A conference of Middle East Catholic bishops in Rome demanded at the weekend that Israel accepts UN resolutions calling for an end to its occupation of Arab lands.

The bishops also warned Israel that it shouldn’t use the Bible to justify injustices against the Palestinians.

The bishops issued the statement at the close of a two-week meeting, called by Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

The Catholic Church has long been a minority in the largely Muslim region but its presence is shrinking further as a result of war, conflict, discrimination and economic problems.

During the meeting several bishops blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for spurring the flight – a position echoed in their final statement.

While the bishops condemned terrorism and anti-Semitism, they laid much of the blame for the conflict squarely on Israel.

They listed the occupation of Palestinian lands, Israel’s separation barrier with the West Bank, its military checkpoints, political prisoners, demolition of homes and disturbance of Palestinians’ socio-economic lives as factors that have made life increasingly difficult for Palestinians.

They said they had reflected on the suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live and on the status of Jerusalem – a city holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims.

"We are anxious about the unilateral initiatives that threaten its composition and risk to change its demographic balance," they said.

They called on the international community to apply UN security council resolutions adopted in 1967, which called on Israel to withdraw from Arab land conquered in the Six-Day war that year.

"The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security," they said.

October 24, 2010