The origin of the word pontiff is possibly derived from the Latin for a bridge “pons” and “facere” (to make); hence a “bridge-builder”. And during his visit to the Middle East the pontiff, Pope Francis, confirmed his reputation as a genuine man of peace committed to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all beliefs, and faiths.
Though his visit was highly successful and though he was greeted enthusiastically wherever he went, inevitably there are a few party poopers, particularly in the media who focus on the negatives.For example, the Pope’s brief stop at the infamous graffiti-covered separation wall was interpreted by some as a disguised political gesture in what was supposed to be a wholly religious event.
Although the Pope did not indicate that this was his intention, the Guardian called it “a silent statement against a symbol of division and conflict” hinting that this was the Pope’s unspoken intention by ascribing it to anonymous papal aides.
The Telegraph headlined the visit “Pope prays at Israeli wall in unprecedented gesture” adding that Palestinians claimed this as affirmation of their claim to statehood, no matter that it is unclear how praying at the wall relates to statehood Unsurprisingly,
Haaretz capped the churlishness with the headline “Papal propaganda poker: I’ll see your grave and raise you a wall” opening the article with
“The Israelis were a nose ahead in the political graphics war until they handed the Palestinians a propaganda gift in the shape of the separation barrier”.
Sadly missing was any reference to the fact that the great majority of Israelis also hate the wall and that we join with the Palestinians and the Pope in praying for the day the barrier can be dismantled, when it will hopefully become unnecessary. I quote the words of Col. (Res.) Dr. Dany Tirza who served as the IDF’s chief architect for the Security Fence. This is what he wrote in Al Monitor on July 1, 2012\
“I would have gladly done without the fence. Yet, we had no choice but to build it in order to protect our lives and our children’s lives. And I do hope that the day will come when the threat of terror will no longer cast its dark shadow over our lives and we will be able to live peacefully, safely and securely with our Palestinian neighbors, the day when there will be no need for any fences or walls”.
Unfortunately, the barrier does cause hardships and we need to refresh our memories to recall why it is there. It was constructed as an essential defensive move to protect Israeli citizens and it has been effective in doing so. As Israeli sources of information in this sensitive matter may be considered biased, let’s examine what some “militant” Palestinian leaders say.
None other than the leader of the Islamic Jihad Ramadan Abdallah Shalah has admitted that the barrier has prevented terrorists from entering Israel to carry out suicide bombing attacks. In an interview in Damascus with Qatari Al-Sharq on March 23, 2008, he said.
“We do not deny that it limits the ability of the resistance to arrive deep within Israeli territory to carry out suicide bombing attacks, but the resistance has not surrendered or become helpless, and is looking for other ways to cope with the requirements of every stage of the intifada.
He told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV on November 11, 2006 that the terrorist organizations had no intention of abandoning suicide bombing attacks. But he said,
“there is the separation fence which is an obstacle to the resistance and if it were not there, the situation would be entirely different”
We seem to have forgotten that it was the major terror onslaught that raged between September 2000 and 2006, known as the Second Intifada led by Marwan Barghouti, under the direct command of Arafat that led to construction of the barrier. It broke out soon after Arafat refused Barak’s peace offer at Camp David and it was Suha Arafat who divulged in an interview with Dubai TV, that husband Yasser planned the second intifada, in advance. She said
“Immediately after the failure of Camp David, I met him in Paris upon his return…. Camp David had failed, and he said to me, ‘You should remain in Paris.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because I am going to start an intifada. They want me to betray the Palestinian cause. They want me to give up on our principles, and I will not do so,”
Interestingly both Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, were initially against the barrier and the decision to build was not made until June 2002 after a wave of terror attacks in which 139 Israelis were murdered and many more wounded. I
t is important to realize the havoc the intifada caused to Palestinians by looking back at the prior situation, when up to 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel, providing an economic lifeline. Palestinian trucks moved freely on Israel’s roads facilitating the export of thousands of tons of agricultural products from Gaza to Jordan and beyond. Palestinian businessmen traveled freely and conducted their affairs in Israel.
Unfortunately very little is known, even by experts on Palestine, about the many cooperative efforts established by Israel that were thwarted by the Palestinian uprising, quite apart from those in the pipeline which were not given the chance to be realized. Redevelopment plans must avoid the same fate. Israel believes that an increase in the standard of living of the Palestinians is an important goal for the achievement of good neighborly relations between the two peoples. Towards this end Israel created employment opportunities along the “seam-line” in areas under the jurisdiction of the PA.
A successful industrial zone was created at Erez which grew to employ about 5,000 workers in some 200 businesses half of which were Palestinian-owned. This was part of a larger Gaza Industrial Estate (GIE), slated to provide up to 50,000 jobs.
In addition a joint industrial zone was planned south of Tulkarm intended to provide jobs for more than 5,000 Palestinians. Additional areas were planned for Jenin and the Kerem Shalom area near Rafah in Gaza. But all these positive efforts were unfortunately thwarted. The GIE zone became the target of deadly Palestinian attacks leading to closure of the enterprise. In one typical attack, a female suicide bomber detonated a bomb at the Erez Crossing killing four Israelis and wounding 10 as well as destroying part of the facility. Hamas and the Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed joint responsibility.
But let us not give up hope. As in our daily prayers let’s pray for a true peace so that the ugly wall will become unnecessary and can be dismantled. In the words of Rabbi Nachman ben Feiga of Breslov, 1773-1810
“Master of Peace, Creator of all things. May it be thy will to put an end to war and bloodshed on earth, and to spread a great and wonderful peace over the whole world, so that nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”