As the visit of Pope Francis to Palestine and Israel nears, a letter signed by 20 US Bishops was sent the Pontiff asking him to speak out against the targeting of Palestinian children by the Israeli military.Rev. Don Wagner, the National Director of the Friends of Sabeel in the United States said in a press release, issued 5 March 2014, that the letter aims at raising awareness about the mistreatment of Palestinian children by Israel.
This letter comes as statements by the Vatican threatened to cancel the visit to Israel, under the pretext that the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs did not prepare well for the visit, as their staff is on strike.
During his expected visit in May, the Pope is going to visit Bethlehem, with stops at the Church of the Nativity and Deheisheh refugee camp.
Below is the full text of the Press Release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – March 5, 2014
Rev. Donald Wagner
National Program Director, Friends of Sabeel – North America
Ash Wednesday Letter to Pope Francis: Speak out against Targeting of Palestinian Children
In anticipation of the Pope’s May visit to the Holy Land, an Open Letter signed by over 200 bishops, clerics, members of religious orders and theologians from several faith traditions, was delivered today to Pope Francis. The letter asks the Pope to speak out against the Israeli army’s program of kidnapping, detention, and systematic abuse of Palestinian children and to call for an end to the occupation and colonization of Palestine.
The letter, whose signers include over 20 bishops, cites a recent UNICEF report that documents nighttime arrests, blindfolding and shackling of children between 12 and 18 years of age. Based on over 400 sworn testimonies, UNICEF concluded that the “ill-treatment of children who come into contact with the system appears to be widespread, systematic, and institutionalized throughout the process.”
“With this letter, we are raising the profile of the well-documented systematic mistreatment of Palestinian children,” said Rev. Don Wagner. “The Israeli government is purposefully going after children, who are clearly vulnerable, to deeply scare and traumatize them.”
Wagner is the National Program Director of Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA.org), which initiated the letter. FOSNA supports the work of Sabeel, a Jerusalem-based peace and justice organization founded by Palestinian Christians.
The letter notes that similar concerns about the mistreatment of Palestinian children have been raised by Save the Children, the United Nations Commission Against Torture, Military Court Watch, Defense of Children International, and B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization.
“The enthusiastic response to our request for signers to the letter indicates the urgency of these concerns,” Wagner said. “Now that the letter has been delivered, we would like to invite people worldwide to join this appeal to Pope Francis and raise this issue with their media, human rights organizations, and governments until this targeting of children and the occupation are ended.’
The petition to support the letter is hosted at www.endtheoccupation.org/Letter2Pope
Wagner said that FOSNA initiated the letter in the hope that Pope Francis would speak out for the people of Palestine as he has boldly spoken for the poor and oppressed elsewhere.
“During his upcoming May visit, we want the Pope to publicly call upon the Israeli government to end its intentional mistreatment of Palestinian children,” Wagner said, “as well as to end its prolonged military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip and its punitive and illegal blockade of Gaza, where 51 percent of the 1.8 million residents are under the age of 18.”
The letter is the first step, Wagner said, in a larger campaign to educate and mobilize faith and other communities in an effort to end the abuse of Palestinian children and the occupation that oppresses them and their families.