Gaza Strip=Concentration Camp?

Ebensee concentration camp prisoners 1945.jpgThe Vatican’s chief spokesman on justice and peace issues, Cardinal Renato Martino, has made waves (and added to doubts over a May papal visit to the Holy Land) by comparing the Gaza Strip to “a big concentration camp.” (CNS has fuller quotes here.)
Needless to say, Israeli and Jewish leaders are not happy, and there’s no question that the choice of analogy was not a happy one, given images like the one at right of the Ebensee camp. One diplomatic way out of this will be to paint Martino as a trigger-happy Lone Ranger, and indeed he can shoot off his mouth, as Reuter’s longtime Vaticanista, Phil Pullella, writes in this blog post, “Cardinal Martino does it again”: Comparing Saadaam Hussein’s treatment at his execution as that of a cow going to slaughter, or calling Washington’s plan to build a fence on the U.S.-Mexican border part of an “inhuman program” are two well-known examples. I think the other examples may have been undiplomatic but pretty much on target. Still, Pullella notes that Benedict XVI wanted Martino to hold his tongue:
Gaza scene.jpg

“Martino had more of a free rein during the papacy of Pope John Paul, who was not shy himself about speaking out,” Pullella writes. “But Vatican sources have said Pope Benedict wants his cardinals to keep a lower profile and that Martino had been told by Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone to keep the lid on and not be so controversial.”
“The cardinal obviously disregarded the advice when he gave his interview with the Gaza=concentration camp comparison to the Italian on-line newspaper His comment only added to the speculation Israel’s military operation in Gaza is putting Benedict’s tentatively planned trip to the Holy Land in May in serious doubt. While both the Vatican and Israel have officially said the trip is still on, diplomats are not so sure.”


But it would be a mistake to restrict the Israel-Vatican dust-up just to Martino’s mouth. Pope Benedict himself is deeply upset at the violence (a scene above from yesterday), and the president of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Rodriguez of Honduras, added to calls for a cease-fire. just as Muslims and Arabs identify with Palestinians in Gaza, Catholics identify with their fellow believers there, like the parish priest who at Mass described Gaza as “drowning in blood” while the world ignores their cries. This story of the funeral of a 21-year-old Gazan Catholic is deeply affecting, and feeds the growing chorus of international voices calling on Israel to stop the incursion. Catholics in other parts of the world where they are a minority are also speaking up with words that may surprise U.S. Catholics. A Pakistan diocese, for example, denounced Israel’s actions, with one church official saying “The blood of innocent people is being spilled for fun in Gaza.”
Warsaw Ghetto.jpgStill, a “concentration camp”? No. If Catholic leaders are looking for a parallel that would pierce the Israeli conscience with a more historically appropriate analogy (aware as always that every analogy limps), perhaps the Warsaw Ghetto (pictured at right) would be more apt.
Then again, I don’t think any of this language is going to help–Israelis can see the Jewish State as an embattled enclave in the wider perspective of the Middle East. And Jews in the ghetto were never shelling the Nazis, though of course Gazans would say they were invaded first (that’d be 1948).
The search for historical parallels is always dodgy, and as this conflict drags on, Godwin’s law will inevitably come into play and make the argumentation just another weapon rather than a means to resolution.
Yes, consciences need to be shocked, to bring an halt to it all. But by going down the Holocaust route, the Catholic Church will only ensure that a further casualty will be hard-won interreligious bonds. Cardinal Martino could surely find some other chapters of history, or perhaps this Gordion Knot of a conflict is an analogy all its own.

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posted January 9, 2009 at 1:33 pm

I believe that all Holocaust references are rhetorical tinderboxes, creating a conflagration which ultimately consumes the main message attempted to be conveyed.
No reference to history is necessary to capture the gut-wrenching brutality and shocking loss of innocent life happening in Gaza right now. Sad to be wasting time debating any comparison with Germany of decades ago when the urgent problem is that children are being bombed right now.

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Charles Cosimano

posted January 9, 2009 at 3:32 pm

And the Vatican continues on its spin into irrelevancy.

