Sunday, October 15, 2023

Israel and Palestinian Gaza: The Brink of Full Scale War

We wait, holding our breath, as Israeli ground forces mobilize on the border of the Palestinian territory of Gaza, an impoverished, desperately overcrowded, chaotic strip of Mediterranean coastline where most of the population of 2.1 million people live a daily struggle for survival. They are hemmed in together behind Israel’s defensive wall in conditions little better than prison—conditions that have arisen in consequence of the failure and breakdown of previous diplomatic agreements for a process leading to a “two-state-solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the midst of these multitudes of innocent civilians there are also groups of anti-Israel militants who hope to overthrow the State of Israel with help from hostile Islamist neighboring countries and (even) governments. They want all Israeli people to live in fear (including those who have politically opposed the current hard-line government and have actively worked for Palestinian rights); they practice terrorism as a form of jihad (“holy war”), and those who die performing terrorist acts are regarded as “martyrs.” Meanwhile some Israelis would like to drive all Palestinians from the land, and until then impose as many restraints on them as possible. The failure of dialogue between these two peoples has left the field of action bereft of the possibilities for creative and human solutions, and that space has been filled by polarized ideologues who are ready—once again—to place their trust in war. The innocent ones—the Israelis and Palestinians who seek peaceful coexistence, dialogue, real interpersonal and communal solutions—they are the victims and will continue to be the victims as this war escalates.

What can we do? We can stand in solidarity with them. We can pray for them—with real prayer, with the prayer that the Pope calls “the meek and holy force to oppose the diabolical force of hatred, terrorism, and war.” We can also make an offering to God and a gesture of solidarity by fasting. People all over the world will pray and fast for peace on this coming Tuesday, October 17.

Meanwhile, the Pope urges us to continue to remember “tormented Ukraine.” Really, these are not two separate wars. They are related in more ways than we realize. But regardless, we must have hearts and minds that are larger than the trending topics on Twitter/“X”/…whatevah. The suffering of peoples is made known to us in our era by “real time” multimedia. Some follow it as a form of “entertainment” while others feel powerless in front of the weight of all the suffering all over the world, and would prefer not to think about it. 

But seeing and hearing about these events can be an opportunity to pray-with and suffer-with our brothers and sisters in distress. It may seem a small thing, but—like a cup of water to the thirsty or a visit to a sick neighbor—it is prayer-in-loving-action, it is a work of mercy. We are human persons. We are not information collectors. We have hearts. Whatever our circumstances, our hearts can unite in begging for God’s mercy, and can reach out to accompany those who are suffering—we can’t “fix” them, but we can draw near to them, even if only in our hearts, so that they do not suffer alone. Our hearts can extend themselves in mercy, and we must beg God to enlarge our hearts. Mercy is the new reality that is building up and transforming our world. We are called to participate in this work, in this mystery of mercy.

Texts from Pope Francis and the assembly of Catholic bishops of the Holy Land:

“I continue to follow what is happening in Israel and Palestine with tears and apprehension: many people killed, others injured. I pray for those families who have seen a feast day transformed into a day of mourning, and I ask that the hostages be released immediately. It is the right of those who are attacked to defend themselves, but I am very concerned about the total siege under which the Palestinians are living in Gaza, where there have also been many innocent victims. Terrorism and extremism do not help reach a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but fuel hatred, violence, revenge, and only cause each to other suffer. The Middle East does not need war, but peace, a peace built on dialogue and the courage of fraternity” (Pope Francis, General Audience, October 11).

“I continue to follow with great sorrow what is happening in Israel and Palestine. I think again of the many… in particular of the children and the elderly. I renew my appeal for the freeing of the hostages and I strongly ask that children, the sick, the elderly, women, and all civilians not be made victims of the conflict. Humanitarian law is to be respected, especially in Gaza, where it is urgent and necessary to ensure humanitarian corridors and to come to the aid of the entire population. Brothers and sisters, already many have died. Please, let no more innocent blood be shed, neither in the Holy Land nor in Ukraine, nor in any other place! Enough! Wars are always a defeat, always!

“Prayer is the meek and holy force to oppose the diabolical force of hatred, terrorism and war. I invite all believers to join with the Church in the Holy Land and to dedicate next Tuesday, 17 October, to prayer and fasting…

“I am looking at the Ukrainian flags: let us not forget tormented Ukraine” (Angelus, October 15).