Welcome to the October 2023 edition of Through Shadows, the newsletter of the Congregation Justice Office.
In this edition I’ll be bringing you news of the 25th anniversary celebrations in An Tairseach organic farm and ecology centre in Wicklow Town, an update on an event attended by Sisters, staff and Young Mothers’ Network members on UN Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and information on Pope Francis’s latest writings on climate change, Laudate Deum. The newsletter also features an article on the topic of Human Trafficking.
But first, to the news story that has dominated the front pages for more than a fortnight, the story of a conflict that has been by turn simmering and raging for more than seven decades – the Israel-Palestine crisis. This most recent phase of the crisis erupted with a sudden and brutal indiscriminate attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas militants from Gaza, with men, women and children murdered and taken hostage into Gaza. Israel’s reaction was swift and has included indiscriminate bombing of the densely populated Gaza Strip, and attacks against the Palestinian civilian population and infrastructure such as hospitals and schools. Gaza is one of the world’s most densely populated pieces of land, with more than 2 million people crammed into 140 square miles, less than half the size of Co. Louth.
On Monday 23rd October, Pope Francis said: “We must not become accustomed to war, to any war. We must not allow our hearts and minds to be anaesthetized at the repetition of these extremely serious horrors against God and humankind.”
Here is a link to a Trócaire petition on this issue that you are invited to sign, with further details below.
I visited Gaza with Trócaire in 2006, alongside the late Rev Dr Eoin Cassidy, then Chair of the International sub-committee of the Irish Commission for Justice & Social Affairs, researching a paper titled “Palestine/Israel – Principles for a Just Peace”. This was at the start of the blockade of Gaza which has now been going on for sixteen years. Even then, conditions in the territory were bleak, basic goods were scarce and hope was in short supply. But the hope that we did find was in the resilience of local people, in the courage of the aid workers and local groups running hospitals, children’s projects, and schools for the deaf. Sixteen years of crushing blockade later, nearly 80% of Gazans now rely on humanitarian assistance while more than half of Gaza’s just over 2 million people live in poverty.
In 2006 I had the pleasure of meeting local Palestinian NGOs such as the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza working for peace and justice, while in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the West Bank I also met Israeli peace and human rights groups who campaign against the occupation of East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank by Israel, and who speak out against human rights abuses. These Palestinian and Israeli peace activists continue to raise their voices, against the odds and against the tide. One such organisation is the Jerusalem-based Israeli NGO B’Tselem, whose name comes from Genesis 1:27, which states that all mankind was created “b’tselem elohim” (in the image of God). They aim to document human rights abuses in the occupied territories and foster a human rights culture in Israel. They have said of Israeli’s retaliation against the whole population of Gaza that “suffering does not justify suffering and, one injustice does not justify another and one crime does not warrant another”.
A unique Israeli organisation is Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers now trying to tell the Israeli public about the reality of daily life for Palestinians in the occupied territories and to bring about an end to the occupation. In an open letter, Breaking the Silence has said: “Having always opposed the harming of innocent civilians, it remains our duty in these terrible times – as we count our dead on the Israeli side and worry about wounded, missing, and abducted loved ones, and as bombs are being dropped on residential neighbourhoods in Gaza, wiping out entire families with no possibility of burying the dead – to raise our voices loud and clear against the harming of all innocent civilians, both in Israel and Gaza. We call for the immediate release of all hostages and an end to the bombardment of civilians in Israel and in Gaza. Humanitarian aid must be allowed to reach civilian populations, medical facilities and places of refuge must not be harmed, and vital resources such as water and electricity must not be cut off. The killing of additional civilians will not bring back those who were lost. Indiscriminate destruction and a siege harming innocents will not bring relief, justice, or calm.“
I wanted to share these organisations with you because they are important voices for hope and justice, and particularly for those Israeli organisations campaigning against the occupation, they are speaking often unpopular truths, as shown in a recent article on a clampdown on free speech and protest inside Israel. And as the conflict spills out beyond Israel and Palestine, there has been a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic attacks, with the BBC reporting a quadrupling of attacks in the UK in the last two weeks.
Closer to home, Trócaire has echoed calls from the United Nations and other international and humanitarian bodies for the following to be implemented immediately:
- An immediate end to hostilities and violations of international law and human rights.
- The creation of humanitarian corridors to allow the safe passage of humanitarian personnel and relief items to Gaza.
- The agreement of a ceasefire.
- The immediate release and return of hostages and those arbitrarily detained.
- The holding to account of those deemed to have committed war crimes under international law.
Trócaire is asking its supporters to sign a petition calling on all political parties in Ireland to demand that the EU take greater action for the protection of civilians in Gaza.
“Peace, peace to the distant and the close” – Isaiah 57:19