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Albert the Abstainer

posted January 10, 2009 at 8:00 am

Might I suggest a brief perusal of the following op-ed piece:
Yes, the Gaza incursion by Israel needs to be resolved urgently and fairly. The larger picture does, however, require any interested influential people and institutions to be aware of and respond in context. The 500 lb gorilla in the room is Iran, and it should not be forgotten when looking at Gaza.

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John Smith

posted January 10, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Gaza is not a concentration camp. Nothing can compare to the Nazi atrocities – but the Israelis are catching-up.
Gaza is an open-air prison from which Gazans cannot flee. So the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is a lot easier when they are all living on top of each other – don’t you think?
The Palestine Review

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Amy Proctor

posted January 10, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Has everyone forgotten that Hamas forced Israel’s hand? Where’s the concern that Hamas should stop firing its hundreds of rockets into Israel and stop targeting Israeli civilians? No sovereign country would absorb the assaults that Israel has over the past decades. Their evacuation of the Jewish settlement in Gaza was supposed to appease the situation and it emboldened it.
What would have been Israel’s proper response? To jump into the sea and disappear from the face of the earth? Israel has every right to defend itself from Hama attacks and that means they must act offensively.
It’s hard to stomach all the Catholics criticizing Israel. Perhpas the Church has short memory.

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Your Name

posted January 11, 2009 at 1:29 pm

The comparison to Nazi Germany is accurate and valid, Israel and by Proxy the US is not the innocent victim in this situation.
Maybe a dozen dead Jews do not compare to the hundreds of dead Palestinians, Israel is a cery powerful occupying state, forcing a life of horror, death and destruction on a population that is subjegated against its will. So there are no gas chambers – Israel obviosuly dosnt need them as the weapons provided by the US do a fine job. The story of “evacuating” civilians into a home and them bombing it the next day killing all inside smacks of centration camp tactics.
Israel has been in violation of UN oders for decades, every year the order to withdraw is reinforced and ignored – that is a terrorist state. Israel is reaping what they sow and more is coming – when the US can no longer afford to support Israel due our economic collapse Israel had best be on high alert.

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posted January 18, 2009 at 9:23 am

What a vile comparison!
The Palestinian Arabs of Gaza are there because the Egyptians never allowed Palestinian refugees entrance to Egypt – but preferred to keep them hostage in refugee camps after 1948. After Israel gained control of this area (after being attacked in 1967), she inherited this problem.
Hamas has been using the residents of Gaza as a human shield, with no regard to the loss of human life, while it shot missiles into Israeli civilian centers.
And Christians have been largely silent while their co-religionsits in Gaza have been persecuted and murdered by Moslem fanatics.

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posted April 8, 2009 at 4:57 pm

this is so sad that ppl had to go through that just b/c they were jews!!!!!

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posted May 13, 2009 at 10:38 am

these are very good discriptions of the conditions and very good pictures to show what it was like

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posted May 17, 2009 at 8:06 pm

what was the location where this photo was taken?

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posted June 5, 2009 at 10:42 pm

I think the point here is not to see who is worse, or to lessen the suffering of one side or the other. If we are reading this, I assume we are catholics and as such we have to support respect for all human life, jewish, palestinian, catholic or muslim. Both the holocaust and the tragedy of Gaza are horrific evil crimes and we should stand against and not try to find the worst victim. Instead of trying to prove who’s argument is better we can do a lot more good by living our Gospel faithfully starting by the love that should characterize us all. Please please out of mercy stand against the crime and sow the seeds of love that our world so badly needs.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 7:41 am

i think the whole thing is discusting,in english were watching the boy in the stripe pjarmas,and talking about all this,if hitler didnt like jewish people,fair enough doesnt mean he had to kill them all does it,its horrible,ive seem pictures of it all, and went to auchwitz with a few of my friends as your aloud in there,there was a 50ft room 60ft high ful of shoes and it made me sick coz underneath a few of the shoes there were tiny shoes .. its horrible

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