On Palestinian Refugees

Author: Archbishop Renato R. Martino

Hopes of a people who long for peace remain unfulfilled

Archbishop Renato R. Martino

On Wednesday, 3 November 1999, Archbishop Renato R. Martino, the Holy See's Permanent Observer at the United Nations in New York, addressed the Fourth Committee of the 54th General Assembly on item 88, "United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East". Here is the English text of his statement.

Mr. Chairman,

For five decades, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine have sought to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian refugees by providing the necessary infrastructure for education and health care. That gives my delegation the special occasion of recalling also the recent commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine held here at the Headquarters of the United Nations on 25 October of this year.

Founded in 1949, the Pontifical Mission originally 'had the task of helping Palestinian refugees, providing relief and services in order to meet their humanitarian, religious, cultural and educational needs. Its central office is in New York, with branches in Beirut, Jerusalem, Amman, and a coordinating office in Rome. The Pontifical Mission was and continues to be a concrete sign of the Holy See's concern for the sufferings of the Palestinian people.

My delegation notes with appreciation the valuable services rendered by UNRWA to the Palestinian people in need for almost half a century. Yet, the report by the Economic and Social Council on the "Economic and Social Repercussions of the Israeli Occupation on the Living Conditions of the Palestinian People ..." (A/54/152-E/1999/92) causes concern. While the renewed peace process initiated by the Wye Memorandum deserves commendation, the ongoing expansion of settlements and confiscation of land could pose a real threat to a stable and definitive solution to the crisis in the land which is the Holy Land especially to believers of the three monotheistic religions.

Mr. Chairman,

It is inconsistent that the international community offers great praise for the political negotiations towards a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, while on the other hand the lived negative experiences of the refugees continue unabated. It is unfair to raise exaggerated hopes through the mass media proclaiming peace as land is confiscated, settlements expand in the occupied territories, closures play havoc with employment and checkpoints control freedom of movement. The hopes of a people who long for a lasting peace might even thus remain unfulfilled.

The Holy See feels morally bound to assist those in need. The Pontifical Mission for Palestine, in collaboration with other agencies of the Catholic Church such as the Department for the World Church of the Archdiocese of Cologne, Misereor of the German Bishops, Kinderhilfe Bethlehem and the Pontifical Society of Missionary Childhood, seek to provide the aid necessary to sustain a level of decent human living for those displaced by settlement expansion and land confiscation.

For 1998, the amount of the help coming from these sources has been 6 million US dollars. In addition, the Holy See contributes symbolically to the work of UNRWA, supporting specific small projects.

The humanitarian aid provided to the refugees by UNRWA and the Church agencies will continue. But they should not be understood as substitutes for a just, stable and definitive solution to the problems of the region.

Such a solution, it is hoped, would include the question of the Holy City of Jerusalem. On 23 October last, in connection with the commemoration of the 50th year of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine,. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States, stated in New York "... with regard to the question of Jerusalem, the Holy See has always maintained that this question cannot and should not be reduced simply to one of unimpeded access to the Holy Places. The living dimension of these places requires also (1) that the global character of Jerusalem as a sacred heritage common to the three monotheistic religions be guaranteed; (2) that religious freedom in all its aspects be defended; (3) that all the acquired rights of the various communities with regard to shrines, centres of spirituality and study, and charitable institutes be safeguarded; (4) that the maintenance and development of the respective religious, educational and social activities be guaranteed; (5) that the three religions be treated equally. In order that all of these may be guaranteed, the Holy See seeks a special internationally guaranteed statute for the most sacred part of the city of Jerusalem".

Mr. Chairman,

A just and stable peace requires sacrifice, sacrifice from all. The Holy Land and its inhabitants have experienced too much suffering in the past five decades. The urge for peace has therefore become imperative today. That is why Pope John Paul II, in his New Year's Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See on 13 January 1997, made the following appeal: "All people together, Jews, Christians and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs, believers and non-believers, must create and reinforce peace: the peace of treaties, the peace of trust, the peace in people's hearts. In this part of the world as elsewhere, peace cannot be just nor can it long endure unless it rests on sincere dialogue between equal partners, with respect for each other's identity and history, unless it rests on the right of peoples to the free determination of their own destiny, upon their independence and security".

It is the wish of my delegation that the untiring services rendered by UNRWA and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine during the past half a century will soon be crowned by the full implementation of the Wye Memorandum and by the conclusion of the final status negotiations. May that day be imminent, with the help of God.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
12 January 2000, page 4

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