• View & download photos from the visit here
  • Warning that “Israel must not become its own worst enemy, but negotiate an end to the occupation”
  • Bishop Christopher reflects on “grave situation” facing Christians in the region

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, has spoken of the dire situation facing Christians and others following a pastoral visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Bishop Christopher visited the Diocese of Southwark’s companion Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem from 14 to 18 January, as the war in Gaza passed the 100-day mark. During this time, he met with Bishop Hosam, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem as well as priests from Nazareth, Jerusalem and Ramallah. He also visited the Princess Basma Centre and St George’s School and talked to their respective Directors, Violette Mubarak and Richard Zananiri. Bishop Christopher also met with His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III and with bishops from the Armenian Orthodox Church.

Time was spent listening to individuals from civil society organisations, including Rabbi Michael Marmur (Rabbis for Human Rights), Robi Damelin (Parents Circle), Danny Siederman (Jerusalem Peace Initiative) and Daniel Munayer (Musalaha). The programme was coordinated by Canon Richard Sewell, Dean of St George’s College in Jerusalem.

Reflecting on his visit, Bishop Christopher said: “It was humbling to listen to the great pain being felt in Jewish and Palestinian communities. No one I met professed easy solutions, but each showed a determination and commitment to taking whatever steps they can – however provisional – towards a future which allows for the human flourishing and security of both Palestinians and Israelis. Such individuals need our prayers and support.”

Speaking about the ongoing war, Bishop Christopher said: “The desperate and devastating cost of the war in Gaza was evident in every conversation – and it is abundantly clear that the heaviest price is being paid by the most vulnerable. I’m clear that continued military action will only intensify this humanitarian catastrophe and make the prospects for peace more distant. As a religious leader, I add my voice to those calling for the release of the hostages and prisoners, and an immediate ceasefire to end this appalling suffering.”

Bishop Christopher also reflected on the fragile situation in the West Bank, adding: “My visit to Ramallah underscored the importance of not allowing the war in Gaza to eclipse the suffering of the Palestinian people who struggle with the daily injustices of Israel’s occupation. I share the fear of many I spoke to that decisions taken by the Israeli government since 7 October risk spiraling the West Bank deeper into violence. Israel must not become its own worst enemy, but look to negotiate an end to the occupation of the various Palestinian territories on terms that will ensure the flourishing of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Speaking of the fragile situation facing Christians, Bishop Christopher said: “During the course of this visit, our brothers and sisters in Christ outlined a very grave situation – one not just of war in Gaza, but ongoing discrimination, harassment and abuse in Israel, the West Bank and Occupied East Jerusalem. It is important that we listen intently to what they are saying, uphold them in our prayers and offer whatever practical support we can to sustain them in their discipleship, mission and ministry where it is becoming increasingly difficult to be Church.”

Speaking of the support that the Diocese of Southwark has provided over the years, Archbishop Hosam said: “For several years now, the Diocese of Jerusalem and Diocese of Southwark have been journeying in partnership of the Gospel through pilgrimages to the Holy Land. We are grateful for the ministry of Bishop Christopher and all those under his care in promoting peace and reconciliation among the nations, especially as most recently manifested in his solidarity visit to Jerusalem this past week.”

During Lent this year, Bishop Christopher is urging churches in Southwark Diocese to pray for and raise funds to support community projects in Jerusalem, Zimbabwe and Southwark.