FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Pope in the Holy Land

by

Nazareth.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited the Holy Land five years ago, Israel heightened its security, gladly emphasising the potential threat he supposedly faced in Israel from Muslim extremists.

As his successor, Pope Francis, arrived in Israel late on Sunday, security was no less strict. Some 9,000 police had been drafted in to protect him, Christian institutions were under round-the-clock protection, and the intelligence services were working overtime. According to a Vatican official, Israel’s preparations had turned “the holy sites into a military base”.

On this occasion Israel was less keen to publicise the source of its fears, because the most tangible threat came not from Islamists but Jewish fanatics linked to Israel’s settler movement.

Last month they issued a death threat to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nazareth and his followers, while recent weeks have seen clergy attacked, churches and monasteries defaced with offensive graffiti, and cemeteries desecrated.

The building where the Pope was due to meet Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu today was daubed with “Death to Arabs and Christians”. Last Friday, a church in the city of Beersheva was sprayed with “Jesus is a son of a bitch”.

Israeli police have arrested or issued restraining orders on several dozen Jewish extremists in the past few days.

Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, has warned that “acts of unrestrained vandalism are poisoning the atmosphere”.

Indeed, the mood of intolerance has spread beyond a dangerous fringe. Hundreds of Israeli Jews demonstrated angrily in Jerusalem last week against the Pope, while police barred Catholic authorities from putting up banners celebrating his visit, apparently fearful it could trigger wider protests.

The local Palestinian Christian population, both in the occupied territories and inside Israel itself, is feeling more embattled than ever – and not just from settlers.

In Bethlehem on Sunday the Pope made an unscheduled stop to pray at the monstrous concrete wall that has turned Jesus’ birthplace into a prison for its modern inhabitants. At a nearby refugee camp he was reminded that Israel bars residents from ever returning to homes now in Israel.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has provided his personal backing to a plan whose barely concealed goal is to divide the large Palestinian minority inside Israel – pitting Christian against Muslim – by seeking to draft the former into the Israeli military.

Despite this Pope’s popularity, there have been rumblings of dissatisfaction at his priorities on this brief, three-day trip.

The official purpose is to mark the 50th anniversary of a meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras that ended of a 1,000-year schism between Rome and the Orthodox Church.

The Vatican has emphasised that Francis’ trip is “absolutely not political”. His itinerary, which did not include time for a visit to the Galilee, where most Palestinian Christians are located, suggested the Pope was not likely to offer his flock solace beyond the general hope he expressed in Bethlehem for a “stable peace” in the region.

The Holy Land’s Christians are an increasingly vulnerable minority. Inside Israel, for example, their proportion has fallen from nearly a quarter of the Palestinian minority in the early 1950s to just 10 per cent today. A similar decline has taken place in the occupied territories.

Although Israel blames Muslim fanaticism for this decades-long trend, the truth is different. In repeated surveys, only a small minority of Christians blame Muslims for the exodus.

In part, the proportion of Christians has fallen over time simply because of their tendency to smaller familes than Muslims. But equally significant are Israel’s oppressive twin policies of belligerent occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and a political system of exclusive Jewish privilege inside Israel.

All Palestinians, Muslim and Christian alike, have been harmed by Israeli rule. But Christians have been better able to exploit connections to Western communities, giving them an easier passage out.

None of this fits well with Israel’s narrative of a clash between the Judeo-Christian world and Islam, or its desire to present itself as a unique haven as neighbouring Arab states sink into sectarian conflict. On Sunday Netanyahu claimed Israel was the only Middle East country to offer “absolute freedom to practice all religions”.

The reality, however, is that the settlers’ violence feeds off a religious and ethnic intolerance cultivated on many fronts by the Israeli state itself.

It starts early, with a majority of Jewish children educated in religious schools that scorn a modern curriculum. Instead they drill into pupils literal interpretations of the Bible that encourage Jewish chauvinism.

Israel’s programme of Holocaust education rejects universal lessons, preferring to nurture a sense of Jews as history’s eternal victims. Many Israelis believe they should be constantly on guard – and armed – against a world of anti-semitic gentiles.

Hardline Orthodox rabbis, given control over large areas of Israeli life, have become the sole arbiters of moral values for many Israelis.

