Dear Mr. President,
It is with great sadness and shock that we write to you as the news of the escalating violence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories continues to be reported while it seems that the United States is doing very little to exert pressure on both sides to end the violence, especially the violence directed at civilian populations and civilian institutions.
Every day our national offices are flooded with emails from our colleagues in the region giving us eyewitness accounts of the unfolding tragedy, including the Israeli military occupation of Bethlehem University where 12 Christian Brothers who staff the University are being held under virtual house arrest. Eight of these men are U.S. citizens and affiliated with our Conferences. We have received reports of the occupation of the Franciscan Convent in Bethlehem by Palestinians. We have received pleas from the heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem to raise our voices in solidarity and concern. They have gone so far as to offer themselves as mediators between both sides of the conflict if the international community is able to insert itself effectively in the situation.
Both Israelis and Palestinians live under fear and terror, whether it is the terror of military occupation or the terror of unknown suicide bombers. With each act of violence the prospect for peace seems even more remote. And we are most dismayed that while the violence increases, the international community, and, most distressing, the United States, does little to pressure both sides to end the violence, whatever the source. We see the tragic effects of the suicide bombings on the Israeli people. Our colleagues tell us of the similar tragic effects of the military invasion of the West Bank and Gaza where civilians are being killed and residents are being deprived of basic food and medical supplies, water and electricity, and their homes and other structures are being occupied and destroyed.
On March 29 the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution that expressed “grave concern at the further deterioration of the situation” in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The resolution, supported by the U.S., calls on both parties to move to a cease-fire, for the Israelis to withdraw from the Palestinian cities, and to work to implement both the Tenet and Mitchell plans with aim at resuming peace negotiations. It also calls for an immediate end to all acts of violence.
The resolution strongly condemns acts of violence from both parties recognizing that neither is solely responsible for the deterioration of the situation and both must be held accountable for the crisis.
Mr. President, we are pleased that the U.S. supported this resolution. But that support is not enough. We urge you to make the points of this resolution key components to any U.S. policy regarding Israel and the Palestinian Authority at this time. At the request of our colleagues in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we urge you to call for an unconditional end to the violence by both parties and to insist that the Israeli military withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately. The United States also has a key role in seeing that both parties commit themselves to negotiations to bring about a political solution to the crisis that includes a Palestinian state and the security of Israel.
Our Conferences, representing over 100,000 Roman Catholic vowed sisters, brothers, and priests in the U.S., have a long commitment to working toward peace and justice in the region. In addition to having some members working there, we have participated in delegations to the region where we met with political and religious leaders, and saw the effects that the increasing violence has had on the lives of the people, Israelis and Palestinians, who live under the constant threat of terror and occupation. We also have made public statements calling for a clear and consistent U.S. policy that will lead to an end to the violence and the establishment of a Palestinian homeland. You and members of your Administration, particularly Secretary of State Powell, have publicly called for the establishment of a Palestinian homeland. This must remain a component of U.S. policy regarding a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Without it, the Palestinian people have no hope and without hope, the cycle of violence will not end.
Mr. President, the U.S. has a key role to play in the future of the Middle East, but we will only be credible and effective if we are consistent in calling on both Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat to do all within their respective authority to end the violence, whatever the source. The cycle of violence must be broken and both sides must be held to the same standards.
Our Scriptures urge us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Our prayers must be accompanied by effective action. We urge you to take every peaceful action possible to promote an end to the violence and a solution that will bring lasting peace and security for both the Israelis and Palestinians.
Kathleen Pruitt, CSJP
Canice Connors, O.F.M.Conv.