Neuhaus: irresponsible Israeli-Palestinian rhetoric begets violence

2014-07-11 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) The Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew speaking Catholics in the Holy Land, Fr. David Neuhaus sj has joined his colleagues of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land (ACOHL) in calling for more moderate Israeli and Palestinian voices to ease tensions which have spiraled into a seemingly unending cycle of tit-for tat violence. On July 8th, the Justice and Peace Commission of the ACOHL issued a strongly worded statement condemning the most recent round of violence that has engulfed Israelis and Palestinians and urging “radical change” in the attitudes and actions of political and religious leaders.

click here to read the statement

Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure, Fr. Neuhaus says the Assembly expresses grave concern over the “irresponsible language used by a leadership that is seeking to exploit tragedy in order to perpetuate tragedy.”

Listen to Fr. David Neuhaus’ conversation with Tracey McClure:


TM  -  Fr. David, the Commission of Justice and Peace for the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land have come out with a very, very strong statement regarding the upsurge in violence now in the Holy Land. Could you tell us a little about what the statement says and what is the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries?

DN  -  The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land is the assembly which is the equivalent of a bishops’ conference however, in the case of the Holy Land, it brings together all of the Ordinaries of all the different Catholic rites.  Like bishops’ conferences, the Assembly has its own Justice and Peace Commission which is headed by the Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah and brings together for regular discussion on the situation in the Holy Land, a collection of religious, lay people – men and women – who are concerned about what is going on and serve as people who can think together – a kind of think tank for our Catholic Ordinaries.

TM  -  This latest upsurge of violence all began with the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers. Then we saw this supposed revenge killing of a Palestinian youth…

DN -  I think we can say with great clarity that this is not a supposed vengeance killing.  This was a vengeance killing.  The six men who are accused of doing this have been arrested, three of them have admitted to actually carrying out the vengeance killing and it might be pointed out also that the day before, they tried to kidnap a much younger boy whose mother fought them off and had her son freed from their clutches.  So we are really dealing with an upsurge in violence.  Again perhaps, it’s good to point out that this is only the latest round in a cycle of violence.  We have been living in a cycle of violence for decades. And sometimes, it takes on dramatic dimensions like it did with the tragic murder of the three young (Israeli) men who were shot by their Palestinian kidnappers in a car.  Unfortunately, there again there was a lot of manipulation because it now seems that the Israeli authorities knew that these three young men had been murdered right at the outset.  And yet we were led to believe that there was still hope that they might be released alive - for eighteen days – before their bodies were discovered.  And so there has been a real whipping up of the public into a frenzy.  And this frenzy is now at its pitch as there is bombing of Gaza and missiles coming from Gaza and reaching further into Israel than ever before.  And this has been quite a shock for the Israeli public – that (Palestinian) missiles can reach as far as Hadera” (about 45 kms from the major cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa in northern Israel).

TM  -  How much support is there in the Israeli public for the military actions in Gaza that Prime Minister Netanyahu is undertaking?

DN  -  This is the sad thing.  Because the public has been whipped up into a frenzy, there is again very little criticism from within.  Very little criticism from within as people are in a hyper pitch of frenzy and anxiety, as the missiles come from Gaza, there is increasing and increasing and increasing support for anything that the Israelis want to do in Gaza.  This again is something that is addressed in the (Justice and Peace Commission’s) letter that was published yesterday that we formulated in fact before the frenzy of bombings backwards and forwards.  We talk about an irresponsible language used by a leadership that is seeking to exploit tragedy in order to perpetuate tragedy.

TM - In fact, and I am quoting here - you say in this statement issued by the Ordinaries – you say: “Our hope to bring the cycle of violence to an end is shattered by the irresponsible language of collective punishment and revenge,” “The violent language of the street in Israel that calls for vengeance…” This is very, very strong language in itself…

DN - Yeah, yeah.  I would say of course again that it is important of course to read the whole document because the violent language in the street in Israel that calls for vengeance is paralleled in the document by the violent language on the Palestinian street that calls for vengeance.  This is what we are talking about when we say there is an irresponsible use of language.  Everything begins with words and often, in our situation, it’s the words of irresponsible leaders who whip people up into a frenzy in order then to do whatever they want to do with no internal critique.

TM  - Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land and the moment of common prayer in the Vatican Gardens with (Israeli President) Shimon Peres and President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine seem so long ago…

DN  -  Tracey, no, no.  I don’t think it is a long time away. Those were not idyllic moments.  The Holy Father is perfectly aware that we’re in the midst of the conflict. And I think and we quote him extensively in this letter, I think that what he’s trying to do is exactly that task of liberating language so that language can vehicle the alternatives and not only the cycle of violence. And I think here, the Holy Father knew full well he’s coming into a conflict situation and he seeks to liberate religion so that religion can speak free of the political constraints that exploit often people’s fears, people’s anxieties and then whip them up into the frenzy that they’re in right now.  So that visit is very close and for that very reason we quote from those words of the Holy Father, both when he was with us, his words to the Palestinian leadership, his words to the Israeli leadership, and then of course that supreme moment that kind of capped off one part of his visit: when he brought the two men together and said again as he repeated right through his visit, ‘we can use the language of brothers and sisters. We are not obligated to use the language of enemy.’ And that is what we say at the end of our letter, saying religious leaders are under the obligation, the religious, sacred, holy obligation, to remember that everyone is created in the image and likeness of God.  We are created to be brothers and sisters and we betray that vocation when we call others enemies. 

TM  -  What efforts are underway there in the Holy Land to get Muslim, Jewish, Christian religious leaders together to have that discourse?

DN  -  There are efforts – none as dramatic as the intervention of the Holy Father calling people to come together and become mindful of that responsibility and become mindful of how they fail when they betray that responsibility.  There are efforts, but unfortunately only too few and far between.  I would like to mention one effort though which really is very touching and is an iconic contrast to much of the icon that has been perpetuated by this language of violence and that is that one of the mothers of the three Israeli boys, Mrs. Frankel, the mother of Naftali Frankel, and his uncle have spoken very, very clearly about the fact that there is absolutely no difference in the blood that is spilt:  very courageous speaking out against terrorism and violence as such, and of course the father of the Palestinian boy that was brutally murdered and burnt, speaking out as well in the same spirit – here there is a mourning that must unite those in mourning so that these are the last who will fall victim to the cycle of violence.

(From archive of Vatican Radio)