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Blood, Gore & Peace?
Peace is not just built with the signing of treaties, but also with the closeness of peoples. - Fr Pierre Grech - Secretary-General - Conference of Latin Bishops in the Arab Region - 10 June 2003

12 June   |   2003   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

In a recent radio interview, Father Pierre Grech articulated the collective support of the Latin-rite Catholic Churches to the ‘roadmap’ that might eventually lead to a just and peaceful resolution of the Israel / Palestine conflict. However, and as I followed this week the appallingly escalating bloodshed that followed the Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba summits, I truly wondered whether the ‘closeness of peoples’ that Father Grech espouses has simply unravelled beyond repair!

Blood and gore have become routine Israeli and Palestinian signatures against those attempts aimed at reviving the process for peace in the Holy Land. Irrespective of whether the mutual confrontations could be described as tit-for tat killings, two polarised, traumatised, defiant and hateful peoples are now hell-bent on killing each other and on degrading the basic God-given values of their essential humanity! The daily scenes in Gaza or Jerusalem - whether as a result of extra-judicial assassinations and assaults by Israel against Palestinian men, women and children or of suicide bombers preying on Israeli buses and resulting again in the deaths of Israeli men, women or children - are nothing short of terror.

Last week, the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem, Dr Mounib Younan, wrote in his monthly newsletter, ‘Once again, the eyes of the world are directed toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the ‘Roadmap for Peace’ is debated and discussed. Once again, we are praying for a positive result - a process resulting in two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side with a shared capital, Jerusalem, and with all rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizenship and freedom enjoyed by both Palestinians and Israelis. The test will be not only in good intentions, but in the implementation of the Roadmap that will allow people to live in reconciliation and a just peace.’

During the accreditation of the new Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican on 2 June2003 , Pope John-Paul II re-emphasised the position of the Holy See that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians can only be resolved when there are two independent, sovereign and secure states. Supporting the ‘roadmap’ process, the Holy Father stated firmly, ‘There is absolutely no question that peoples and nations have the inherent right to live in security. This right, however, entails a corresponding duty to respect the rights of others. Therefore, just as violence and terror can never be an acceptable means for making political statements, neither can retaliation ever lead to a just and lasting peace.’

Whether through structural, physical or psychological violence, or whether through helicopter-propelled rockets and human bombs, both Israelis and Palestinians have been paying dearly for the invasive stalemate in the process for peace. Yet, despite the pain I share with all victims on both sides, I nonetheless remain convinced that the answer to this conflict must not be further violence or muscle flexing! What remains sorely wanting is both a deeper understanding of the roots behind the unfolding terror, and the wise let alone bold political leadership that would quickly implement a raft of measures meant to re-instate security on the one hand, and freedom on the other, for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail (Canada) on 3 June2003 , HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan affirmed, ‘Poverty of resources, education and opportunity diminishes humanity. I maintain, with Muslim scholars, that violence is a wrong choice but I would ask what alternatives are on offer?’ Re-iterating his earlier calls for a Middle Eastern code of conduct or a ‘partnership of peace’ akin to an Eastern Mediterranean Treaty Organisation, Prince Hassan gave a powerful illustration in the form of an existential challenge. He said, ‘Below a headline announcing President George W Bush’s appeal for a free-trade zone between the Middle East and America in a decade, I saw a picture of a Gazan child rummaging through the rubble of his own and neighbours’ houses. What does that child have to trade?’

Today, there is a need for judicious political leadership on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. There is a need for US sustained engagement with, and resolute pressure on, both sides to implement the provisions of the ‘roadmap’ regardless of the militant grassroots vitriol. There is a need for the religious leaders of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to assume their prophetic roles by speaking out more often against the inane violence seizing their two peoples. There is a need, as Prince Hassan has often underlined, for concrete steps toward the alleviation of poverty that manifests itself in despair-driven acts. There is a need for the Palestinian and Israeli religious, secular and settler movements to renounce all forms of violence and terror. However, and towering above all else, there is an axiomatic and non-substitutable need to address the underlying core issues: occupation of land, illegal settlements, tight closures, economic strangulation and endless repression of a disenfranchised Palestinian people. Only then would the blood and gore of past weeks yield to peace in the land of the ancient prophets, and only then could the signing of treaties also lead toward a closeness of both peoples.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2003   |   12 June


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