The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun spoke in a short debate about the Israel Palesine two state solution. Bishop Christopher spoke of the importance to maintain freedom of religion across the region and some of the issues he had seen with the building of the ‘peace and security wall’ following a recent visit to the region.
Baroness Anelay responded to the debate for the Government and addressed a number of the bishops points. Her comments can be found below.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, the flourishing of the freedom to practise religion is essential to the viability of a two-state solution. This freedom is under increasing pressure. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that faith leaders have a duty to act together—but there are other factors. On 17 February, without notice, the Israeli police entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, blocked the entry of worshippers and pilgrims, and closed the church for four hours. This sort of action represents the all too frequent disruption that the Christian community experiences—action that often increases around Easter. Muslims suffer, too. All West Bank Muslim males aged 16 to 45 are routinely banned from praying at the al-Aqsa mosque on security ground.
Freedom to practise religion is further exacerbated when it strikes at the work of the church in cross-community support. The Cremisan situation is a particular example here. The Israeli plan to site the separation barrier through land which supports the livelihoods of more than 50 Christian families and the two religious communities which run a school and a vineyard puts at risk a delicate infrastructure. The school, which educates people from across the Palestinian community, will be separated from its pupils. The land—a vital source of income—will be annexed and what remains will be separated from the community’s buildings. Israel asserts that the separation barrier is necessary for its security; that is a legitimate concern. Whatever the outcome, the route of the barrier will be illegal unless it divides the settlement of Har Gilo on the Green Line. This does not appear to be the current intention of the Israeli Government.
The problem with interference in the practice of religion and the frustration of Palestinian Christians’ attempts to serve the whole community is that it actively undermines the position of moderate voices in the Holy Land. We must remember the call for the recognition of Palestine, made by the Christian leaders in Jerusalem and endorsed in a joint statement on 13 October last year by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton and the Bishop of Coventry. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister what particular steps are being taken in regard to the situation in the Cremisan Valley and, more generally, to the supporting of communities of faith in the practice of their religion, which must be an essential element in the securing of a long-term, viable and stable peace.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): …..My noble friend Lord Cope and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark referred in particular to the duty of the faith communities in their varied forms. I agree with my noble friend Lord Cope that there is a duty on religious leaders to play their part on the route to finding peace. It is vital that Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan work together to maintain the long-standing status quo at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and other historic sites.
Freedom of religion must be protected. I know that the Government have worked strongly to support the position of those of all faiths in the area and that these matters are discussed at the Human Rights Council and in the United Nations. All those of faith have a role to play.