|Pope Francis with Palestinian|
Pardon for the hiatus—an extraordinarily busy time of year complicated by the high toll pollen can take on the sinuses, combined with a general sense of spring ennui and languor—but I think I am ready to start writing again and Lord knows, there is plenty to comment on both in the past history and history-in-the-making.
Let’s start today with Pope Francis pissing off the pro-Israel lobby by recognizing the Palestinian State. Rabid Republicans—almost a redundancy these days—are beside themselves: Congressmen (note: Congressmen) Trent Franks, Jeff Miller, Jeff Duncan, Louie Gohmert and others have all spoken up vociferously to condemn the Pope’s legitimizing the Palestinian government. (By the way, Franks, Miller, Duncan, and Gohmert are all Baptists, a sect historically known not only for its opposition to Catholicism but often for its open and systematic anti-Catholicism.)
Francis is, as we all know, good at pissing people off. He certainly made the Turks unhappy last month in referring to the Armenian Genocide. The same Republicans—and others—who are furious about the Palestinian recognition are also angry about Francis’ role in mediating the half-century old feud between the United States and Cuba. And when it comes to internal affairs in the Church, Francis pulls no punches. The Christmas address to the Roman Curia—his administrative bureaucracy—was scathing in the attack on “careerism” and abuses of power by the clergy. His packing off the overdressed Cardinal Raymond Burke to be grand poobah of the Knights of Malta infuriated those hoping for a revival of the grand pontifical style of Churchmanship that Burke represents. His removal of several bishops from their dioceses when their lavish life-style came to his attention sent waves of shock (and trepidation) to many who were enjoying the princely life rather than a shepherd’s care for their flocks (though Myers of Newark is still building his country bungalow for a retirement that can come none-too-soon).
Francis began his papacy—practically its very first act—with a blunt announcement. He looked at the rack of papal finery he was expected to wear—a fur-trimmed velvet cape, a lacy sort of slip to wear over his plain white cassock, and of course the Prada-style ruby reds, and told the Master of Ceremonies “Carnival is over”—equivalent to the American “Halloween is over.” He came to meet the crowds in the plain white everyday cassock, his worn-at-the-heels black shoes, and his black slacks showing through the thin white robes. He won’t get best-dressed but he has already won the best-respected Pope in quite a while.
The problem with Francis is that he speaks the truth and a lot of people don’t want to hear the truth. Palestine is our dirty little secret. The world is standing by as the Palestinian people are being robbed of their land piece by piece, acre by acre. A “security wall” (actually walls) designed to “protect” Israel has gone up—but the walls separate the Palestinian people from one another and from their ancestral farms and orchards. Palestinian farmers have to drive miles from their home to get around the walls to their fields and their olive trees. And one morning or another, they find their trees plowed under and Israeli settlers starting to build homes on land that the Palestinian family has worked for three, four, five centuries. They return home to find their house demolished or a Israel family moving in. Palestinians die in ambulances on their way to hospitals held up at “security check-points” in Palestine but manned by Israeli soldiers. And then there is the issue of child-abuse by Israeli forces. UNICEF has documented over 400 cases of Palestinian children under the age of 18 who have been abducted from their homes by Israeli soldiers in night-time raids, blindfolded, cuffed, and subjected to various forms of abuse. UNICEF says that the “ill-treatment of children who come into contact with the system appears to be widespread, systematic, and institutionalized through the process.” The UNICEF report was forwarded to Pope Francis by 200 clergy—Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox—who minister among the Palestinian people.
Now, I will be the first to say that Israel, like all nations, has a right to secure borders. And I will also say that I am still trying to figure out what Pope Francis meant by calling Palestinian President Abbas “an angel of peace;” that seems, at best, an overstatement. But I am delighted that the Pope is shedding light on the Palestinian situation. I have been to Israel/Palestine on four separate occasions, including one trip sponsored by the Israeli government to show-case their political agenda. I like Israel. It is a beautiful country. Jerusalem is one of my favorite cities in the world. I want to see peace descend upon Jerusalem and upon the entire land, Israeli and Palestinian. I pray for that every day. The rabid nationalism of the Netanyahu government is not the path to peace any more than is the Hamas violence.
One of the funniest lines in American theatre is in the musical The Best Little Whore House in Texas. The “Governor of Texas” in the play declares, in reference to the problems in the Mideast, that “it behooves the Jews and the A-rabs to settle their differences in a Christian manner.” Ridiculous, but actually he has a point. The good Baptists among the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus don’t get it of course; they might know every verse in the Bible but like the man who can’t see the forest for the trees, they can’t see the Gospel for the Bible. There can be no peace in Israel/Palestine without justice for the Palestinian people. The Hebrew Scriptures tell us as much: just think of Exodus 22: 21; Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 10: 19; Deuteronomy 27:19; Jeremiah 7:6; Zechariah 7:10. The Christian, though apparently not the Baptist, knows not only must there be justice but there must be forgiveness and reconciliation. We cannot expect either Jew or Muslim to follow in the path that Christ has laid out in the gospels, but as Christians we must adhere to that path and not enable one side or the other to pursue the sort of violence and injustice that has characterized Israeli/Palestinian tensions over the past 67 years, and indeed the decades of struggle that preceded. That is what Pope Francis is saying. We need Christian voices to speak up both for the security of Israel and for justice to the Palestinians.