The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Dear Prime Minister:
It is the policy of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to insist on full respect for the rights and hopes of both Israelis and Palestinians, to do all that is possible to encourage efforts for justice and peace throughout the Middle East, and to be mindful that the issues involved in the Holy Land are of vital importance for Jews and Muslims as well as for Christians – including those who for centuries have lived in what is today Israel and the Palestinian Territories, as well as the members of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths around the world.
While fully respecting and endorsing the right and need of Israeli citizens to be able to live in security, our Conference is also aware that there are many people in the Middle East growing increasingly frustrated, impatient and even hostile because of various security measures imposed by the State of Israel. Thus ironically, today’s efforts to improve security may have the unintended but inevitable effect of spawning future insecurity.
I wish to bring to your attention two examples. The first involves my own personal experience during a visit I made 9-14 January this year with representatives of other Conferences of Catholic Bishops from Europe and the United States as part of a meeting that is annually held in Jerusalem or the surrounding region.
One day during this visit, I was part of a tour to the convent of the Combonian Sisters who operate a kindergarten. The Israeli government has extended the security wall along the land belonging to the Sisters, thus preventing children from having access to the school. After numerous past protests, the parents and the Sisters did succeed in having a narrow door cut into the wall. The “door” is locked and opened each day by the military police. During our visit, the soldiers came 45 minutes later than scheduled, which apparently is common, although a military checkpoint has been installed on the very property of the Sisters. Any parent of young children here in Canada can easily imagine the frustration and humiliation that are involved with this inconvenient arrangement day after day, simply in order to get young children to and from school.
The second example involves Israeli security measures that severely limit Catholic and Orthodox Christians from participating in the celebrations of prayer and worship leading up to Easter.
As indicated in a press release dated 20 March 2010 (copies enclosed in English and Arabic, as well as a French translation), Christians in Jerusalem are being hindered and restricted from observing the blessing of the fire at the Easter Vigil, from joining in morning prayer on Holy Saturday, and from processing to the Holy Sepulchre. Although there has been a basic agreement for these traditional observances since 1852, over the past five years Christians have been complaining that Israeli police are imposing unwarranted restrictions – culminating now in a plea to the international community to assist Christians in the Holy Land so they can exercise their religious rights. To quote the press release, “Christians are denied … their right [to] exercise their religion” because of “road blocks in the old city, police presence with machine guns, as well as rude and hostile attitudes from police and Army officers… [and also] including curfews and forced closures.”
Again, I wish to stress that the Catholic Bishops of Canada will continue to insist on the right and need for all Israelis to live in security. At the same, we are also very aware that a number of the security measures being imposed by the Government of Israel are festering ill will and risk provoking eventual violence.
Mr. Prime Minister, I would ask that the Government of Canada do all it can to promote a just and lasting settlement in this conflict, and one which takes into account the rights and needs of Israelis and Palestinians, including Jews, Muslims and Christians.
As Canadian Christians join their sisters and brothers around the world in preparing for Holy Week, we join you in praying and working for the peace which is promised in the Paschal celebrations.
Most Reverend Pierre Morissette
Bishop of Saint-Jérôme
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops