The Fence-Sitting Pope


When I was a kid we had fun letting off firecrackers. Most had quite an impact – going off with a mighty bang. A few were weak, feeble and fizzled out. We called them ‘fizzers’. The pope’s tour was a fence-sitting fizzer for truth and for Palestinian justice.

Still, Palestinians were warned in advance by the Vatican that the tour had “no political agenda” it was simply a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage, apart from the usual Christian holy sites, to the grave of Theodor Herzl where, flanked by two war criminals, Netanyahu and Peres, Francis, the Vicar of Christ, laid a giant wreath in honour of the mastermind of Zionism that unleashed the atrocities of the Nakba committed by Jewish terrorist militia; the massacres, rapes, looting, demolition of 500 Palestinian villages and the forced deportations and dispossession of 750,000 indigenous Palestinians from their beloved land…a paltry three years after the holocaust.

What a feather in the Zionist cap! A Catholic pope honouring Herzl the Zionist atheist! Francis’ rabbi friend, Abraham Skorka was spot on when he noted that it ‘could be understood as a nod to Zionism’. It was much more than a nod. For the gleeful Netanyahu gang, it was an imprimatur on the expansionism of Greater Israel negating Francis’ two-state solution.

Coincidentally? On the very same day, ten bills were submitted to the Knesset that “could lead to the annexation of Area C which “makes up about 60 percent of the West Bank, including all Jewish towns and settlements.”

In Bethlehem, the pope made an impromptu stop at the illegal Annexation/Apartheid WAll saying a quiet prayer. Vatican officials assured the Israeli Foreign Ministry that Francis “didn’t pray against the security barrier, but he prayed against the situation that forces such a wall to be built.”

So,tit-for-tat, it was agreed that Francis make an impromptu stop at the Israeli Memorial for the Victims of Terror (curiously Palestinian victims were not mentioned on its tablets). Afterwards, the pilgrimage dutifully arrived at the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem where Francis uttered the apogee of irony, “Never again, Lord, never again” and kissed the hands of 6 holocaust survivors.

He made no pilgrimage, laid no wreath to mourn the tens of thousands of Palestinians murdered by the terrorist state of Israel.

Neither was a papal plea of “Never again, Lord, never again” heard nor even a single flower was laid at the simple graves, of young Muhammad Abu al-Thahir and Nadim Nuwarah shot in the back ten days previously by the peace-loving Israeli military. Of course, the cavalcade avoided the old Muslim cemetery defaced and desecrated to make way for Israel’s Museum of Tolerance.

Franicis’ speeches give the distinct impression that the Palestinian and Israeli narratives are equal i.e. that the Palestinian state which has no army, navy, airforce nor nuclear armaments is a match for Israel which is the fourth largest nuclear military in the world;

“To this end, I can only express my profound hope that all will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement.”

To President Abbas, he talked on and on about the importance of religious freedom perchance unaware that not Abbas, but Netanyahu’s government imposed restricted access at Easter for Palestinian Christians to the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or that it was Jews not Muslims who perpetrate hate-crimes against churches as well as sealing plans to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque.

While expressing his “closeness to those who suffer most from this conflict” the pope glaringly omitted mention of Gazan families who really do suffer the most, living, correction, barely surviving 46 kilometres away from His Holiness; perhaps not close enough.

Out of habit, though Abbas is in the middle of negotiations with Hamas for a unity government, he also neglected mention of Gaza and its severe humanitarian crisis caused by Israel’s illegal and cruel blockade.

Much has been made of the pope’s acknowledgement of ‘the state of Palestine’ in his speeches. It’s nothing to get excited about; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, made the referencing to Palestine as a state (no longer a territory) official in March 2013 after Palestine was overwhelmingly voted into the United Nations as an Observer State in November 2012.

Despite the clichéd content of the speeches all round, there were standup comedy moments albeit black black comedy:

Pope Francis lauded President Peres as, “a good and wise man”; the same Peres who supplied arms and offered to sell Israeli nuclear warheads to apartheid South Africa violating international embargoes, launched in 1996 ‘Operation Grapes of Wrath’ causing nearly half a million Lebanese to flee their homes, promoted war against Iraq, Iran and Syria and repeats his “denial of the native Palestinians and his reselling in 2013 of the landless people mythology …he denies the existence of approximately twelve million people living in and near to the country to which they belong.” (Ilan Pappe)

The pope said to Abbas, “You are known as a man of peace.” Seriously? Abbas, the head of the American trained Palestinian Authority security forces that brutally suppress Palestinian resistance to Israel ?
Now here’s a doozy from Netanyahu: “Your Holiness, in the heart of the Middle East, the turbulent and violent Middle East, where Christians are often persecuted, Israel is an island of tolerance. We safeguard the rights of all faiths. We guarantee freedom of worship for all and we are committed to maintaining the status quo at the Holy sites of Christians, Muslims, and Jews.” LOL.

The pope’s speeches, infused with diplomacy-speak and euphemisms that inoculate against reality, against the truth, diminished the potential influence for justice and peace he could have wielded not only in the Holy Land but globally. Then again popes are not known for having the courage of true Christ-like convictions.

Francis’ tepid understatement, “I wish to state my heartfelt conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable.” recalls the tepid statement of the WWII pope, Pius XII:

“Defenders also point to his one public statement as evidence of his concern for the Jews. This is a reference to his 1942 Christmas message, which said, “Humanity owes this vow to those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, are marked down for death or gradual extinction.” The statement conspicuously fails to mention the word “Nazi” or “Jew.”

Guenter Lewy, quoted by Cornwell: “A public denunciation of the mass murders by Pius XII, broadcast widely over the Vatican radio and read from the pulpits by the bishops, would have revealed to Jews and Christians alike what deportation to the East entailed. The pope would have been believed, whereas the broadcasts of the Allies were often shrugged off as war propaganda.” Mitchell Bard

Sure, Francis’ speeches contained ambiguities (whom is he addressing) such as;

“[Shoah] enduring symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink when, spurred by false ideologies”

“Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil? Who convinced you that you were God? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god.

“So I express my hope and prayer that this blessed land may be one which has no place for those who, by exploiting and absolutizing the value of their own religious tradition, prove intolerant and violent towards those of others.”

But Palestinians in real-time suffering under Israeli apartheid and occupation do not glean hope from ambiguities and diplomatic neutrality. However the truth can set them free.

For the sake of justice, it is beholden of Pope Francis to imitate the plain-spoken Jesus who cleansed the temple with, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” or, at the very least, take a skyrocket from the feisty Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s box of pyrotechnic authenticity:

“I have witnessed the systematic violence against and humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation and pain is all too familiar to us South Africans.

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. My conscience compels me to stand with the Palestinians as they seek to use the same tactics of non-violence to further their efforts to end the oppression associated with the Israeli occupation.”

“‘Those who turn a blind eye to injustice actually perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.

Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.

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