A Canadian delegation of church leaders and staff that recently visited Israel and Lebanon has vowed to press the Canadian government to “take the strongest stance it possibly can” in seeking a negotiated peace between Jews and Palestinians, and to help “end the terror that both sides are promoting against each other.”
The commitment was made after a two-week visit in March to Beirut, Jerusalem, Nablus, Gaza, Ramallah and Bethlehem in which a delegation organized by Kairos saw how violence perpetrated by both sides is affecting ordinary citizens in that region. The group was in Jerusalem when Israeli forces killed Hamas leader Sheik Yassin and his entourage in Gaza City on March 22. It immediately sent a letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin asking his government “to voice its opposition to (the killings) and to all targeted assassinations.”
Kairos, Canada’s largest ecumenical organization of 11 churches and church-related organizations, organized the mission in response to a request made by the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), to show solidarity with those who are working for peace.
“Peace is a long way off; it’s been incredibly evasive,” said Bishop Peter Coffin of Ottawa, who represented the Anglican Church of Canada, along with Andrea Mann, regional mission co-ordinator for the Middle East, and Paul Kingston, of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s board of directors.
Ms. Mann said that Bishop Riah Abu Al-Assal of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and Middle East asked the delegation to urge the Canadian government to work at ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine. “Enough of statements. We want action. We want governments to sanction Israel,” she quoted Bishop Al-Assal as having said.
Ms. Mann said the delegation saw how the 700-kilometre “security wall” being constructed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories is disrupting the lives of Palestinians. “It’s really much more than security, it’s about the grabbing of land,” she said.
Despite the suffering and violence that they witnessed, the delegation said the situation is not hopeless. “We’ve heard Israelis saying that the occupation is not right. We’ve heard Palestinians saying that they understand the Israelis’ fears for security and that they don’t approve of suicide bombings,” said Bishop Coffin. He said the Canadian churches’ support for their partners in the Middle East was important.
“In the midst of turmoil, looking after people is not a bad contribution,” said Bishop Coffin.