Bishops condemn Israel 'unequivocally' over 'horrifying' use of live bullets in Gaza

The bishop of Southwark Christopher Chessun, who regularly travels to Gaza, has said he is 'horrified' at the use of live fire by Israeli forces which led to 60 deaths on the Strip yesterday and condemned Israel's actions 'unequivocally'.

Bishop Chessun issued a statement to Christian Today after hosting a seminar on the Holy Land in Parliament this afternoon with the Catholic bishop Declan Lang, who chairs the Holy Land Coordination which runs annual trips to Gaza and the wider region.

Bishop Christopher ChessunPhoto: Southwark Diocesan Communications

He called for an easing of travel restrictions in and out of the occupied enclave, especially for medical reasons.

Chessun said: 'The Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton [Lang] and I were in Gaza in January and saw for ourselves the withered economy and the confines under which the population must live as well as the heroic service provided to the population at large by the small Christian community there. Thus it grieves us greatly that violence has erupted on such a scale and that viciousness has been explored on what seems like a border marking mutual incomprehension. We believe the Palestinians are entitled to peaceful protest and are horrified at the use of live fire.

'Violence is the ultimate form of rejection and meting out death the ultimate denial of humanity. We pray at this moment of crisis an opportunity to grasp at tangible hope through removing messages of hate throughout the relevant territories and to the easing of travel restrictions, particularly for medical reasons. Allowing medical supplies into Gaza would be similarly be helpful.'

In a separate joint statement, Bishop Chessun and Bishop Lang said: 'The terrible loss of life in Gaza caused by the Israeli army's use of live fire against civilians is to be condemned unequivocally.'

'These protests take place against the drastically deteriorating humanitarian situation which leaves little hope and continues to undermine a peaceful resolution. Hundreds of families across Gaza are now mourning their loved ones, dead and wounded.

Bishop Declan Lang

'Israel has a right to defend itself but also has the moral and legal responsibility not to use disproportionate force and not to prevent the injured from receiving medical treatment.

'All violence is destructive to peace efforts and our cry is for a peaceful two state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital.

'We pray for all those who suffer from this conflict and for the peace of Jerusalem.'

The bishops were speaking out as funerals took place for those killed yesterday on what is the 70th anniversary of the 'Nakba' – the mass displacement of some 700,000 Palestinians following the establishment of the state of Israel.

As it emerged that an eight-month-old baby was among the dead after breathing in tear gas, Palestinian officials said that, as well as those killed, around 2,700 people were injured on what was the deadliest day in Gaza since the 2014 war.

A female Palestinian demonstrator gestures during a protest ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza City.Reuters

The killings took place in the run up to and during the highly controversial opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. 

Earlier today, Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, wrote on Twitter: 'Grieving the tragic loss of life in #Gaza and praying for the peacemakers. The Anglican Church is committed to serve the people of Gaza through the extraordinary work of the hospitals I was able to visit there last year.'

Other Christian groups, including the Church of Scotland, Christian Aid and Embrace the Middle East, have spoken out against the events in Gaza yesterday. 

The outcry is in stark contrast to the reaction of US evangelical leaders who have heaped praise on US President Donald Trump for the embassy move and for unilaterally recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.