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By Stuart Littlewood

Stuart Littlewood : There’s another twist in the recent adventures of the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

There’s another twist in the recent adventures of the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. This Christian top cat visited Gaza in February – a year late, let it be said – but afterwards made no public statement about the wretched human conditions still prevailing there.

He didn’t even reveal his findings to the House of Lords where he has the support of a large gaggle of bishops.

This despite his claim to be “in a unique position to bring the needs and voices of those fighting poverty, disease and the effects of conflict, to the attention of national and international policy makers”.

And despite his declaration that “Christians need to witness boldly and clearly”.

And despite his urging greater awareness of the humanitarian crisis to ensure that the people of Gaza are not forgotten.

But there’s more.

A reader writes that she sent 18 emails to Lambeth Palace (the archbishop’s headquarters) asking if the archbishop’s party could please bring back some deaf children’s art, which should have been picked up by members of the last Gaza blockade-busting convoy. The palace eventually declined, saying the Israelis would not allow it.

She complained that by not using his position in the House of Lords and elsewhere, the archbishop was failing to improve the situation for Palestinians. She even quoted the words of Desmond Tutu: “Where there is oppression, those who do nothing side with the oppressor.”

The lady tells me she was later informed that the Israelis permitted the archbishop only an hour inside Gaza. This made me sit up and quiz the person she had spoken to at Lambeth Palace:

Somebody tells me that the Israelis allowed the archbishop and his party only an hour in Gaza, so that he was restricted to a quick visit to the Ahli Hospital and nowhere else. Is this true? If so, what was the archbishop’s reaction, please, and why wasn’t this shocking interference with the Church’s pastoral business in the Holy Land – of all places – reported on your website, in press releases and in the House of Lords, where the archbishop has a powerful voice?

There was no response, so I telephoned the person in question. He said the archbishop had been refused access to Gaza but was eventually permitted a measly one-and-a-half hours in the shattered enclave. This was just enough time for a hurried visit to the hospital and no more.

My questions were forwarded to the archbishop’s public affairs spokesman, whose reply was headed “NOT FOR PUBLICATION”. Normally I ignore such prohibitions from people in public affairs, but since this happens to involves the office of the leader of my own Church, I‘ll play their game. Suffice to say the Israelis from the start refused access to Gaza and only at the last minute allowed the archbishop a piddling little window of opportunity.

The spokesman also mentioned how the archbishop was very personally involved in trying to improve the situation of the Palestinians and promote a two-state solution.

Two states? Given the facts on the ground, only Zionist sympathizers eager to preserve the racial purity of the Jewish entity are still taking that line.

The archbishop’s visit to the unholy Holy Land raises many questions. His website reports how he hobnobbed with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, paid his respects to Yad Vashem and the Holocaust and talked with the president of Israel – the latter no doubt sniggering up his sleeve at his guest’s frustration at being prevented by Israel’s thugs from seeing what horrors they had inflicted on Gaza.

There’s no mention of a get-together with senior Islamic figures, leaving a question-mark over his commitment to interfaith engagement.

Why did he agree to fraternize with Jewish political and religious dignitaries when it was clear that his wish to carry out his Christian duty in Gaza would be obstructed?

Does Lambeth Palace not realize that meekly accepting such insults only serves to legitimize the Israelis’ illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and gives a stamp of approval to the vicious siege of Gaza, the daily death-dealing air strikes against civilians, the persecution of Muslim and Christian communities and the regime’s utter contempt for international law and human rights?

You don’t turn the other cheek to bullies like the Israelis. If you do they’ll slap it again and again, just as they’ve been doing for 62 years. They walk all over fawning sycophants masquerading as Western political leaders. Our spiritual leaders, however, are supposed to be made of sterner stuff and expected to perform to a higher standard, show moral backbone and face down evil. The Pope too chickened out over Gaza. Who’s next?

Canterbury’s bewhiskered prelate would, I feel, have done better to cancel his dalliance with Israel’s warmongers and broadcast their despicable interference with his God-given work.

The Archbishop’s deafening silence about the shaming of his Church – my Church too – and the endless terrorizing of Christians and Muslims of the West Bank, and especially Gaza, is still unexplained.

Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.

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