The Vatican released a working paper during Pope Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage to Cyprus to prepare the way for a crisis summit of Middle East bishops in Rome. What I take away from this- along with the Holy See’s call for lifting the blockade of Gaza- is something of a vindication for my more raw views urging for a sea change in American Catholic opinion and action regarding the overall situation in the Middle East, and in Israel-Palestine in particular.
You can judge for yourselves the stories linked (at the bottom) detailing the contents of the Vatican’s working paper, and the Holy See statements on the Gaza blockade- but I offer my own interpretation for your consideration. I know that many will label all of this as so many prudential judgments on my part (upon prudential judgments of the Church’s Hierarchy)- but it needs to be said that even prudential judgments coming from the Catholic Hierarchies must be taken deep into one’s conscience- if one is serious about being a faithful Catholic. So here goes my take.
In no particular order I would say that 1. I have written before on the topic of the need for Muslim-majority nations to respect the reciprocity of the “right to freedom of worship and religious freedom”- something that a Muslim in America enjoys, but a Christian in say Saudi Arabia cannot- with the rise of militant Islam- which has come about due to many factors- this lack of reciprocity is only growing worse by the day- if we are going to allow Saudi oil to flow into America, and thus send billions of our dollars back to Saudi Monarchs- we had better take some active responsibility for pushing for this vital principle to be put into play. We either serve God or not- Christ compels us to evangelize and baptize everywhere- not just where it is not going to disrupt some major commerce.
2. We cannot just pretend that we, and the extended international community, have not been neck-deep in Middle-Eastern politics today and really for the past 100 years [read David Fromkin’s A Peace to End all Peace treatise- so there needs to be “concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land”. The Church has long held the position that international law and the relevant UN resolutions regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict need to be strongly encouraged- this is a counter to the American economic and diplomatic experience of rewarding the Israeli State with billions of annual aid, and looking past Israel’s nuclear arms development, and also providing Israel with international cover by vetoing or criticizing the UN resolutions that offer a contrary view to Israeli policies. We really need to get even-handed if we even want to have credibility in the larger Arab world- something the polls indicate we are sorely lacking- to be it mildly.
3. It has been to my great disappointment to find that American Catholics are standing at the ready to defend the positions and the narrative of the mostly secular Jewish Israeli leadership and society. This over the objections of not just the Middle East Muslims in general- but more importantly the Arab/Palestinian Catholic communities and their opinions and views on what is the true history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and what steps are needed to correct the situation to everyone’s long-term benefit. The working paper from the Vatican says: “The Special Assembly is an opportunity for Christians from the rest of the world to offer spiritual support and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East”. About the only thing I read here at American Catholic is open disdain, criticism and accusations against the Palestinian Catholics- they are accused of being so biased against Israelis that whatever they might say is discounted because it gets in the way of American Catholics, who want to see everything as the fault of crazy, militant Islamists, who simply hate Jews the way Adolf Hitler hated Jews. Because of this American narrative that is so embedded into conservative ideological thought, it is nearly impossible for such conservative Catholics to seriously consider the views of the Latin Patriarch in the Holy Land or the Arab/Palestinian Catholic clergy in general. Deeply disappointing to me personally. Hamas and extremist Jewish settler movements are not truly the mainstream in either society though in times of war the extremists tend to gain in popularity- fear breeds extremism no doubt- the Christians are the best moderating force in the area- we need to really, really listen to their advice.
4. Many Arab/Palestinian clergy have complained that some Christian Fundamentalists (mostly Americans) are using biblical texts to justify Israel’s occupation “making the position of Christian Arabs an even more sensitive issue.” This is something I have seen quite a lot in Christian Coalition circles, and there are even days where area Fundamentalist congregations organize big rallies waving Israel’s flag and shouting out support for Israel- not based on the political reality so much as their dangerous interpretation of Scripture- which the Catholic Church has no use for. The Church regards Israel as a State, not the fulfillment of a prophesy ushering in the End Times. I have heard many Fundamentalist Christians declare openly that when they look out at the West Bank et al, they don’t see Palestine or Palestinians- there is no such thing, no such peoples, there is only Israel, and Israel has a biblical right and claim to all the land well beyond the 1967 international lines separating the mass of Israelis from the mass of Palestinians. These Fundamentalists are the responsibility of ours to reign in, but rather it seems that many American Catholics are joining with these Fundamentalists, especially conservative Catholic politicians- very dangerous and not at all in keeping with the peacemaker beatitude.
Thank you for the space on this blog to express my prudential judgments on the prudential judgments of our Church leaders. I may passionately disagree with many here, and sometimes the words come out with too much emotion- but I see this as a fight that is vital to every one of us- we have a strong responsibility for the condition of the Holy Land- for the human beings who live there, for all of us who are at risk of terrorism coming at us perhaps as a result of ‘blowback’ from bad policies conducted in our collective name. But also, it is a huge scandal that the 3 large Monotheistic religions- all worshipping the same Creator- cannot create a Holy Land worthy of it’s Name- I want to make sure that the Christian part of the equation is doing all the right things to ensure a possible just and lasting peace in the whole region and all over the world. I do not believe that Jews or Muslims are inherently incapable of making peace, and being good neighbors, God made us all, Christ gives me hope. I hope to be like a bridge for Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Secularists, to be strong in what I believe is true here, but not prejudiced in a way that prevents me from seeing the objective human worth of every person. I believe that Israel could become a blessing to her neighbors- but I think that they have the power to take the courageous necessary first steps- and America and the UN should step up to put up the guarantees that will make this whole Just Peace process much more likely to happen and succeed. May God bless everyone in this discussion and especially the children on all sides who are subject to the most harm if nothing is done to change the present conditions.