Message from Bishop Riah (1 August 2006)


01 August 2006

Dear Friends,

 When I wrote to you last Friday, I could not have imagined that a second Qana Massacre in a decade would be carried out by the State of Israel on Sunday when they dropped two bombs on a house, crushing at least fifty-six people, including thirty-four children and twelve women.  They suffocated under dirt and debris, virtually buried alive in the make-shift bomb shelter where they had had little water and food and no toilet.  In 1996, one of the deadliest single events of the whole Arab-Israeli conflict took place there the shelling of a United Nations base where hundreds of people were sheltering.  More than one hundred were killed and another one hundred injured, cut down by Israeli anti-personnel shells that explode in the air sending a lethal shower of shrapnel to the ground, reported Martin Asser of BBC News, Beirut.

 With expressions of "deep sorrow" from Prime Minister Olmert, this tragedy of epic proportions is not enough to stop Israel's attacks on the people of Lebanon.  Today, the Israeli Security Cabinet approved a widening of the ground offensive in the South.  Yesterday, Israel violated their agreement to stop the air offensive over Lebanon for forty-eight hours which would have allowed humanitarian aid to reach victims and residents stranded in the South could have traveled more safely to the North.  Olmert announced today that the end to the war is not in sight.  While tens of thousands are without food and medical supplies, the U.N. reports that their convoys have been turned away and cancelled by the Israeli government.  The short journey from Tyre to Qana is delayed for hours because the roads have been destroyed.  Aid trickles in.  

Amid the despair and the grim task of removing the victims, there is deep anger at what many here regard is the callous indifference of the West,€ reports Ilene Prusher of the Christian Science Monitor in Lebanon.  The offering of condolences from President Bush, Secretary Rice, and Prime Minister Blair to the Lebanese people for Israel's murder of innocent children seems hollow, with no condemnation of Israel's repeated and flagrant disregard for human life and the values of civilized people everywhere.    

I have read the letter sent to The President of the United States signed by my brother in Christ The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswald, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal church of America and fourteen other Christian leaders in which they say "This violent conflict has created a grave humanitarian crisis, and no hoped-for benefit should outweigh the cause of saving innocent lives." The letter continues with a plea, "Your presidential leadership and the full weight of the United States, acting in concert with the international community, must be applied now to achieve an immediate cease-fire and to launch an intensive diplomatic initiative for the cessation of hostilities".  I regret that the President has ignored this call.

Last week in Lebanon, Israel bombed and destroyed a U.N. observation post on the border in Southern Lebanon killing four peacekeeping observers.  U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed indignation that Israel appeared to have struck the well known, established, and clearly identified site deliberately.  The bomb made a direct hit on the building and the attack continued even throughout the rescues and recovery mission.  The Security Council's statement excludes condemnation of Israel at the insistence of The United States.

The war rages on into the third week.  If fighting does not cease, the homeless count in Lebanon will soon reach one million people.  Families and communities continue to be ripped apart.  And, the offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza has been relentless.  This week when Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs visited Jerusalem, he focused much of his attention on the tragedy happening in the Gaza Strip.  He does not understand what benefit Israel will gain from punishing 1.4 million people by cutting them off from their sources of electricity and jobs, from running water in their houses and from fresh food.  What is the message that the residents of Gaza receive from the sight of mountains of tomatoes tossed out on the side of the road at the border crossings into Israel?  That they should be more productive and support peace?                                                 

Saturday, after waiting two and one half hours at the checkpoint, our delegation visited Gaza on a mission of mercy, taking medical and relief supplies to hospitals and shelters.  Israel Defense Forces tanks had pushed back before dawn, just one day after ending an unusually deadly incursion that killed thirty Palestinians over three days.  According to an Associated Press count, in the past one month period, Israeli troops have killed 159 Palestinians since they started their relentless attacks on the Gaza Strip in response to the capture of soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit.  I have seen the Caterpillar bulldozers and the orchards of oranges uprooted by them.  I saw an apartment building where forty families were given forty minutes to leave before it was demolished into a pile of rubble.  I have heard the concern of the Director of our Al-Ahli Arab Hospital regarding medical supplies, staffing shortages, and lack of fuel to run the generators essential to critical care.  And, I have seen children playing near mountains of garbage which are the breeding ground to rats and the threat of cholera, a disease that I watched devastate India when I lived there.          

We must not become complacent or be desensitized by the images of this human tragedy.  Continue to appeal to your government representatives to demand an immediate cease-fire.  It is time that The United Nations and the world community see to it that Israel complies with U.N. Resolutions 242, 338, and 194, so that compliance with Resolution 1559 can be enforced.  We must find an end to this madness.  Killing and the destruction of the environment is not a war against nations, but it is a war against God.                                        

In, with, and through Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Riah H. Abu El-Assal


The Diocese of Jerusalem

Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria


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