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Middle East

Volume 642: debated on Thursday 7 June 2018

2. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what initiatives the Anglican communion is supporting in the diocese of Jerusalem to help promote peace between the Israeli and Palestinian Christian and Muslim communities. (905690)

One of the most important ministries of the episcopal diocese of Jerusalem has been the ministry of dialogue and reconciliation between Christians, Muslims and Jews. Its archbishop recently announced the establishment of the diocesan department for peace, reconciliation and interfaith dialogue. We were very lucky, Mr Speaker, recently to have a visit from the Dean of Jerusalem to the Houses of Parliament to talk about its work.

Is the right hon. Lady worried that the number of Christians in the Palestinian territories is declining? What more can be done to bring together, in particular, young people of different faith communities?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The Christian community on the west bank has plummeted as people have left in droves to come to live in Europe or to go to live in America. It is a particular challenge to persuade young people to remain. If they leave for university, it is quite often difficult to get back. So the Church is working very hard on this. There is a scheme whereby children from the region can do exchanges with children in other places. For example, 16 children from the Zebabdeh community did an exchange with Ballinteer Community School in Dublin. This enables them to see beyond their tight and very difficult world but also to feel supported in remaining in their homes, where their roots are.

On Maundy Thursday this year, I had the privilege of attending a service at St Paul’s church in Shefa-Amr, the Anglican church in northern Israel. I commend the work that the Anglican diocese of Jerusalem does throughout the entire diocese, both in Israel and on the west bank. May I urge my right hon. Friend perhaps to visit some of these churches and encourage them as they support their congregations in this wider ministry?

There is no substitute for a first-hand account. I know that my hon. Friend is knowledgeable about the work that the Anglican Church does with all communities in Israel. I hope that, one day, in the not too distant future, I shall get the chance to go to see this for myself, perhaps with some colleagues who have also not had the opportunity to visit the holy land.

Earlier this year, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was shut to visitors because of some pressure that the Israeli authorities were putting on because of land changes. Will the right hon. Lady make sure that, through her dialogue with our Church, she talks to the Israeli authorities to make sure that that church is kept open, because visitors want to visit it?

When the Dean of Jerusalem came to visit parliamentarians in both Houses, he explained in great detail the political background to what is going on. If I share with the House that this gentleman is a Christian Israeli, and actually no less than the son of a carpenter from Nazareth, perhaps Members will see that there was no person better qualified to explain to us, as British parliamentarians, just how complicated the situation is in Jerusalem. I think we have to trust the people who really understand this well to try to work through to peaceful solutions for that part of the world.