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2002 | 58th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (18 March - 26 April 2002)

The urging call for a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine in the Holy Land

March 18 – April 26, 2002
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Mr. Chairperson,

Franciscans International in conjunction with the Franciscan spokesman for the Custody of the Holy Land wishes to convey its deepest concerns over the deteriortating situation in the Holy Land. Facts:

  • Two hundred young Palestinian military, regular and irregular, fleeing from the Israeli forces after a confrontation on Manger Square in Bethlehem shot the locks off of various doors, invaded and barricaded themselves inside the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. (www. 03/04/2002).[1]
  • The Israeli forces have blown open a back door of the building but have not entered the church. (www. 04/04/2002).
  • The whole compound is under siege. Outside Israelis armed with tanks are trying to force the Palestinians out of the Christian Shrine. The Palestinians are moving throughout the various buildings on the compound – St. Catherine’s Church, the Basilica of the Nativity, the Franciscan friary. (www. 03/04/2002).
  • Caught between the two parties are about 40 Franciscan friars and nuns who serve the Church and adjoining convent and about 30 monks Greek Orthodox and Armenian. In the same situation there is the convent of the Brigittine Sisters occupied by a group of about ten armed Palestinians.
  • The religious community has been feeding the Palestinians and they are now running out of food and drinking water.

The lack of regard even for sacred symbols, such as the holy night of the Jewish Passover or the City of Bethlehem, is a striking demonstration of the depths to which the conflict has sunk, of the disappearance of any barriers to the most brutal expressions of the mutual rage.

Respect for the sacredness of Holy Places, honored usually even by war, has been totally disregarded. As far as we are concerned both sides have gone too far: we are appalled to see Palestinians who dare to occupy the Nativity Church and the Israeli army which will stop at nothing.

Franciscans International invites Israel and the Palestinians to reach an understanding to peacefully resolve the standoff that will save lives and honor.

Franciscans International calls for an immediate and peaceful solution to save the lives of the barricaded Palestinians and to respond to the concerns of the Israelis: specifically we call for a few hours of cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal, at least temporary, of the Israeli army, time for the church to be evacuated. This will guarantee the lives of the friars, the nuns and the Orthodox and Armenian monks and it will preserve the shrine built over the birthplace of Christ.

An interim is required. Logically it could be for an international force to replace the Israeli forces in the occupied territories, and to assume both responsibility for defense against terrorism, and for over-all security control, pending the achievement of the peace treaty, after which it would further supervise the orderly transition of the territories to a Palestinian state, in accordance with the terms of the peace treaty.

[1] Clarification by the Franciscan Spokesman for the Custody of the Holy Land ( 04/04/2002) “Some organs of the press have alleged that it was the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem who offered sanctuary in the Basilica of the Nativity to a large group of unarmed persons. This report is unreliable. It is well known, that the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has no part in the governance of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which, is reserved to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and to the Armenian Patriarchate. The problematic situation created in and around the Basilica is the result of the violent invasion effected by armed men who thereafter barricaded themselves there. The erroneous report referred to above would only result in attributing to the religious personnel there responsibilities they do not have and choices they never made. It is, of course, urgently necessary to resolve this situation rapidly, without bloodshed or other damage, while assuring the safety of all the persons concerned, whether armed or unarmed.”
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