Israeli-Palestinian conflict: How you can support the people affected
21 May 2021
Violent attacks between both Israel and Gaza rapidly escalated to terrifying levels earlier in May. Although there were many warning signs that this tense situation could escalate, there was a lack of political will to de-escalate in time, and our partners are warning that it has now gone beyond crisis point.
CAFOD welcomes the ceasefire brokered by Egypt on Friday 21 May to halt the 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza. However, there needs to be more than a ceasefire to stop the cycle of death, destruction and suffering for Palestinian and Israeli families.
What is the cause of the latest escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza?
The escalation of violence needs to be seen against the backdrop of decades of occupation and discrimination that deny Palestinians their rights, the religious and political significance of Jerusalem, and the violent policing of Palestinians by Israeli authorities.
For weeks, Palestinian protesters and Israeli police had clashed daily in Jerusalem due to the looming eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.
Police decisions to restrict prayer and celebrations throughout the holy month of Ramadan - including shocking attacks on worshippers at the Al Aqsa Mosque with stun grenades and tear gas, leaving hundreds of Palestinians in hospital - further inflamed the situation.
These incidents contributed to the mounting hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians.
Although there were many warning signs that this tense situation could escalate, there was a lack of political will to de-escalate the situation in time, and our partners are warning that this situation has now gone beyond crisis point.
From Monday 9 May 2021, violent attacks between both Israel and Gaza rapidly escalated to terrifying levels. Israel with heavy bombardments from land, sea and air, and Hamas and other groups in the Gaza Strip fired over 1,000 rockets into Israel. Civilians on the ground are feeling the full force of this violence.
There is growing concern about the new and vicious dimension of sectarian clashes in mixed towns and cities in Israel. Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel have been in running street battles meting out violence and intimidation against each other, with reports of Israeli police ‘standing by’ and not intervening.
What is the situation for civilians?
Humanitarian law states that parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants and that parties may only direct their attacks against military targets. Consequently, indiscriminate attacks are prohibited.
Both Israeli and Palestinians have a right to live in peace and security. Death and injuries have occurred on both sides. This latest conflict leaves families on both sides extremely vulnerable. All attacks on civilians and civilian objects must be stopped immediately.
Caritas Jerusalem sent us this eyewitness report from a 40-year-old man in Gaza: "The bombs are either bigger or more likely of a different kind than in previous wars. They are extremely powerful, shaking surrounding buildings and causing deep craters in roads. Sections of two main roads are totally destroyed.
"The bombing seems to be indiscriminate - houses, tower blocks, streets, corners, cars, motorbikes, and police stations - are bombed.”
Another partner lamented: “It’s so unfair for the children of Gaza to live this one more time.”
"The bombs are either bigger or more likely of a different kind than in previous wars. They are extremely powerful, shaking surrounding buildings and causing deep craters in roads."
Our local partners in Gaza have told us: “The bombing is unpredictable, and bombs are more powerful than in previous wars. The civilians have nowhere to hide and not even the possibility of fleeing as refugees by land or sea.
“They are trapped in this densely populated strip of land at the mercy of intense air bombardment with nowhere to flee for safety.”
During the end of Ramadan’s Eid celebrations, taking place this week, local aid workers say that people will have some basic supplies, but warn that the situation in Gaza is rapidly deteriorating.
In an eyewitness report from Gaza, CAFOD was told:
“Government vehicles and ambulances are moving where roads are passable, but people are afraid to move except in emergency. The bombs fall suddenly, and one feels as if their eyes and ears are being blown out by the power of the blast. People are panicking, few pedestrians are on the streets and no cars.
"People I spoke to on Wednesday and Thursday (12th and 13th) say that this war is totally different. They cannot know who or what the targets are.”
What is CAFOD’s response to the latest violence?
We, at CAFOD, are joining the calls of faith leaders from around the world, including Pope Francis, who have called for an immediate cessation of all violence.
On 12 May 2021, CAFOD released a statement that read:
“The violence in the West Bank and Gaza including East Jerusalem is deeply disturbing and must be brought to a halt before it spirals out of control and more lives are lost. Continued escalation only harms the most vulnerable people.
“There is an urgent need for responsible leadership ready to work for justice and peace for Palestinians and Israelis creating an alternative to this cycle of violence that divides and kills.
“CAFOD opposes the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes which is a violation of international law. We call for an immediate cessation of all violence
“CAFOD believes that the only way out of the cycle of violence and for Israelis and Palestinians to be truly secure, is to revive hope for a just Israeli-Palestinian peace process, aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice, where all must be treated equally.”
How has the Church in England and Wales and in the region responded?
The Bishop’s Conference in England and Wales released a statement, praying “as people of peace for an end to the violence engulfing the Holy Land.”
Bishop Declan Lang, Lead Bishop for International Affairs, wrote:
“The local churches have clearly stated that peace requires justice. We echo their calls for an end to the occupation, discrimination and human rights violations that propagate violent attacks on civilians, standing in the way of a stable and peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis.”
This is following a call from Pope Francis, who urged for an end to the cycle of violence, saying:
“I pray that the city might be a place of encounter and not of violent clashes, a place of prayer and peace… I invite everyone to seek shared solutions, so that the multi-religious and multi-cultural identity of the Holy City might be respected, and that fraternity might prevail.”
“The historic position of the Churches in Jerusalem is clear with regard to our denouncement of any attempt which makes Jerusalem an exclusive city for anyone.
"This is a city sacred to the three monotheistic religions and, based on international law and relevant UN resolutions, also a city where the Palestinian people, Christians, and Muslims, have the same right to build a future based on freedom, equality and peace.”
CAFOD’s work in the region
CAFOD has worked through local Palestinian and Israeli partner organisations in the region for over 30 years, promoting human rights and justice and peace for all people – Israelis and Palestinians alike.
In the Middle East region, CAFOD is working with Christian, Jewish, Muslim and secular partners in occupied Palestinian territory, Israel, and Lebanon to:
- Promote peace building, and tackle the social factors that promote as well as hinder peace.
- We work with young people and women to tackle issues of voice and participation, inclusion and inter-generational justice.
- To support the rule of law and justice, through monitoring and protecting human rights and promoting participation in local governance.
- Alongside communities, we work for dignified and sustainable livelihoods and for the wellbeing of the most vulnerable, responding to their immediate needs.