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Monday, December 9, 2013

USCCB supports protest against demolition of Patriarchate property

Committee on International Justice and Peace
WASHINGTON DC 20017-1194
FAX 202-541-3339

November 26, 2013

The Honorable Ron Dermer
Ambassador of Israel to the United States
Embassy of Israel
3524 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008 

Dear Mr. Ambassador: 

May I offer my congratulations on your recent assumption of the position of Israeli Ambassador to the United States. It is unfortunate that our first interaction would be in the nature of a protest, especially given our Conference’s longstanding commitment to a secure and recognized Israel. However, as Chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I wanted to bring an urgent matter to your attention and ask that you convey our strong objections to your government.

In the early hours of October 28, Jerusalem municipality workers, backed by Israeli security forces, demolished a home, displacing a family of 14. The home and the land on which it was situated is owned by the Latin Patriarchate. It has been in their possession for decades and the Patriarchate has the deeds and appropriate permits to prove their rightful ownership, showing the house was constructed before 1967. This destructive act was done without any prior warning. The family living in the house, who were legal tenants of the Latin Patriarchate, are now homeless, forced to live in tents.

In early November, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal visited the site of the demolition along with Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem, Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, lawyers, diplomats, media, and other clergy. He was very disturbed by what he witnessed, calling the demolition an “act of vandalism that infringes international law.” He reiterated, “There is no justification for the demolition, but when the municipality and the Israeli government enact demolitions and displace people from their homes, these practices increase hatred and endanger the future of peace.” The Patriarchate has called on the Israeli government to pay for the damage done and to rebuild the house as it was.

We echo the protest of Patriarch Twal that such actions undermine human rights and serve to endanger efforts to find a solution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over the years, the USCCB has worked with Jewish and Muslim religious leaders in advocating for a two state solution in which a secure and recognized Israel can live in peace with a viable and independent Palestinian state. I will be leading a bishops’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land next year in which we plan to pray for peace with Jewish and Muslim leaders. But peace efforts will be undermined if such actions continue. Please convey our grave concerns to your government and ask that the Church’s property rights be recognized and that restitution be made to the Church and the family who were displaced. 

Most Reverend Richard E. Pates
Bishop of Des Moines
Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace

cc: Maher Bitar, National Security Council
     Ambassador Beth Jones, Department of State 

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