Israel-Palestine conflict ‘prising people apart’ in UK, says Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury told the Church of England’s General Synod on Monday that the ‘bloodshed must cease’.

Aine Fox
Monday 13 November 2023 14:59 GMT
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the ‘bloodshed must cease’ as he spoke to the Church of England’s General Synod about the Middle East conflict (Doug Peters/PA)
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the ‘bloodshed must cease’ as he spoke to the Church of England’s General Synod about the Middle East conflict (Doug Peters/PA)

The conflict in the Middle East is “prising people apart” in the UK, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, as he insisted “hateful voices stoking prejudice” must be challenged and repeated his calls for a ceasefire in the region.

Justin Welby said civilian deaths and the “humanitarian catastrophe” as a result of Israel’s bombardment and siege of the Gaza Strip cannot be morally justified.

Addressing the Church of England’s General Synod on Monday, he said the “bloodshed must cease”.

He said it is “essential” people can say both that there is no equivalence between the Hamas attacks against Israeli civilians, and the right and duty of Israel to defend itself, and that is is also the case that there is no moral justification for the “devastating loss of civilian life” in Gaza.

I also want to make clear that I do not believe the devastating loss of civilian life and humanitarian catastrophe resulting from Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza can be morally justified

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

He told the Synod, before a two-minute silent prayer was held for the Israelis and Palestinians: “I want to make clear that there is no equivalence between the atrocities of Hamas against Israeli civilians, and the right and duty of Israel to defend itself.

“I have emphasised that previously, and I do so again.

“But I also want to make clear that I do not believe the devastating loss of civilian life and humanitarian catastrophe resulting from Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza can be morally justified.

“I think we need to be able to say both these things – in fact, it is essential that we do.”

He said that, since a call for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” by himself and other Christian leaders during a visit to Jerusalem more than three weeks ago, “thousands more innocent men, women and children in Gaza have been killed”, while thousands of people in Israel “still mourn those killed on October 7, and hundreds of families still plead for the release of their loved ones”.

He added: “So I repeat that call again with renewed urgency and even more force. This bloodshed must cease, hostages must be released, and aid must reach those in Gaza in dire need.”

The situation there is having consequences at home too, he added.

While there are hateful voices stoking prejudice against anyone for any reason, we cannot stand by

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

“Here in the UK, the conflict in Israel and Palestine is prising people apart,” he said.

“Jewish people are experiencing the trauma of the biggest single loss of life in one day since the Shoah (Holocaust).

“They are a small global community and everyone knows someone killed or taken hostage on 7th October.

He said that, for Muslims, “the sight of so many Palestinian civilians being killed, the majority of whom are Muslim, cuts deeply into the ties of the family of Islam”.

He added that “while there are hateful voices stoking prejudice against anyone for any reason, we cannot stand by”, and called on people to “rebuke those who are spreading vile antisemitic propaganda, and harassing and attacking our Jewish neighbours” and “those who engage in hateful Islamophobic attacks and abuse against our Muslim neighbours”.

He said people “have a responsibility to both speak out against all such evils and to play our part in building bridges across communities”.

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