says
it can be dismantled later, if and when a final peace agreement with the
Palestinians is achieved.