Break the Cycle of Violence in the Holy Land
A Statement of Bishop Thomas G. Wenski
Bishop of Orlando
Chairman, USCCB Committee on International Policy
July 17, 2006
Once again the land that is holy to Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers
is wracked by violence and fear. The tragic and terrifying cycle of
provocation and response, of occupation and resistance, has erupted in another
spasm of deadly violence. This cycle must be broken, especially before
it continues to expand into a broader and deadlier conflict. The violence
must stop and a ceasefire must be secured.
The conflicts in the Holy Land and Lebanon are distinct, but they bear some
fearful similarities. In both cases there were violent and provocative
cross-border attacks on Israeli military personnel. The extreme armed
factions of Hamas and Hezbollah, and their supporters, including Syria and
Iran, bear grave responsibilities. It seems clear that these acts were
intended to damage prospects for negotiation and to provoke strong responses
that further weaken the chances for dialogue, agreement and progress.
These attacks provoked Israeli military responses that are understandable
in terms of the right to defense, but are disproportionate and indiscriminate
in some instances.
As committed friends of the Palestinian people, we understand the harsh realities
of occupation and the yearning for a viable state of their own, but we cannot
support rocket barrages and suicide bombings against innocent Israeli civilians
and cross-border attacks and abductions. Such actions violate the principle
of civilian immunity and undermine the possibility of a negotiated resolution
of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As strong friends of the people of Israel, we share their frustration and
anger at the provocative attacks. It is long past time for all Palestinian
leaders, including Hamas, to reject violence and terror and to act in ways
that will lead to the establishment of a viable state for the Palestinian
people living side-by-side in peace with a secure Israel. It is also
long past time for all state and non-state actors in the region, including
Hezbollah, to renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect its security.
Israel has a right to defend itself, but we cannot support its sweeping counterattacks
on civilian areas, civilian infrastructure, blockades and other acts of war
in Gaza and Lebanon. Punishment of an entire population for the indefensible
acts of extreme armed factions is wrong and causes unjustified harm to noncombatants.
Such actions are also counterproductive because they deepen hostilities and
widen the circle of violence. Israel must act with restraint.
Otherwise we fear that Israel could isolate itself, undermine its long-term
security interests and play into the hands of extremists who seek a wider
confrontation and an unending battle with Israel.
As steadfast friends of the Lebanese people, we believe that Lebanon, as
the late Pope John Paul II said, should be “a model” for people of different
faiths living together in peace. The current conflict puts at risk the progress
that has been made to free Lebanon from outside domination and from being
used as a pawn in a larger struggle. Our Conference is deeply disturbed
by the provocative acts of Hezbollah against Israel that precipitated the
current crisis and provoked the disproportionate Israeli military responses.
Both the initial act and the resulting reactions endanger the Lebanese people
and their vulnerable democracy. As our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI,
recently said: “[N]either terrorist acts nor reprisals, especially
when they entail tragic consequences for the civilian population, can be
Our Conference calls upon the United States to exert greater leadership with
all parties to the conflicts and to work more intensively and multilaterally
to end the provocations and violence, to secure a ceasefire, to restrain
Israel, to move toward negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to
bring about security for Israel and a viable state for the Palestinians,
and to ensure the independence of Lebanon.
The recurrent cycles of deadly violence endanger the stability of Lebanon
and undermine those brave people on both sides who seek a just two-state
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The sadly recurring and predictable
cycles of violent provocation by extremist elements and some disproportionate
responses not only take human lives, but they damage the hopes of Israelis
for security, of Palestinians for a viable and free state, and of Lebanese
for a future of peace, true independence and prosperity.
Our Conference appeals to all leaders in the region and to the leaders of
our nation to make it clear that violence, from whatever side, for whatever
purpose, cannot bring a lasting or just peace in the Land we call Holy.
We join our prayers with those of our Holy Father who said about the current
crisis: “Let us pray to Mary, Queen of Peace, to implore from God the fundamental
gift of concord, bringing political leaders back to the path of reason, and
opening new possibilities of dialogue and agreement.”