Gaza strip a "large prison": Irish bishops

In a statement issued ahead of a meeting with the country's foreign minister, Irish bishops have slammed systematic large-scale abuse of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and called into questions Ireland's commercial ties with Israel.

"Where there is evidence of systematic abuse of human rights on a large scale, as in the Occupied Territories, there are questions that must be asked concerning the appropriateness of maintaining close business, cultural and commercial links with Israel," said auxiliary Catholic Bishop of Dublin Raymond Field, according to a Haaretz report.

There is a long history of support for Palestinians in Ireland, particularly among nationalist parties such as Sinn Fein, which equate their own fight to end British rule in Ireland with the desire by Palestinians for their own state.

Field, chairman of the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs, which advises Ireland's top Catholic clerics on social issues, described travel restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as an "injustice."

"We are calling for an end to restrictions on family reunification, and an end to humiliating treatment of people at checkpoints," Field said in a statement ahead of a meeting with Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern.

Field said restrictions, which Israel says protect it against Palestinian attacks, also make it difficult for Christians to worship at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

"In effect, the communities of Bethlehem and East Jerusalem are forced to live divided by a 25 foot wall," said Field.

"We also intend to raise with Minister Ahern the intolerable situation that is the daily lot of the Palestinians who live in Gaza," Field said.

The Commission's statement also questioned the way in which the European Union handled its dealings with Israel.

"While we welcome cooperation between the EU and its neighbouring countries, nevertheless such cooperation should not be at the expense of a large segment of the indigenous population - in this case the Palestinians."

Gaza children need recreation

Meanwhile, Caritas Jerusalem is organising programs for Gaza children to give them a break from the security crisis in the territory.

"Children need to have fun to change their mental outlooks when the daily life is full of bad news in the Palestinian territories, especially in Gaza. They need fun days and recreational activities that refresh their troubled spirits," Muna, a mother of four, said according to a Caritas statement.

About two hundred children gathered with their families in the Gaza Latin School's big yard to have fun and enjoy the games, plays, and songs.

Irish bishops: Israel has turned Gaza Strip into a 'large prison' (Haaretz, 27/2/07)
A Fun day for children in Gaza (ReliefWeb, 27/2/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Communications Ireland
Caritas Australia

Gaza getting worse, say residents (CathNews, 7/12/06)
New Gaza settlement tenders concern Caritas Jerusalem (CathNews, 8/9/06)
Biblical lamentations as Gaza descends into disaster (CathNews, 12/7/06)

28 Feb 2007