Holy Land leaders call for dialogue and peace amid tensions

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Catholic leaders in the Holy Land have spoken of their concern about the "gradual deterioration of the general social and political situation" in the region. 

The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (ACOHL) hopes that the new government formed by Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu "will bring political stability", but it said that some of the rhetoric from members of the government coalition have been "very divisive" towards Arab and non-Jewish communities, and are creating "distrust and resentment". 

"They lay the groundwork for further violence. Violence in language inevitably, sooner or later, turns into physical violence as well," the leaders said. 

They call instead for an attitude of "fairness" towards Israel's diverse communities. 

The statement voices "great concern" about what is happening in Palestine and Palestinian territories.

"That the situation is progressively and rapidly deteriorating is also evident by the numbers: we have witnessed an upsurge in violence this year, with the highest Palestinian death toll in more than twenty years," ACOHL said.

"Settler violence in the settlements is always more on the rise. The living area available to the Palestinian population continues to shrink, due to the sustained growth of settlements. We are also witnessing attacks to the Jewish population.

"Violence is never justified and must always be condemned, no matter where it comes from. No one should die because they are Jewish or because they are Arab." 

The statement adds, "Violence is the consequence of a deep distrust and perhaps even hatred, that is taking root in the hearts of the two populations, Israeli and Palestinian. It is the common responsibility of everyone, especially religious and political leaders of all denominations, to foster mutual respect and not division or sentiments of hatred." 

It concludes on a positive note by welcoming the return of pilgrims to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth after being largely closed during the pandemic. 

The Catholic leaders said that the return of pilgrims made them feel "that we are not forgotten".

The statement ends with an invitation to the faithful to pray for peace in Jerusalem, the Holy Land and "every place in the world where violence, hate and division are a source of suffering".