Watching SBS Television's 6.30 pm bulletin today, you would have heard reporter Kathy Novak say that "[t]he Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem warned that peace would not come to the Holy Land until Palestinians and Israelis respected each other" (Leaders deliver messages), and you would probably have inferred that the Patriarch's approach to the so-called Palestine/Israel conflict was essentially along the lines of a-pox-on-both-your-houses.
You would, of course, be wrong. Here's the Ma'an News Agency account of the Patriarch's Christmas message: "Efforts to bring peace to the Middle East have failed, Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal said Tuesday in his annual Christmas message. 'Our dreams for a reconciled Holy Land seem to be utopia. Despite the praiseworthy efforts of politicians and men of good will to find a solution to the ongoing conflict, all of us, Palestinians and Israelis, have all failed in achieving peace', said Twal, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land. 'The reality contradicts our dreams', he said. 'Palestinians still do not have their own state where they can live in peace and harmony with their Israeli neighbors; they still suffer from occupation, a difficult economic situation, destruction of houses in East Jerusalem and internal divisions', Twal added. He highlighted the Israeli blockade of Gaza as a concern. 'A year after the Gaza war, Gaza still suffers from an economic siege, lack of freedom of movement and from the contamination of its sea and water, which endangers the health of 1,500,000 citizens among which 50% are under the age of 14', he said. The Patriarch went on to note Israeli infringement on the sanctity of Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. 'Unfortunately, the Al-Aqsa compound recently witnessed confrontations between fundamentalist Jews who tried to invade Al-Haram Ash-Sharif [Noble Sanctuary] and the young Palestinians, who wanted to defend their holy place', he said. But the Patriarch urged his followers not to give up hope. 'Hope means not giving in to evil, but rather standing up to it', he said, quoting from a document signed recently by Palestinian Christian leaders calling for resistance to the Israeli occupation and rejecting Christian Zionism. The 'Kairos Palestine'* document, modeled after a 1985 document issued by South African Christian leaders calling for an end to Apartheid, declared the Israeli occupation 'a sin'." (Patriarch's Christmas message: Mideast peace efforts failed)
You can read the full speech at zenit.org. Kathy Novak seems to be simply making it up as she goes along. In doing so, she has completely misrepresented the Patriarch's message. (I should also add that Novak's 'quote' is not to be found in Twal's 25 December speech, Homily From Midnight Mass in Bethlehem, either.)
*Here is the preamble and first part of the The Kairos Palestine Document (oikoumene.org, 11/12/09):
"We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and an exchange of opinion, cry out from within the suffering in our country, under the Israeli occupation, with a cry of hope in the absence of all hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God's divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land. Inspired by the mystery of God's love for all, the mystery of God's divine presence in the history of all peoples and, in a particular way, in the history of our country, we proclaim our word based on our Christian faith and our sense of Palestinian belonging - a word of faith, hope and love.
Why now? Because today we have reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it. The hearts of the faithful are filled with pain and with questioning: What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and in the Arab world doing? What is the Church doing? The problem is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the Church.
1. The Reality On the Ground
1.1 "They say:'peace, peace' when there is no peace." (Jer. 6:14). These days, everyone is speaking about peace in the Middle East and the peace process. So far, however, these are simply words; the reality is one of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, deprivation of our freedom and all that results from this situation:
1.1.1 The separation wall erected on Palestinian territory, a large part of which has been confiscated for this purpose, has turned our towns and villages into prisons, separating them from one another, making them dispersed and divided cantons. Gaza, especially after the cruel war Israel launched against it during December 2008 and January 2009, continues to live in inhuman conditions, under permanent blockade and cut off from the other Palestinian territories.
1.1.2 Israeli settlements ravage our land in the name of God and in the name of force, controlling our natural resources, including water and agricultural land, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and constituting an obstacle to any political solution.
1.1.3 Reality is the daily humiliation to which we are subjected at the military checkpoints, as we make our way to jobs, schools or hospitals.
1.1.4 Reality is separation between members of the same family, making family life impossible for thousands of Palestinians, especially where one of the spouses does not have an Israeli idenity card.
1.1.5 Religious liberty is severely restricted; freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem.
1.1.6 Refugees are also part of our reality. Most of them are still living in camps under difficult circumstances. They have been waiting for their right of return, generation after generation. What will be their fate?
1.1.7 And the prisoners? The thousands of prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons are part of our reality. The Israelis move heaven and earth to gain the release of one prisoner, and those thousands of Palestinian prisoners, when will they have their freedom?
1.1.8 Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, a symbol of peace and a sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.
1.2. Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard for international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt. Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights organizations, the injustice continues.
1.2.1 Palestinians within the State of Israel, who have also suffered a historical injustice, although they are citizens and have the rights and obligations of citizenship, still suffer from discriminatory policies. They too are waiting to enjoy full rights and equality like all other citizens in the state.
1.3 Emigration is another element in our reality. The absence of any vision or spark of hope for peace and freedom pushes young people, both Muslim and Christian, to emigrate. Thus the land is deprived of its most important and richest resource - educated youth. The shrinking number of Christians, particularly in Palestine, is one of the dangerous consequences, both of this conflict, and of the local and international paralysis and failure to find a comprehensive solution to the problem.
1.4 In the face of this reality, Israel justifies its actions as self-defence, including occupation, collective punishment and all other forms of reprisals against the Palestinians. In our opinion, this vision is a reversal of reality. Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation. However, if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity. This is our understanding of the situation. Therefore, we call on the Israelis to end the occupation. Then they will see a new world in which there is no fear, no threat but rather security, justice and peace.
1.5 The Palestinian response to this reality was diverse. Some responded through negotiations: that was the official position of the Palestinian Authority, but it did not advance the peace process. Some political parties followed the way of armed resistance. Israel used this as a pretext to accuse the Palestinians of being terrorists and was able to distort the real nature of the conflict, presenting it as an Israeli war against terror, rather than an Israeli occupation faced by Palestinian legal resistance aimed at ending it.
1.5.1 The tragedy worsened with the internal conflict among Palestinians themselves, and with the separation of Gaza from the rest of the Palestinian territory. It is noteworthy that, even though the division is among Palestinians themselves, the international community bears an important responsibility for it since it refused to deal positively with the will of the Palestinian people expressed in the outcome of democratic and legal elections in 2006."