You are logged out -> Log in

January 5, 2010

Bishop Hubbard Calls Mideast Peace Urgent

Albany bishop back from trip to advocate U.S. role in Israel, Palestine talks

Bishop Hubbard By PAUL GRONDAHL, Staff writer First published in print: Friday, January 1, 2010

ALBANY -- Bishop Howard Hubbard returned last week from an interfaith trip to Jerusalem, his first visit in 25 years, and he said he's never felt a greater sense of urgency about negotiating a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.

"There's a growing sense of pessimism that if peace is not achieved within a short time, the opportunities are running out," Hubbard said on New Year's Eve, reflecting about a weeklong trip to the Holy Land with a delegation of 15 Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders. He was asked to join the delegation as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace.

"Peace is possible, but there has to be give and take on both sides, and it's not going to be an easy lift. The Obama administration has to restart negotiations as soon as possible because everyone we spoke with believes the U.S. can be the only broker for peace," said Hubbard, spiritual leader of the Albany Roman Catholic diocese that is home to 350,000 Catholics in 14 counties.

Hubbard was an early supporter of a local interfaith grass-roots movement that began a Jewish-Catholic dialogue in Albany in the early 1980s and he joined an interfaith group that traveled to Israel in 1983. He returned a few years later with a group of American bishops. This was his third visit to the Middle East and his first in a quarter-century.

"This trip was a reality check because that area is a tinderbox waiting to erupt, and if it does, there will no winners, only losers," Hubbard said. "There is a great sense of urgency in 2010 that all parties must come together with the assistance of the international community, the leadership of the United States and the cooperation of the Arab states. That is the only way a solution acceptable to all parties can be negotiated."

Time is running out on the last, best hope for a resolution to the long-running Israel-Palestinian conflict, the bishop said.

"We all came away from this journey convinced that a two-state solution is the only feasible end-point," he said.

In addition to a stop in Amman, Jordan, and meeting with Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians, Hubbard made a local connection. Hubbard, who grew up in Troy, met on campus with students and Brother Jack Curran, a Troy native and vice president for development of Bethlehem University in the Holy Land in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It was the first university established there in 1973 as a collaboration with the Christian Brothers and the Vatican.


"Hearing the university students share their stories of grief and oppression gave us more of a Palestinian perspective and they were hopeful that they've begun a dialogue with students in Israel because they've learned from experience that violence is not the answer," Hubbard said.

Hubbard and the delegation did not venture into the volatile and violent area of Gaza. On Thursday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered on both sides of the Israeli-Gazan border to demand an end to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt and to mark the one-year anniversary of Israel's three-week war in Gaza that left an estimated 1,300 people dead and 4,000 homes destroyed. The Israeli attack came in response to thousands of rockets shot from Gaza into towns in the south of Israel.

"Gaza was on everyone's mind wherever we went," Hubbard said. "The leadership of Gaza under Hamas does not recognize the state of Israel's right to exist and they are committed to violence, which cannot be supported. At the same time, the materials and assistance needed to put Gaza back on its feet after the war a year ago are not flowing in as they could be. We met with the U.S. ambassador to Israel to urge the U.S. government to get economic and humanitarian assistance flowing into Gaza."

Hubbard also met with two Catholic seminarians from Our Lady of the Lake Seminary outside Chicago who were on a three-month exchange at Bethlehem University. They told him about their three-hour ordeal of delays and checkpoints in going six miles from the campus into the center of Jerusalem. Similarly, Palestinian employees who work at a Catholic Relief Services office in East Jerusalem that Hubbard visited described a three-hour daily commuting ordeal and harassment from Israeli soldiers.

"Those day-to-day difficulties Palestinians face are very dispiriting," Hubbard said. "At the same time, Israel has a right to exist within firm and secure borders and their security interests must be protected."

Although a breakthrough remains a long shot, Hubbard looks with hopefulness to 2010.

"I sat down with an Israeli woman and a Palestinian woman, both of whom had family members killed in the conflict," he said. "They're working together on person-to-person reconciliation. They spoke from the heart about the pain they've experienced, but also about the possibility for healing wounds and moving forward to break the vicious cycle of violence."

Paul Grondahl can be reached at 454-5623 or by e-mail at


Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine