When Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas convene in the Vatican – at the invitation of Pope Francis – to pray for peace, there will surely be many a headline and editorial writer world-over, unable to resist the impulse to turn to scripture and liturgy to describe the event.
Among those headlines, (and thinking of the photo-op like any good public relations professional,) I foresee the image of the Pope embracing both the head of the Jewish state, and leader of the Palestinians with the almost inevitable caption, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’.
Sadly the irony of this image will be lost on many. Mahmoud Abbas arrives in the Vatican fresh from anointing a new Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas, the Palestinian terror group committed to the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews.
While for many in Israel, Shimon Peres’ place in history as one of the architects of the Oslo Accords means he is behind some of Israel’s worst diplomatic errors, there is no doubt that he has always sought peace – even if unsuccessfully.
However, as we once again watch a round of American backed peace talks flail melodramatically to their all but inevitable and fruitless end, there will be many who will point to this Papal initiative as an opportunity to breathe new life into the peace process.
As the Pope looks at the scripture for guidance in this holy – and some would say wholly unrealistic – task, he would be well advised to note what seems to be a rather glaring misinterpretation of the words of Jesus, as described in the Gospel of Matthew.
While speaking with some of the journalists recently in Jerusalem for the visit of the Pope, one of the British correspondents asked me to translate ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ into Hebrew. I decided I would consult Google rather than simply guessing, and sure enough found the Hebrew version online. To my surprise however, rather than ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, it is actually translated in Hebrew – which would likely be historically closer to the words of Jesus – as, ‘Happy are those who pursue peace.’
The difference struck us both as stark. I checked the Latin and Greek, and these versions too, strongly suggest that the message Jesus was actually making according to Matthew, was not that those who make peace are to be blessed – which I suppose goes without saying – but that there is an inherent happiness and reward in pursing peace – before peace therefore even be reached.
If we apply this famous parable in its true form then, it is clear to whom the Pope should be directing his blessings. Throughout the decades, Shimon Peres, and indeed all of Israel’s leaders, have pursued peace. Whether in making peace with Egypt and Jordan, or time and again making painful concessions to negotiate with the Palestinians, Israel has always sought and pursued peace.
Abbas’ pact with Hamas, and indeed the actions of the Palestinian leadership from the days of the Nazi-allied Mufti of Jerusalem, are testament to not only a rejection of peace, but a refusal to even embark on the pursuance of peace.
This slight slip of the translators pen therefore, must not be allowed to cloud the issue. Peace is not merely a destination, but a path that must be travelled. It is those who pursue peace that we should honour, not those who simply wish it so, without showing any willingness to realise the dream.