We do not know the content of Pope Francis’ silent prayer as he rested his head against the Palestinian side of the wall that separates Israel and the West Bank.
Photos of that spontaneous stop caused jubilation among Palestinians and unease among some Israelis.
When I saw the picture all I could think about was the Pope’s prayer.
I hope that he prayed for the day to come when such a barrier is no longer needed.
The barrier is not there to oppress Palestinians or to add to the day to day difficulties that they face.
The barrier is there for one reason only- to prevent innocent Israeli men, women, and children from being blown to smithereens by suicide bombers.
Construction of the barrier began in 2003, following waves of suicide bombings that turned ordinary outings to coffee shops and shopping malls into a game of Russian roulette.
This terror war against Israel, also known as the second intifada, was launched in 2000, following Yasser Arafat’s rejection of a peace offer that would have given the Palestinians the state that they ostensibly claim to want. Including a shared capital in Jerusalem. No counter offer, no negotiation of terms. Just terror.
That Israel had to erect a barrier to protect itself from the murderous impulses of terror groups operating within Palestinian territories is hardly a badge of honor for the Palestinians. That is why their characterization of the barrier as “oppression” is so dishonest. It reminds me of the tale of the child who murdered his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was now an orphan.
Actions have consequences. This is the barrier that terror built.
The security barrier has been remarkably effective in saving lives- of Israelis certainly, but also of would-be suicide bombers.
Perhaps the day will come when Palestinian leaders actually prepare their people to live in peace alongside Israel. They will say to their people: “Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and it is here to stay. We are going to build an amazing country next to it.”
Perhaps the day will come when these same leaders help their people reach forward for what is possible and stop reaching back for what is gone. Palestinians can build a national homeland next to Israel. They cannot flood Israel with millions of refugees and their descendants through a “right of return” that would bring about the end of Israel as Jewish homeland.
So while the Pope had the Almighty’s attention I hope that he prayed for Palestinian leaders with enough strength and enough wisdom to take the steps that would make peace possible. And would make the barrier unnecessary.
I hope that the Pope included Israel’s leaders in his prayers too.
A society that is governed by the rule of law must do everything in its power to stop the so-called “price tag” attacks. These acts are carried out by extremist Israeli Jews and target Palestinian and Arab-Israeli property for vandalism. Churches and mosques have been desecrated with spray painted anti-Arab, racist slogans. Israeli military bases and vehicles have also been attacked.
The attacks are retaliation for actions the government takes against illegal settlement activity in the West Bank. There was an uptick in attacks just before the Pope’s visit.
.Are Israeli police exerting the maximum effort to enforce the law? That depends upon who you ask. Former Shin Bet (Israeli Security Service) chief Carmi Gillon thinks not.
Israelis who are frustrated with what they deem a weak response to price tag attacks have formed “Tag Meir”, aimed at pressuring Israeli authorities to crack down on the perpetrators of these hate crimes.
I hope that the Pope prayed for Israeli leaders who are strong enough to enforce the law and deal with this rotten, lawless segment of Israelis.
With the collapse of the peace talks initiated by Secretary of State John Kerry, is there any way forward? Ari Shavit, one of Israel’s premier journalists and author of “My Promised Land” offers an intriguing idea. Forget the final status agreements and White House ceremonies for now, what Shavit characterizes as “Old Peace”. Instead he suggests “New Peace”:
New Peace will not alter the ultimate goal of Old Peace: a two-state solution. But it will not be obsessed with mutual recognition and the drafting of end-of-conflict documents. Rather, it will focus on fostering the conditions that will allow the two states to evolve and flourish side by side. New Peace will not forsake the hope that eventually a democratic Middle East will emerge. But it would acknowledge the political culture of the Arab world and the Palestinian people as they are now and it would try to make the most out of it.
The details of his plan lay out a process that seems to make sense. At the very least, he offers fresh thinking.
I am inspired that the Papal visit is sparking local Catholic-Jewish conversation, programming, and commentary about Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East against the backdrop of the commemoration and celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate.
This document, which condemned anti-Semitism in all its forms, represented a new starting point in Catholic-Jewish relations. The Church’s embrace of this groundbreaking document has led to the establishment of more than two dozen centers for Christian-Jewish understanding at Catholic institutions of higher learning in the United States, among them the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas located here in the Twin Cities.
Nostra Aetate reminds us that reconciliation is possible.
Which brings me to the last thing that I hope the Pope prayed for- that the leaders on both sides of this conflict will have the will and flexibility of thinking that enables them to see possibilities for reconciliation- and seize them.