The government’s latest effort to pass legislation affirming Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people” is designed to stymie any hope of a multi-cultural future.

And finally, decades of rule over Palestinians have been exploited by Israel to invest ever greater Jewish religious symbolism in contested or shared holy places, most notably the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. Slowly a territorial conflict is gaining the attributes of a religious war.

Local church leaders understand this well. In the run-up to the Pope’s visit, Twal asked pointedly: “What effect is created by [an] official discourse on Israel being a state for one group only?”

The Pope noted in Jordan on Saturday that religious freedom was a “fundamental human right”. That is certainly a message Israel’s leadership needed to hear stressed when Francis met them today.

A papal visit that eschews politics to focus only on religion – elevating holy sites above the people who live next to them – betrays a Christian community that needs all the help it can get as it fights for its continuing place in the Holy Land.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books).  His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

 

More articles by:

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
July 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Joseph Natoli
Choosing the ‘Arteries that Make Money’
CJ Hopkins
Intersectionalist Internet Blues
Pepe Escobar
China and India Torn Between Silk Roads and Cocked Guns
Ralph Nader
Can the World Defend Itself From Omnicide?
Howard Lisnoff
Agape While Waltzing at the Precipice
Musa Al-Gharbi
Want to Shake Up Status Quo? Account for the Default Effect
Angela Kim
North Korean Policy Must Focus on Engagement Not Coercion
David Macaray
Talking Union
Binoy Kampmark
Refugee Conundrums: Resettlement, the UN and the US-Australia Deal
Robert Koehler
Opening Gitmo to the World
David Jaffee
No Safe Space for Student X
Thomas Knapp
The State is at War — With the Future
David Swanson
What’s Missing from Dunkirk Film
Winslow Myers
There Is Still Time, Brother
Robert J. Burrowes
Biological Annihilation on Earth Accelerating
Frederick B. Hudson – Dr. Junis Warren
Robot Scientists Carry Heavy Human Hearts 
CP Editor
Not My Brother’s Reefer
Sam Lichtman
Where are the Millennials?
Louis Proyect
Death Race: the Cruelties of the Iditarod
Charles R. Larson
Review: Norman Lock’s A Fugitive in Walden Woods
July 27, 2017
Edward Curtin
The Deep State, Now and Then
Melvin Goodman
The Myth of American Exceptionalism
Nozomi Hayase
From Watergate to Russiagate: the Hidden Scandal of American Power
Kenneth Surin
Come Fly the Unfriendly Skies
Andre Vltchek
Philippines: Western Media is Distorting Reality, People and Army Unite to Battle “ISIS”
Robert Fisk
Out of the Ruins of Aleppo: a Syrian Community Begins to Rebuild
Andrew Moss
What is Adelanto?
Thomas Mountain
Free Speech or Terror TV? Al Jazeera’s Support for ISIS and Al Queda
Robert J. - Byers
Jamboree Travesty
Thomas Knapp
Send in the Clown: Scaramucci Versus the Leakers
Rob Seimetz
Because the Night Belonged to Us in St. Petersburg (Florida)
Paul Cantor
Momentum Not Mojo
Patrick Walker
In Defense of Caitlin Johnstone (Part Two)
July 26, 2017
John W. Whitehead
Policing for Profit: Jeff Sessions & Co.’s Thinly Veiled Plot to Rob Us Blind
Pete Dolack
Trump’s Re-Negotiation Proposal Will Make NAFTA Worse
George Capaccio
“Beauty of Our Weapons” in the War on Yemen
Ramzy Baroud
Fear and Trepidation in Tel Aviv: Is Israel Losing the Syrian War?
John McMurtry
Brexit Counter-Revolution Still in Motion
Ted Rall
The Democrats Are A Lost Cause
Tom Gill
Is Macron Already Faltering?
Ed Kemmick
Empty Charges Erode Trust in Montana Elections
Rev. William Alberts
Fake News? Or Fake Faith?
James Heddle
The Ethics and Politics of Nuclear Waste are Being Tested in Southern California
Binoy Kampmark
Slaying in Minneapolis: Justine Damond, Shooting Cultures and Race
Jeff Berg
Jonesing for Real Change
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail