Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Imprisoned In Gaza: A Catholic-Jewish Conversation Continues

Thanks to Pontifications blogger, David Gibson, for engaging in one of the more interesting Catholic-Jewish conversations in which I have participated in some time. His recent post about Catholics, Jews and events in Gaza pointed me to the work by John L Allen of the National Catholic Reporter. I can not thank him enough.
In the piece, Allen quotes the sage comments of Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi. Speaking on Vatican Radio, the Vatican spokesman remarked: “Hamas is a prisoner of a logic of hatred,” Lombardi said, “Israel of a logic of trusting in force as the best response to hatred.”
One could argue each of those claims, I suppose. In fact, I can imagine the advocates for each side in this conflict already gearing up to do so. But regardless of which side one supports, I am quite certain that we all could learn from reflecting seriously on Fr. Lombardi’s words. Catholic or not, pro-Israel or pro-Hamas, he could teach us all a thing or two.
The most persistent, if not the most immediately pressing, prison in both Gaza and in Israel exists in the minds of Gazans and Israelis. This does not mean that I believe the two sides are equally responsible, morally, politically or otherwise, for the mess – I do not.
It simply means that in this war, as in most wars, the two sides are more alike than either would like to admit. In this case, each side is imprisoned not only by the bombs that rain down on each of them, but by spiritual/intellectual paradigms which help define their identities as nations.
The majority of both Israelis and Gazans are locked into identities which actually perpetuate this conflict as much as the actions taken by either side.


This has nothing to do with who is right in this war. This is about the collective spirit to two communities, the inner lives of two nations.
Israel suffers, understandably so, in the wake of the Holocaust and decades of commitment to it’s annihilation by 100’s of millions of people, from an almost utter inability to entertain virtually any security arrangements which rely on anyone who isn’t Jewish. It really is a post-Holocaust symptom of thousands of years of anti-Semitism in which the majority imagines that nobody can reliably participate (I did not say take responsibility for) in their defense.
“We are in this alone” goes the argument. It actually shores up Jewish identity and provides the rationale for so many bad ideas. Why for example, could Israel not imagine appealing to the world, instead of going to war, to provide the means to rid Gaza of the rockets which rained down in the thousands?
Part of the answer lies with the track record of a global community that really didn’t care about those rockets landing in Israel to begin with. If they had, they would have pushed harder to make them stop, by force if necessary. And the price would have been Israeli acceptance of the relatively free flow of non-military goods and services both into and out of Gaza. Ironically, that is pretty much the deal on the table now and the one that has kept the peace in Lebanon for s few years now.
But of course, for that to work, Hamas would need to accomplish even more inner work than Israel. They would have to abandon the core belief that they are always the victim, even when they are victimizing others.
They are eternally in resistance mode, because they would not know who they were if it were not so. Forget about victimizing Jews and Israelis, they are killing their own people by the dozens, if not the hundreds, in the midst of this war! Why? Because their leaders argue, the resistance must continue on all fronts, including against those deemed to be acting in interests not shared by Hamas. This should be astounding but it’s not.
Despite claiming to be a religious movement, Hamas barred thousands of faithful Muslims from going on the Haj last month. The deal had been all worked out. Israel agreed, Egypt agreed, but Hamas did not because the list of pilgrims had been drawn up by their West Bank Rivals, Fatah.
When asked how they could justify this kind of religious tyranny, the answer was, Resistance! These are people who simply do not know how to take yes for an answer, even when it comes to helping their own citizens fulfill one of Islam’s five sacred pillars. And they are an Islamist movement!!
So I think that both sides might want to consider Fr. Lombardi’s assessment about prisons, not only those in which others have placed them, but those in which they have placed themselves. And even more importantly, why they have done so. Knowing how you got anywhere is pretty key to finding your way out.

  • Ruvain

    People believe the most idiotic statements, e.g., force won’t work, fighting never solves anything, give peace a chance, it is illogical to defend oneself with force.
    Of course, we Jews should Give Peace a Chance and cease using force. After all in 1948, the Arab world graciously greeted the UN Partition and worked tirelessly to establish friendly relations with Israel and helped the Arabs build roads, schools, health facilities so that they could live side by side with the Jews.
    Oh what’s that? In 1948, all the surrounding nations attacked Israel in attempt to murder all the Jews? Well, there you have it – the cause of the problem is that Jews fought back and didn’t let themselves be slaughtered. If the Jews have simply not used force to defend themselves and had Given Peace a Chance in the face of the advancing Arab armies, everything would have been fine.
    And here the silly Jews are in 2008 still following that same illogical pattern that the should use force to protect themselves. As the wise David Gibson laments, the days when Church can simply slaughter Jews on the way to a Crusade are gone — ah, the good ole days when Jews didn’t fight back. Yes, the problem is the Jews – how dare they defend themselves!
    Yes, if those troublesome Jews would stop using force and just DIE, then peace would prevail. If we can only convince Jews that Force Never Works and they should just lie down and DIE, then everything will be just dandy.

