Bishops: Little cause for optimism in Holy Land
ISRAEL must make Covid-19 vaccines available to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, an international group of senior clergy has urged.
The Holy Land Coordination Group, whose membership is drawn mainly from Catholic bishops and archbishops, normally travels to the Holy Land each January.
Its aim is to support and stand in solidarity with the region's minority Christian community.
The group's Irish representatives are Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian SJ and Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor.
Other members come from Spain, Canada, Scotland, England and Wales, United States, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa and France.
Coronavirus restrictions have meant that the annual visit to the Holy Land has had to be virtual rather than physical.
While Israel's vaccination programme is leading the world, the group does not believe Palestinians are benefitting.
"The international community must hold Israel accountable for its moral, legal and humanitarian responsibility to make Covid-19 vaccines accessible for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza," it said.
The Palestinian Authority must also be encourage to cooperate, the bishops said, citing Pope Francis's Urbi et Orbi Christmas message that "in the face of a challenge that knows no borders, we cannot erect walls".
The group delivered a downbeat assessment of the current situation in the Holy Land, saying "it has become painfully clear that there is today less cause for optimism than at any time in recent history".
"The health challenges of Covid-19, felt by the entire world, are compounded by conflict, occupation and blockade," it said.
"The absence of international pilgrims has exacerbated widespread economic hardship, increased levels of unemployment and pushed many more families into poverty.
"The lack of political progress, along with relentless expansion of illegal settlements and the impact of Israel's Nation-State law, continues to erode any prospect of a peaceful two-state solution."
The Holy Land Coordination Group said it was essential for the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to recommit to direct negotiations.
"We call upon our own governments and political leaders urgently to renew their active participation in the search for a just peace, supporting dialogue between all sides, upholding international law, and reaffirming the plurality of Jerusalem, given its unique significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims."