Homeland of Jesus
At the recent convention,The Face of Christ, so successfully and skillfully promoted by Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, I felt that my contribution - alongside the other reports of a very high theological, mystical, artistic and historical level - should be an appeal to the current state of affairs in the land which, in the great plan of Redemption, was home 2,000 years ago to the visible God.
All too often in reading and listening to the chronicle of events in the Middle East and specifically in what is known as the Holy Land do our thoughts turn naturally to Jesus who wept, even as the crowd sang hosannas to him.
We read in The Gospel According to Saint Luke 19, 41-42:
I felt that my contribution should be an appeal to the current state of affairs in the land which, in the great plan of Redemption, was home 2,000 years ago to the visible God. All too often in reading and listening to the chronicle of events in the Middle East and specifically in what is known as the Holy Land do our thoughts turn naturally to Jesus who wept, even as the crowd sang hosannas to him
"As he drew near and came in sight of the city he shed tears over it and said, 'If you too had only recognised on this day the way to peace! But in fact it is hidden from your eyes! Yes, a time is coming when your enemies will raise fortifications all round you, when they will encircle you and hem you in on every side; they will dash you and the children inside your walls to the ground; they will leave not one stone standing on another within you, because you did not recognise the moment of your visitation".
About 50 years ago when World War II ended with the tragic din of the atomic
bomb, humanity was still in a state of shock at the toll of massacre and destruction.
Perhaps as never before in history, the scenario was reminiscent of that stunning passage
in The Revelation to John: "And out came another horse, bright red, and its rider was
given this duty: to take away peace from the earth and set people killing each other. He
was given a huge sword".
Anxious to reconstruct and make amends, one was naturally duty-bound to give priority to the problem of the Jews, victims of the unimaginable holocaust which had destroyed six million men, women and children.
And so the United Nations Organisation, taking over from the League of Nations doomed to be aborted at birth by the US Senate's failure to ratify it, created the State of Israel in 1948. It created an Arab State at the same time but, unlike the former, it remained dead letter.
The Christological Convention was certainly not the place to analyze the reason or reasons, independently of the objective obstacles, for this rebuttal. But the fact remains that the Arab world found a strong factor of cohesion in the general contestation of the State of Israel. And this cohesion deepened, intensified when another bonding factor, support for Algerian independence, had proved successful. In the Middle East, recourse to arms not only failed in its objective but resulted in the Israeli occupation of Arab territories while the UN repeatedly urged, in vain, for them to be handed back.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
Mutual mistrust and a total breakdown in communications long blocked out any
ray of light. And even the courage of Sadat (Anwar, then President of Egypt) and Begin
(Menachem, then Israeli Prime Minister) which, under the impetus of President Jimmy Carter
at Camp David had penetrated Israel's front of isolation, only generated another, even
more bitter front of rejection.
The problem seemed to have no solution, one reason being the installation of Jewish colonists in the occupied territories, sometimes incentivated by new immigration settlement programmes with the result that the inflow from numerous countries (especially Russia when the ban on movement was lifted) was continuous. The State's overall population numbering just over two million in the 1960s, today exceeds 5.5 million. According to official statistics on religions, 81 per cent are Jews, 14.5 per cent Moslem, 2.8 per cent Christian and 1.7 per cent Druse or members of other confessions.
The statistics on their places of origin are also indicative: 58 per cent from Europe, 18 per cent from Africa, 15 per cent from Asia and eight per cent from America and Oceania. (The point of departure of one per cent of immigrants is unknown.)
It was not easy to defeat the radical elements opposed to any attempt at dialogue between the parties. On one side, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was believed to be nothing but a terror gang and, in its turn, it denied in its Statute not only the State of Israel's right to security but its right to exist at all.
The Church of the Nations on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem
Italy reacted in various ways to the general acquiescence and divarication
which time alone would never have been able to amend and which, on the contrary, was
heightening at a fearful rate day by day. The means it deployed included the European
Community, with the 1980 Declaration of Venice proposed by the then Italian Foreign
Minister Emilio Colombo and his German counterpart, Hans Dietrich Genscher. Then, in
September 1982, we asked Yasser Arafat if he would be willing to try for détente and we
invited him to Rome so that he might say so publicly before the delegates of 100 nations
gathered in Italy for an Inter-Parliamentary Union conference.
We were not discouraged that the message fell on deaf ears, that, indeed, it provoked harsh comments and fierce criticism. However wearily, the Palestinian National Council continued to search for ways to negotiate and it formalized the step forward that this represented at a National Council meeting held in Algiers. The UN granted Arafat's request to illustrate this shift but, for him to do so, the General Assembly would have had to be transferred from New York to Geneva. This was because the Americans (though they were not alone in this) had refused the PLO chairman a visa while the Israelis deemed any such possibility of change illusory and even dangerous although they did not deny that people like myself who were pursuing this line were acting in good faith.
It is a fact of history that the stalemate inevitably began to dissolve in the climate of solidarity created between Israel and the Arab world in their reactions - at first diplomatic and then military - to Irak's invasion of Kuwait. The PLO, it must be said, took the wrong road, asking the UN to resolve its problem first. But with the same commitment he had assumed in regard to Kuwait, President George Bush formally pledged to address the Palestinian question as soon as the sovereignty Kuwait had lost in the invasion had been restored.
One of the factors that helped remove the barriers of prejudice impeding dialogue must surely have been the policy pursued by the Holy See, or rather, the attitude of the Catholic Church, we could well say, in reference to the Council and the suppression of certain passages of liturgical texts. After a period of ill-concealed dismay at the audiences granted to Arafat and at the general understanding shown for the suffering of Palestinians it happened about three years ago that diplomatic relations were established between the Holy See and the State of Israel
And this punctually came to pass, through the good and highly reserved offices
of the Norwegian Government, culminating in the historic Rabin-Arafat meeting in the White
House rose garden.
It was, I repeat, an historic meeting that was able to be held because the psychological barriers to it had been broken down by the severity of the repression of the Intifada. This had opened the eyes and moved the hearts of so many people who, until then, had remained steadfastly against any kind of deal. Some of the television footage certainly turned the tide, especially in America. But perhaps people are now laboring under a new, totally different illusion. As before when many wrongly believed they were justified in their rejection ad infinitum, this time, too it was thought - or one was led to believe - that all had now been resolved and that the operational schedule of the peace process was just a formality. Unfortunately this was not the case and it is not the case now. Obstacle after obstacle emerged along the way, both predictable and new, compounded by recurring acts of blind violence at the hands of those unresigned to co-existence. From the Hebron massacre to Rabin's assassination and beyond, it has been one long via dolorosa though this must not discourage us - we still trust that reason will win the day.
One of the factors that helped remove the barriers of prejudice impeding dialogue must surely have been the policy pursued by the Holy See, or rather, the attitude of the Catholic Church, we could well say, in reference to the Council and the suppression of certain passages of liturgical texts.
After a period of ill-concealed dismay at audiences granted to Arafat and at the general understanding shown for the suffering of Palestinians it happened about three years ago that diplomatic relations were established between the Holy See and the State of Israel. In accepting the credentials of the first ambassador, Shimuel Adras, the Pope was right in saying: "Dialogue among the peoples of the Mediterranean is no longer a Utopia. It is a long road that should be travelled with the courage that comes of peace". And if the Vatican continues to declare for a special, internationally guaranteed statute for the city of Jerusalem envisaging freedom of conscience and worship for all its inhabitants and unhindered access to the sites that are holy for the faithful of every religion and nationality, this is no longer a source of irritation or polemics, except for the extremist fringe elements. It remains a matter of opinion whether the question of Jerusalem is an isolated aspect in the general context or the coronation of the peace process. As the mayor of Bethlehem reminded us in Rome, the de facto isolation of Bethlemen is no less disturbing. At the audience granted to the Bethlehem mayor and Palestinian Authority representatives on September 22 at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope said: "It is God himself who is asking each one of you to have the courage of fraternity, dialogue, perseverance and peace!"
It remains a matter of opinion whether the question of Jerusalem is an isolated aspect in the general context or the coronation of the peace process. As the mayor of Bethlehem reminded us in Rome, the de facto isolation of Bethlemen is no less disturbing. At the audience granted to the Bethlehem mayor and Palestinian Authority representatives on September 22 at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope said: It is God himself who is asking each one of you to have the courage of fraternity, dialogue, perseverance and peace!
For the rest, the proviso on simultaneous application of the final accords for
the entire area seems to be a wise and prudent line and its absence until now may well
have been a hitch in the general plan. This request had come from the Syrian President
Hafez Hassad but it went unheeded in Israel's separate agreements with Jordan and with the
PLO. It is my view that anyone who thinks to find an accord for Golan, by cutting it out
of the overall framework, is wrong or unconstructive at best.
With great diplomacy but unequivocally, the Pope suggested this, it seems to me, in his discourses during his meaningful visit to tormented Lebanon.
We know only too well how arduous it is to untangle the web of conflict and
differences underlying this whole problem. But in its name some precious parallel efforts
have been made on the religious level in the form of what is known as trialogue engaging
Christians, Jews and Moslems.
A meaningful passage of Saint Paul's Letter to the Ephesians is pertinent here and it is not hard to draw the analogy: "You who were gentiles were at that time excluded from membership of Israel, aliens with no part in the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God. But now in Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far off have been brought close, by the blood of Christ. For he is the peace between us, and has made the two into one entity and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, the hostility".
Duly integrated, this is the principle which must one day eventually inspire these populations.
Let the description of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria in The Gospel According to Matthew 9, 31 be contra spem sperare even in the long-term: that this land be a land of peace edified in fear of the Lord and overflowing with the solace of the Holy Spirit.
By its own efforts alone, the world - politics and diplomacy - will never have the power to construct authentic stability.