Father David Neuhaus, Jesuit and head of the Hebrew speaking Catholic community in Israel, on Christian ways out of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians
By Oliver Maksan
- Father David, is Israel in Gaza fighting for a just cause or is it committing a genocide? Both positions have their supporters also amongst Christians.
Those are two extreme positions, neither of which captures the question very well. What is going on is an intensification of a conflict that remains unresolved for more than sixty years. The Israeli leadership, and in a special way the present leadership, seems to believe that the way to solve the conflict is by military means. They seem to believe that military intervention will bring victory or at least the realization of important goals. This is not genocide but certainly the attempt to crush resistance and make everyone believe that all resistance is terrorism. In Hamas and more radical elements in the Islamic movement, the Israeli leadership has a foe that plays into its hands. Hamas is born out of the despair that has festered for more than sixty years as Palestinians have progressively lost hope that negotiations will bring any fruit. Hamas and its like propagate the parallel lie: violence will bring Israel to its knees.
- Is this conflict also dividing the Christian community in the Holy Land? Hebrew speaking Christians on one side, Arab speaking on the other?
This is the huge challenge! Can we as Christians be united not only in spite of the conflict but also as a part of our mission: to show that brotherhood, peace and reconciliation are possible? Christian Palestinians are fully Palestinian, Christian Hebrew speakers (immigrants and migrants) identify fully with Israel. This is natural but both need to remember that there are brothers and sisters in faith on the other side. Christians in Beer Sheba should not forget the Christians in Gaza and vice versa! Each is called to solidarity with the society in which each lives but this solidarity must be critical solidarity and promote the evangelical values of Justice and peace, pardon and reconciliation. We need a “prophetic ecumenism” in the Holy Land that will bring Christians together over the political divide so that Christians on each side of the divide can get to know one another and challenge the societies in which they live with what they learn.
- Should Christians in the West take sides? Or what would be their role?
Yes, Christians must take sides! They must first and foremost take sides with all those suffering from the leadership’s refusal to enter into dialogue. They must take sides with the children, doomed to this dismal situation because their parents have refused to recognize the other and come to know him or her. They must take sides with those who are promoting understanding and dialogue. Most importantly they must take sides with a language that seeks to re-describe reality: not a hostile territory where enemies war it out but rather a land where God has firmly planted Jews, Christians and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, not to fight but to recognize that they are brothers and sisters.
- What is the way out of the current crisis from a Christian perspective?
The only way out is for Israeli and Palestinians to realize that violence will only breed more violence. Bombarding Gaza will only create more people who seek revenge for their shattered lives. The international community certainly needs to take a stronger role in bringing the two sides together. The biggest enemy right now is the conviction that military might will bring victory. A first step out of the current crisis will be the admission that military might simply provokes more violence.
- Can local Christians/the Churches play a role in solving that conflict or are they to few to matter?
They can play a very important role. Their small number is also a blessing because they cannot even pretend to be among the powerful. Planted in the margins, Christians are free to develop a discourse that promotes the values taught in the Gospel. A recent document of the local Justice and Peace Commission put it very well: “Our role, as religious leaders, is to speak a prophetic language that reveals the alternatives beyond the cycle of hatred and violence. This language refuses to attribute the status of enemy to any of God’s children; it is a language that opens up the possibility of seeing each one as brother or sister. Pope Francis at the invocation for peace on Pentecost 2014, cried out: “We have heard a summons, and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word “brother”. But to be able to utter this word we have to lift our eyes to heaven and acknowledge one another as children of one Father.”