Churches push for Gaza peace

Published February 1, 2009

About 700 protesters demonstrate on Parliament Hill against Israel’s military action in Gaza. Among speakers condemning the attacks were Jews and Christians, including Anglican priest Robert Assaly of Ottawa.

The Anglican Church of Canada in January joined other members of the Anglican Communion and churches worldwide in calling for a ceasefire and a redoubling of efforts to secure lasting peace in Gaza, where thousands have been killed or injured after renewed fighting between Israeli military forces and the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

“The spiralling violence in Gaza tragically illustrates the fact that the cycle of mutual threat and retaliation has no lasting effect except to reinforce the misery and insecurity of everyone in the region,” the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said in a statement. “…Those raising the stakes through the continuation of indiscriminate violence seem to have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. It must surely be clear that, whilst peace will not wipe out the memory of all past wrongs, it is the only basis for the future flourishing of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.”

Archbishop Williams said that religious leaders, “most particularly those of the region, have an urgent responsibility in supporting the search for peace and reconciliation.” But “it is the political leaders and opinion-formers who hold the key to implementing the necessary changes that can bring hope.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, called for “an immediate cessation to the horrific violence” in Gaza which erupted on Dec. 27.

“I urge resumption of diplomatic negotiations as the means of reconciling the historic tensions between the peoples of Israel and Palestine,” said Archbishop Hiltz in a statement.
“I call on all Anglicans from coast to coast to coast to pray with special intention for the peoples of Palestine and Israel at this time.”

The Anglican Church of Canada has a strong partnership with the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. Historically, peace and justice initiatives have been a focus of this partnership, along with the building of relationships with ecumenical, Muslim and Jewish organizations in the region.

The national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), Susan Johnson, who was part of a delegation that traveled in the Middle East last month, urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reconsider the Canadian government’s position that solely blamed Hamas for the violence.

In a letter to Mr. Harper, Bishop Johnson said there was “no justifiable defence for Israel’s incursion into Gaza with such large casualties.” She said she heard first-hand accounts of suffering from the people of Gaza, noting that casualties were mostly “defenceless women and children.” She said “placing sole blame for the magnitude of the current crisis on these clearly indefensible rocket attacks functionally absolves the government of Israel from the responsibility for the extreme civilian casualties that are being incurred.”

During a meeting with Israel’s chief rabbis, visiting Lutheran bishops also told Israel’s chief rabbis that the conduct of Israel’s military campaign raised questions about a “just war theory,” noting the “proportionality and killing of innocents,” reported Ecumenical News International.

Chief rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar told the bishops that while they mourned the deaths in Gaza, Israeli military leaders had shown them evidence that Hamas fighters were positioned in schools and other public institutions, said ENI. Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip was necessary to stop rocket attacks on civilians in the southern part of Israel, which have continued for eight years, they added.

Bishop Johnson urged the rabbis to “stay at the table” in discussions with other faiths over moral and ethical issues arising from the violence, and promised “our prayers for you at this very difficult time.”

In response to the humanitarian crisis, ELCIC’s Global Hunger and Development Appeal, the Canadian Lutheran World Relief and their regional partners issued a joint appeal to support relief efforts in the Gaza Strip. The ELCIC worked with Action by Churches Together (ACT) International to provide food, medical supplies and psychosocial counselling to victims caught in the conflict.
The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) also responded to the emergency appeals from ACT with an initial grant of $20,000.

As the conflict raged in mid-January, the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil S. Dawani, asked for prayers and financial support as the Al Ahli Arab Hospital, an institution supported by the diocese, struggled to provide critical health care in the area. Since the start of military operations, the hospital received 20 to 40 injured or wounded patients per day and a large proportion required hospitalization, he said.

Bishop Dawani said the conflict brought “a new type of medical and surgical conditions – for example, patients with burns and acute, crippling psychological trauma.”

Kairos, a coalition of Canadian churches, said international pressure from countries like Canada is crucial in bringing peace to the troubled region.

“We need the Canadian government to provide a different perspective. In the words of a statement by Israeli women’s organizations, ‘we demand an end to the bombing and other tools of death, and call for the immediate deliberations to talk peace and not make war,” Kairos said.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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