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A Man of True Peace !
Letters to the Editor - Catholic Herald - Jerusalem, 22 February 2001

22 February   |   2001   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Dear Madam / Sir:

Having read Gerard Noel’s piece on the lecture delivered recently in London by His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, Latin-rite Roman Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, I understood once again the reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has lasted for so long. The writer seemingly refuses to grant anyone the right to criticise Israel. He also refuses to understand that those who criticise Israel are neither bigoted nor necessarily against Israel nor calling for violence.

Before claiming that the Patriarch calls for a ‘holy war’, or that his statements are inherently anti-Israeli for that matter, Gerard Noel should at the very least read Sabbah’s last pastoral letter ‘Questions and Answers on Peace’. He might be truly surprised by what he would find in there in terms of ideas and could well realise that his conclusions are a tad too hasty. Coming from one of the most respectable religious leaders in the Holy Land, I believe that Patriarch Sabbah’s talk in London reflected his integrity, honesty and courage. Foremost, he stuck to his principles. For him, any violence - whether Palestinian or Israeli - remains violence.

Sabbah’s remarks on the role that violence plays within this specific conflict also need to be understood properly. I believe it reflects one of the unfortunate but unavoidable lessons of history in that most nations were indeed born out of wars and bloodshed rather than through well-mannered and genteel negotiations. This affirmation is far from being an invitation - let alone exhortation - to violence. Rather, it is the account of an undeniable historical fact.

I regret to say that Mr Noel’s views skimmed over the chapters of history from 1948 onward in a rather cursory and selective manner. Sabbah’s remarks stressed that Israel has indeed won all the previous wars against its Arab neighbours, and would probably win future ones too in the unfortunate event of any further conflagrations in the region. His open question was whether Israel could win the struggle for peace too? To date, after so many decisive military victories, Israel still lacks the peace that it seeks and remains fearful for its security. The Patriarch believes that Israel needs to appreciate the core of the problem if it were to achieve peace and security for its people. Put succinctly, Palestinians - and a large number of Arab countries - have recognised Israel within its boundaries of 1948. This consists 77% of what was known as historical Palestine. The Palestinian people are now claiming only 23% of that mandated land which was occupied in 1967. It is high time for Israel and its friends to reconcile themselves with the inevitable fact that peace and security for Israel can only be fully protected once the Palestinians get their land and freedom too. This is not a recipe for terrorism or holy wars! This is not avarice or jingoism either. This is the sole way to win the - painfully challenging - battle of peace.

In numerous conversations I have had with Patriarch Sabbah over the last three years that I have been in Jerusalem, I have been struck time and again by his compassionate belief that all human beings, including Israelis and Palestinians, are born equal and must enjoy the same dignity, rights and duties. He has often stressed openly to his own Palestinian people that both Israelis and Palestinians are created alike in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, he has segued, both are equally loved by God. But surely loving someone does not mean being weak and letting the other deprive you of your land, rights and freedoms? To love someone - even those with whom one is in conflict - means respecting them and their humanity as much as seeing in them the image of God.

Israel is definitely entitled to its full security. It should also aspire for full recognition by the region in order to maintain its own well-being and future prosperity. Therefore, it has to make friends of the Palestinians, and that can only happen once they are given back their land and their basic freedoms. Otherwise, the wounds of yesteryears will continue to fester and the whole region - let alone Israel and its Palestinian neighbours - will continue living under the same threat.

I do not take Gerard Noel to task for voicing his opinion. Far from it! I respect him all the more for it. But it pains me when the disciple of one vision attacks the disciple of another vision as an instigator for holy war! Those two viewpoints could well be dissimilar, but one cannot simply muzzle a person for projecting his own vision of a peace based on justice and mutual respect. To chastise someone for asserting a viewpoint that is as much personal as it is faith-centred, credible and practical is presumptuous and unfair. Many are those voices from Jerusalem thanking Patriarch Michel Sabbah who calls for reconciliation betwixt peoples that is based on genuine equality. His is a holy mandate, not a holy war!

Dr Harry Hagopian, LL.D - KSL - Outgoing Convenor, Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2001   |   22 February


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