Originally issued on October 29, 2001.

Pax Christi USA is deeply shocked and saddened by the recent attacks against Christian communities in Palestine and Pakistan. We condemn unreservedly the harassment,repression, and killing of Palestinian Christians by the Israeli military and the attack on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during Sunday Mass on October 21. We regret that it is the innocent who continually suffer the most in the endless cycle of violent reprisals between Israelis and Palestinians.

We are equally horrified by the massacre of Pakistani Christians at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in the city of Behawalpur on October 28th. In a corruption of the Islamic faith, the terrorist invoked the name of Allah as they slaughtered innocent worshipers. Earlier comments by Catholic Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad, Pakistan, proved prophetic when he told Christians and Muslims there that it was not wise for the United States to “throw the whole world into a fire” in order to target one person.

As the bodies of the innocent continue to climb in Palestine, Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other places, the fire of religious hatreds are inflamed. Those who would seek to impose their will on others through the use of violence only succeed in making things worse. You cannot quench the flames of hate by starting more fires. Those who think they can control violence and use it for good are only fooling themselves. The consequences of their violence can never fully be comprehended or calculated.

For these reasons Pax Christi USA urgently appeals to the Bush Administration to halt the bombing campaign to allow sufficient aid to be delivered to the Afghan people before the onset of winter. UN aid officials have estimated that some 7.5 million innocent Afghan civilians might be threatened with starvation. Some 500,000 children are even now at high risk for death due to malnutrition and disease. The current conditions for civilians in Afghanistan as well as the swelling refugee camps along the Pakistani border portend a human disaster of cataclysmic proportions.

“We are afraid that people do not grasp the magnitude of the crisis unfolding inside Afghanistan,” reported Luc Picard, a Pakistan representative for Catholic Relief Services in a recent statement. “Numbers are impossible to judge accurately,” said Picard, “but millions are surely at risk, and hundreds of thousands are facing life threatening food needs. It really is a race against time to reach them before the snow cuts them off for months.”

The US bombing campaign in pursuit of terrorist criminals is preventing international aid agencies and the United Nations from their ongoing relief efforts. Pax Christi USA affirms the position recently articulated by the Vatican that those responsible for the September 11th attacks must be brought to justice through due process. However, as Archbishop Renato Martino, Permanent Representative of the Holy See at the United Nations stressed: “This must be done in a way that does not expose even more innocent civilians to death and destruction. Violence, on top of violence will only lead to more violence. This is a time for wisdom and perseverance.”

President Bush has repeatedly stated that the US is not at war with the people of Afghanistan. Such assurances are cruelly contradicted by the persistence of US bombing in the face of such a looming humanitarian catastrophe. The “wisdom” called for by the Vatican would recognize that a willingness to allow millions of innocent civilians to perish as a direct result of the bombing campaign would not only be a moral failure, but a practical setback to the goal of ending terrorism as well.

Moreover, such a calculated disregard for life at this scale will send a clear signal to all peoples of the region that their lives are similarly expendable in the effort to end terrorism. This is not a basis for building the kind of international cooperation needed to end terrorism.

If the goal of the war on terrorism is to make US citizens, and indeed, all people more secure, then consideration must be given to the clearly identifiable effects of each tactic chosen in the larger campaign strategy. Exacerbating the already desperate plight of refugees in Afghanistan and surrounding nations will reinforce the very myths about the US that have served the terrorists well and will create even more fertile ground for terrorist recruiting in the future. Thus our own military efforts to confront terrorism are in fact sowing the seeds of more violence in another generation filled with despair and hatred.

The Afghan Winter is only three weeks away. Already the first snows have fallen on the Hindu Kush Mountains and the isolated highlands of Hazarajat. But even before the winter weather confounds aid efforts, the US bombing campaign has all but halted relief deliveries. The bombing campaign must be suspended immediately and all efforts expended to sufficiently supply the people of Afghanistan with the essentials for survival and human dignity. Only in this way can the US effectively communicate its position that we are not at war with the people of Afghanistan. Only in this way can we begin to counter the violence of desperation and desolation that breeds hatred and violence.

Pax Christi USA remains committed to follow the Nonviolent Jesus who calls us to break the spiral of violence through love of neighbor and enemy alike. We stand with our Christian brothers and sisters in the Islamic world and with all people of good will, in working to put out the fires of hatred and violence that are consuming our world.

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