By Brendan Walsh, Editor of The Tablet magazine
A Jesuit priest living in Jerusalem writes in The Tablet magazine this week of being visited by an Orthodox rabbi.
His beloved friend was distraught, having officiated at eighteen funerals within forty-eight hours. The dead included a cousin who had been decapitated and a baby shot in its crib.
He is waiting with trepidation for news of relatives and friends kidnapped by Hamas. “Haim screamed out his pain, his rage, his anguish.”
The priest listened and cried with him. That afternoon, he was visited by Ahmad, a Muslim Palestinian working as a nurse. His beloved friend was distraught. His relatives live in a refugee camp in Gaza.
The camp had been bombarded by Israeli planes and their neighbours had been killed, buried under the rubble that had been their home. The priest listened and cried with him.
The Jesuit priest, David Neuhaus, a lecturer in Biblical studies living in the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem, is a Jewish Israeli who was adopted into a Muslim Palestinian family when he was an adolescent.
“The constant stream of words pronounced by leaders is deliberately calculated to dehumanise the other, to sow hatred and the desire for vengeance.
“For both sides, war is the only defence against a demonic enemy that knows no limits to its cruelty. The humanity of the other has been almost totally obscured by decades of violence, anguish and hatred that have shut down every horizon except that of never-ending war.”
It isn’t possible to hear the cries of pain and anguish of Haim and Ahmad without your heart going out to both of them. Is it possible to acknowledge their histories, their painful memories, and to see the justice in both their positions without being “neutral in the face of atrocity” or guilty of “whataboutery”?
Fr Neuhaus simply describes “what it is to live with a broken heart on the seam between two peoples tearing each other apart”.
In our leader column we recall the often-forgotten story of how, in the first half of the twentieth century, Britain tried to reshape the territory between Syria and Egypt, Palestine, in accordance with what would now be regarded as extreme Protestant fundamentalist fantasies tinged with racism. The people of Palestine and Israel are living with the consequences.
Understandably in the light of Jewish history, it is difficult for Israeli politicians of right or left to recognise that using force to suppress Arab grievances only adds to them. But uncompromising toughness does not pay.
“I understand the feeling of shock, pain and an all-consuming rage the horrors have tapped into” US president Joe Biden said in Israel yesterday. “Justice must be done. But I caution this – while you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it”.
“War does not resolve any problem. It only sows death and destruction. It increases hatred, multiplies revenge. War cancels the future, it cancels the future,” Pope Francis pleaded in his general audience yesterday.
The Pope urged believers “to take only one part in this conflict, that of peace”, and invited everyone to a day of prayer, fasting, and penance for peace on Friday 27 October.
This morning the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem have condemned the “criminal attack” on the Anglican-run Al Ahli hospital in Gaza which killed hundreds of civilians.