Monsignor William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan and Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate Photo: Aid to the Church in Need

Catholic Bishop of Jerusalem Tells How Christians Suffer Israeli Invasion of Gaza

Statements by Bishop Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem, on Christian victims of the armed conflict

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(ZENIT News / Jerusalem, 23.05.2024).- In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need-Italy (ACN- Italy), Monsignor William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan and Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, gave an update on the dramatic situation of Christians in the Holy Land.

In regard to the faithful of the Gaza Strip, the Prelate said that “there were 1,017 Christians living in Gaza before the war.” After the outbreak of the conflict, “the majority of them sought refuge in the Latin parish complex and a minority in the Greek Orthodox.” These displaced people “suffer the lack of electricity, potable water and food. Fortunately, over the last days, they have been able to buy sacks of flour. Once they received frozen chickens, which they had to cook and consume the same day as they had no fridges.” As regards housing, “the majority of Christians have seen their homes destroyed. They live in our schools’ classrooms. One or two families fit in a classroom. Hence we cannot resume school activities until families have reconstructed their apartments. Who will reconstruct? No one knows what the situation will be like in Gaza after the war. Not to mention that we have to continue paying the full salaries of the teachers of our two schools, otherwise they would lose the only income they have,” said Monsignor Shomali.

Needless to say, there are not only material damages. “Thirty people died in the various explosions that occurred. Moreover, more than 250 people have now left, among them people with dual nationality, some sick people and students who intend to continue their studies. An Association, whose members are unknown, asks between US$7,000-8,000 per person for the permit to leave Rafah and go to Egypt. Some families have been able to pay, others try to collect funds for this end. Now the Rafah border-pass is closed. Gaza’s inhabitants are in a great prison.”

Despite the conflict being centered in the Gaza Strip,  it has also had a strong impact on Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and those of East Jerusalem. In regard to Christians of these communities, the Bishop said that “close to 40% of them work, directly or indirectly, in tourism. They are guides, drivers of tourist buses, hotel employees, etc.”

COVID dealt a hard blow to this sector. It had hardly recovered when October 7 happened. Since then, there have been no pilgrims, and these Christians have suffered the loss  of their jobs and a drastic drop in their income. Based on studies and statistics, the Latin Patriarchate estimates that in the tourist sector alone more than 3,000 families have lost their employment, not to mention the hundreds of people employed as manpower in construction or other sectors.”

On an international scale, the ideological confrontation between the supporters of Israel and those of Palestine worsens and, as a consequence, the voice of the Christian communities runs the risk of being drowned or distorted for political ends. In face of this, Bishop Shomali underscores the true intention of the local Christian community. The two peoples in conflict wish to live in peace.” However, one wonders, “how can a conflict be resolved that has a strong ideological background in relation to ownership of the land? The same land is claimed by both peoples, the Jews for biblical reasons, the Palestinians for historical reasons. The solution would be that of two States, with Jerusalem as an open and shared city. The Christian community doesn’t think the conflict can be resolved by force, which only increases hatred and prepares another cycle of violence. Only a just solution can bring peace and reconciliation,” he said.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem helps the Christian communities with different projects, several of them also financed by Aid to the Church in Need. “The humanitarian appeal, launched by the Patriarch after October 7, had a favourable response, thanks to which we were able to establish a program of humanitarian aid for Gaza and Palestine. With this program, we help the sick to get medications, we subsidize medical operations, scholarships, housing rentals, and help families in economic difficulties. With the Saint Yves enterprise, legal branch of the Latin Patriarchate, we work to improve the situation at the checkpoints. The majority of these checkpoints closed after October 7. Saint Yves was able to open more than one. The Churches have been able to  increase somewhat the quota of permits granted by Israel for the entry of various Palestinian workers, although not all requests are attended. We have also created work scholarships so that people can have an income. In the framework of this program, 400 workers have been contracted, who receive a salary of US$650 a month. We know that this aid is insufficient to compensate for the loss of income, but at least we keep families out of destitution, in the hope of better days.”

The Auxiliary Bishop concluded addressing ACN’s benefactors. “We thank the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need for their closeness to the Holy Land. We continue receiving great support from them for our pastoral projects, as well as for our humanitarian needs. The only way to thank them is to pray for them in the Holy Places. The Lord, who knows everything, will be able to give them a hundredfold.”

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