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14 November 2023

Israel: “We Carmelites of Jerusalem pray with these two peoples in conflict”

Our Lady of the Rosary: during the Office of Lauds and the Eucharist on Saturday, October 7, the alarm sounded almost continuously over Jerusalem… until about noon. The muffled sounds of rockets being destroyed by the Iron Dome made us realize that it was an attack. The surprise was total. It was a serious and surprising event: an attack on Jerusalem!

On the last day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the joyful songs of the holiday suddenly gave way to the sounds of war. Rarer alarms sounded in the following days: in those moments, everyone remained in their place, motionless, silent, praying and waiting.

Jerusalem came to a standstill, as if on a long Shabbat: shops closed, schools closed, tourists and pilgrims suddenly disappeared, few people in the streets, the muffled noise of military planes entering and leaving the Gaza Strip, carrying out heavy reprisals. Our city is “protected” by numerous checkpoints against the “enemy” who has poured into Israel and against those who would like to join them.

The Palestinian Territories are isolated, no one can enter or leave, many workers are severely penalized for not being able to reach their daily work from Bethlehem or Jericho…

The attacks are carried out by isolated individuals. Yesterday, against the police station near the post office where we pick up our mail, today against ordinary Jewish passers-by, or in reaction to stone-throwing by Palestinian youths…

The government of the Palestinians in Gaza has carried out a terrible attack against Jews living near their territory, and Palestinians in other areas could or are trying to do the same: when night falls in our Palestinian neighborhood, we hear demonstrations and gunshots from beyond our walls… It’s not the first time. But this year’s experience has given us tear gas canisters, we had never seen before these small grenades that we collect in the morning in the cloister and in the garden: and our knowledge is expanding, after the whole firecracker cartridges, the bullet casings and the stinking water…

We learned of the attacks on Jewish communities near the Gaza Strip, with the unimaginable murders, the wounded, the hostages and too many dead… and we are equally filled with compassion for the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip subjected to intense bombardment, blockade and mass exodus. Our heart is with the small Christian community that takes refuge in the school and in the church, with its few nuns and seminarians, and even some Muslims.

However, we have been preparing for the celebration of the Holy Mother, with the 150th anniversary of our foundation. The monastery and its nuns have gone through many periods of hostility and have lived under different authorities, Ottoman, Jordanian, British… Today, these authorities are Israeli, although our Old City and Mount of Olives neighborhood, with its Palestinian population, remains the “disputed, occupied, annexed” area of East Jerusalem.

Our Carmelites in Bethlehem, Nazareth and Haifa are also under attack from the Gaza Strip, and now also from southern Lebanon, which is opposite and very close to Mount Carmel. We stand in solidarity… Embassies offer us repatriation, but of course it is not a question of leaving!

Let us live with the peoples of the Holy Land, with their ups and downs, in our own small way, let us pray for the peace and justice of today and tomorrow. This war proves that walls and other constraints or surveillance are useless in the long run. Only justice and respect can lead to peace, difficult but lasting. Every day we are able to gather the seeds through extraordinary people, both Jewish and Palestinian.

For our monastery it is the time of the olive harvest, a tiring but serene and joyful moment; Prayer is the order of the day; The tension is palpable. Thank you to the whole Order for the communion of prayer for those who suffer and for those who have the task of deciding. And also for those who fight on both sides: may they remain human…

For the Christians of the Holy Land, Tuesday 17 October was a day of fasting and prayer for reconciliation “for God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33). We invite you, brothers and sisters, to join us in praying that the Lord will truly grant us his peace!