  • Robert

    “Part of the answer lies with the track record of a global community that really didn’t care about those rockets landing in Israel to begin with. If they had, they would have pushed harder to make them stop, by force if necessary.”
    I truly believe the world, outside the Arab nations, would care just as much about Israel if Hamas had managed to wreak as much violence on Israel as Israel has on Gaza. The world really didn’t care about rockets that did not kill and did not do major damage, and isn’t going to start caring abour rockets that do not kill and do not do damage any time soon. If Israel ever perfects a principle of proportionality, it will find real support in the non-Jewish world. Rabbi, you and I would not agree on many things, but I do appreciate the spirit in which you write this post.

  • David

    The claim that Israel is in this alone, after all the financial and military it has received from the United States, is neither honest nor grateful. Otherwise, thank you for the thoughtful comments, Rabbi and others.

  • Rabbi Brad

    That is my point. Israel is NOT in this alone and thinking that it is, is tragically mistaken. It is by acknowledging that it is not as isolated as it sometimes thinks, that the State of Israel, can locate new sources of strength and the readiness to imagine new arrangements that would help assure both its safety and that of civilians in Gaza.

  • tom tsuka

    Also as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, PopeJohn Paul II canonized the Croatian Ustachi Fascist and anti-Semitic priest of World War ll, whose name escapes me at the moment, over the protests of Israel and the Serbian government. He was present with Croatian Ustashi Nazi-supported troops and those Jews and Serbs who did not convert to Catholicism and he gave the go ahead and allowed the Ustashi soldiers and commanders to execute them. He was present at many of these executions when they were asked to convert. Pope John Paul II said that this priest was a staunch anti-communist and a Croatian patriot who fought for Croatian independence. This priest was executed by Tito’s government as a war criminal after a trial at the end of the war. When I raised this issue with John Allen, the almost official reporter stationed at the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter, he simply said he was executed by a Communist government of Tito, and therefore his conviction is suspect and his war crimes are void, evincing absolutely no sympathy for the murdered Jews and Serbs. Allen’s remarks are very similar to those of a new brand of Holocaust apologist. This time they raise issues of ambivalence, ambiguity and illegitimacy and the unfairness of the trial, even though the Soviet Union was present at the Nuremburg Trials and these convictions of Nazi leaders were accepted by all governments including the US and therefore in no way were their war crime convictions considered null or void just because the Soviet Union was present and a participant at these trials. Moreover, the Soviet Union at the time was an ally of America and Britain against Nazi Germany. It was Russian troops that liberated the extermination camps in Poland and eastern Germany and many of these were led by Jewish Red Army officers and soldiers. Thank you for reading my blog. Tom Tsuka

  • Devorah

    BELIEVE! Christians are ALL essentially “Reformed” Jews. And as “Reformed” Jews we has a vested interest in what happens in Israel.
    Let us get it right!

  • eastcoastlady

    Devorah, While I appreciate your support for Israel,…..
    Christians, by definition are no kind of Jew at all. They’re Christians.
    No insult intended here – just a clarification.

  • Alicia

    Thanks for a brilliant and illuminating post, Rabbi Hirschfield (and I’ve been encouraged by the entire back-and-forth discussion) – this along with Eboo Patel’s suggestions for shaking up the status quo have given me a lot of hope.

  • Nahum

    The world has had 8 long years to respond to Palestinian missile attacks against Israel – and no one did much. The Egyptians certainly had an obligation to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza over their border – and did next to nothing.
    Israel’s response is moral, healthy and necessary. And years overdue.
    We all feel pain to see the loss of life of civilians in Gaza. Hamas has these poor people hostage and is using them as human shields. If the world had not been so willing to accept the constant barrage of Hamas missiles on Israeli civilians for the past 8 years, perhaps this wouldn’t be happening.

  • madskat

    “DEVORAH??”, …” I DONT THINK SO!””, ….please educate yourself, thanks

  • EG

    Let lady Devorah believe what she wants. She must have a different definition of “Reformed Jew”. On the meantime, we need all the support we can get.

  • Angel

    We are Reform, Conservative or Orthodox Jews.
    I don’t know any “reformed’ Jews, unless Devorah means those who have left their faith/way of life as Jews and turned to being Christian.
    We Jews have been around for thousands of years and will be around for thousands more, though the world has, down through the ages tried to annihilate us.

  • Ruvain

    It would be interesting to know what she meant by “Reformed” Jews with those quotation marks.
    Did she know that there are Reform Jews, but that there is no such thing as Reformed Jews?
    Was she trying to be nice by showing a sense of connection or was she being insulting by saying that being Xian is fulfillment of being Jewish?

  • Maria

    I love Catholics more than ever now!

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