Bishop Rafic Nahra, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem Photo: Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Auxiliary Bishop for Israel: “Israel has right to live in peace, and Palestinians have a right to justice”

The patriarchal vicar for Israel expressed his shock at the attack in the heart of the country. The massacre struck the innocents, women and children, young people who wanted to have fun. Such violence is rooted in the denial of the rights of the Palestinians people. Only “their respective extremisms” have won. The Church in the Holy Land is not a “political power” but a “voice of peace”, which remains “the necessary goal”.

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Dario Salvi

(ZENIT News – Porta d´Oriente (Asia News) / Milan, 10.16.2023).- Israel cannot have security “by making agreements with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates” if, at the same time, it “ignores the Palestinians, pretending that they do not exist or openly say so”,[*] this according to Mgr Rafic Nahra, auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem.

For the prelate, who has served as patriarchal vicar for Israel since 2021, peace in a land that is holy but bloodied by cycles of violence and wars cannot be achieved without “justice, legality, and mutual recognition” of each other’s right to exist.

This is even truer today, after Hamas struck in the heart of Israel from Gaza, carrying out the worst massacre of civilians, while the rest of the population watched, helplessly, in shock, the violence on social media or television, plunging an entire country into chaos and despair.

Nevertheless, “The Palestinians number five million and cannot be ignored,” the prelate told AsiaNews from his residence in Nazareth.

After a break of a few hours, air raid sirens sounded again this morning in southern Israel, a sign of possible more rockets from the Gaza Strip; for its part, the Israeli army set out to mine near the barrier to prevent further Hamas incursions after its militants successfully breached the border last Saturday.

Now Israeli military leaders are “advising” Palestinians in Gaza to leave the territory through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which is “still open”, while the death toll increases: over 900 on the Israeli side after the discovery of 108 bodies in Kibbutz Be’eri, and 704 on the Palestinian side, including 143 children and 105 women, plus about 4,000 wounded.

“What happened last Saturday was something really disturbing and hard to bear. Israel’s reaction was equally harsh, given the deaths of many unarmed and helpless (Israeli) civilians. These men and women, young and old, children have been killed, sending a shock wave across the country.

“Clearly, these are unacceptable acts and cannot be justified in any way. At the same time, it is equally clear that anger and the feeling of powerlessness have been building up among Palestinians over the years because others decide or have decided for them in the past.

“Whether it is the new settlements or raids against al-Aqsa (mosque in Jerusalem), these factors have fuelled and continue to fuel great anger among Palestinians that seems bound to never end.”

For the 64-year-old patriarchal vicar, who was born in Egypt to Lebanese parents who had emigrated for work, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the country that it was “at war”, it suggests that the conflict “will be very long”.

“Already 187,000 Palestinians have had to abandon their homes,” he noted. What is happening is “the tragedy of the innocent, like the fate of the young people at the music festival, who wanted to dance and have fun. It is unbearable thinking about how they died, watching the videos . . . Innocent people who paid a very heavy price.”

To defuse the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is necessary, first of all, to guarantee “dignity” to the Palestinian people, combined with the “freedom” of a life lived in a “land that is (also) theirs”.

Until these conditions are met, the prelate stresses, “there will be no peace. On the contrary, the extremists on both sides are the ones who win today; they are the ones who dictate the rules while others suffer.”

This is true on the Palestinian side with Hamas, and the Israeli side with laws and power exercised in recent years according to the principle of “I do what I want.”

“From all this, it is people who lose, the Palestinians included. I think that in the past few months at least 30,000 people from Gaza went to Israel to work; now they have nothing. It is not they who win, but the extremists.”

This is why, today more than ever, “courageous decisions” are needed for the common good, of both peoples, starting with the Israelis, “who experienced trauma. I myself suffered together with a nation glued to the screens, looking at the all-consuming images of violence, young people killed, children taken hostage.”

“It will take time” to take a step forward, “but I hope political leaders will be courageous and tell their respective peoples that there can be no peace without honour and mutual dignity.”

The extremist and radical ideology – which denies the right to life of the other considered an enemy to be hit and annihilated – is the same as the one that has led to an escalation of attacks in recent months by ultra-Orthodox Jews against Christians.

Such attacks often occur amid the silence if not the complicity of the authorities as well as the silence of the media, like when Christians were spat upon in recent weeks as they walk in procession in Jerusalem.

“Clearly, it is not the same level of violence,” Bishop Nahra explains, “but the underlying ideology is the same; for this reason, the Church and the patriarch (Card Pierbattista Pizzaballa) have spoken out repeatedly.

“Extremists have long felt protected, allowed to carry out acts of violence amid unbelievable silence, but now the media have started talking about it; something has changed even if it took months.”

Hopefully, “Israel will not get caught up by a thirst for revenge” and “will know how to separate the people from the extremists.”

Amid the violence, blood and terror, “the Church, although she does not exercise political power, will continue to be a voice of peace, calling to humanity, even in a theatre of war, to recognise that others remain human beings too and that the innocent must not pay the price.

“We need humanity and justice; we need to ensure a place for Palestinians to live in honour and dignity,” along with security for Israelis. “The Church, Bishop Nahra said, “continues to show the path, and even if it is not reached soon, peace remains the necessary goal.”


[*] Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said as much recently.

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