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Jerusalem bishop discusses hopes for ceasefire, ‘two-state solution’ to Israel-Hamas war

Bishop William Shomali, an auxiliary bishop of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. / Paul Fifield/CNA.

CNA Staff, Oct 16, 2023 / 08:25 am (CNA).

The auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem on Sunday told EWTN News that the Church in the Holy Land is praying for a “truce” to end the hostilities in the Israel-Hamas war, and for both sides to then begin negotiating for  a “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Jerusalem Auxiliary Bishop William Hanna Shomali in an interview with EWTN New’s “Vaticano” Sunday, “We pray that a truce takes place, a stop hold of violence, of attacks,” he said. 

“And after that, when there is this hold and a more peaceful situation, [then] both sides can negotiate for the two-state solution and to solve the issue of Jerusalem and the holy places,” Shomali said.  “I am not a politician to say what should be done, how a negotiation should be run.” 

The interview took place following the Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel by the terrorist group Hamas that killed 1,300 Israelis and international civilians. The interview also comes amid fresh criticism of the Vatican’s diplomatic response to Hamas’ attacks leveled by Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, who maintains that the Holy See has not issued a “clear and unequivocal” condemnation of the “murderous terrorist actions” of Hamas terrorists, according to a report by the Times of Israel. 

“It is unacceptable that you put out a statement expressing worry primarily for Gazan civilians while Israel is burying 1,300 who were murdered,” Cohen said, according to the Foreign Ministry.

On Oct. 13, however, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, speaking to Vatican Media, condemned Hamas’ attacks as “inhuman” and said the Holy See expresses “complete and firm condemnation.” He also said the Holy See stands ready to help mediate a peace agreement. 

In response to the Oct. 7 attack, Israel declared war against Hamas and struck back against the terror group in the Gaza Strip with a full-scale military mobilization. By Friday the death toll in the conflict was nearing a combined 3,000.

“In all the West Bank, which is closed now, [there is] no communication between the West Bank and Israel and Jerusalem,” Bishop Shomali told host Andreas Thonhauser.

The prelate said the conflict has been driven by “two invasions,” the first by Hamas invading Israel and the second by Israel “retaliating with power and disproportionate strength.”

“Israel uses airplanes, sophisticated airplanes,” the bishop said. “They have what we call the computer system. They know how to make a building fall down without touching the others.”

“Israel has a very strong army, while Hamas are militias with very limited and old-age, medieval-age weapons,” he argued. 

Hamas’ initial invasion was quickly followed by widespread reports of the Islamist militant group kidnapping civilian hostages, including women and children. Pope Francis last week called for the release of the hostages, condemning the “terrorism and extremism” that has marked the war thus far. 

An Israeli woman whose 80-year-old father was reportedly kidnapped pleaded with global allies last week to “assist in contacting the kidnapped and assure they are alive and have what they need to survive.”

Shomali said there is “a lot of fear, worries and panic in Gaza” and that people are likewise “anxious” in Jerusalem.

He noted that the bishops in the Holy Land have urged the faithful on Oct. 17 “to have a day of abstinence and fasting and prayer for peace and reconciliation” of fighting in the region. 

“[W]e believe that prayer is more efficient than any other things,” he said. “So we will have this day.” 

On the international level, Shomali added, “we expect from [the U.N.] Security Council to ask for a truce to hold the violence between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Asked by Thonhauser when there might be peace in the region, Shomali said he “[didn’t] believe” it would be soon. 

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem was first established in 1099. Its current patriarch is Bishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

Pizzaballa said last week that the Oct. 17 day of abstinence and fasting would help Catholics “draw the strength and serenity needed to endure these hard times, by turning to [God], in prayer and intercession, to implore and cry out to God amidst this anguish.”

The patriarchate says on its website that its territories include “Cyprus, Jordan, Israel and Palestine.”

In the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel, the country quickly formed a unity government in order to facilitate rapid mobilization and execution of the declared war. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated the country’s intent to use the conflict to eradicate Hamas from the region. 

“We are fighting with full force, on every front, we have gone on to the attack,” he said on Oct. 11. “Every member of Hamas is a dead man.”

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