1. The situation is changing by the day and all comment is provisional. The Israeli attacks and invasion are possible because they are sanctioned by an otherwise moribund outgoing US administration. Whether the incoming administration will be any less partial to Israel remains to be seen. Imminent Israeli elections with twenty or so parties contesting make a show of strength seem electorally advantageous. Given that Islamism is the current international bogeyman major change seems unlikely.
2. The situation in Gaza is ghastly and graphic and dominates the current media reports. Our compassion is engaged naturally, but are we being led by the media? If not, why has Israel banned reporters from an area which is not even part of its territory?
3. Do we try then to use the heightened awareness of the situation to introduce something more than the expressions of horror and the manoeuvring of political expediency? Two principles of Catholic Social Teaching stand out, namely proportionality and protection of non combatants. The extent of the Israeli attack violates both and the crude Hamas rockets violate the second. The crude measure is in numbers of casualties, particularly children. The technology of war now permits targeted assassination with other casualties and mistakes classified as ‘regrettable’ and ‘collateral damage’.
4. Israel is not to be identified with its policy making government and military force, any more than Gaza is to be identified with Hamas. Both areas contain a majority of ordinary people trying to get on with their lives. Regional instability allows greater opportunity for the power hungry, the militarists, the fanatics, the factionalists and the criminally thuggish. As the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano said: In the struggle of Good against Evil, it's always the people who provide the dead.
5. Some useful background may be found in an article by Seamus Milne http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/dec/30/israel-and-the-palestinians-middle-east
and Johan Hari
See also Paul Rogers in Open Democracy at http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/gaza-hope-after-attack
Worth reading too, is the article by Daniel Barenboim http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/01/israel-gaza-bombings-hamas
6. Pope Benedict is expected to visit the Holy Land in 2009, with possible stops in Israel and the Palestinian territories. He has appealed for a ceasefire to allow negotiation http://www.indcatholicnews.com/truc324.html He said in his Christmas Urbi et Orbe address that he hoped the region, the site of renewed violence after a truce ended between Israel and Palestinian factions led by Hamas, could return to the path toward peace. Condemning the “twisted logic of conflict and violence” Pope Benedict said, “May the divine light of Bethlehem radiate throughout the Holy Land, where the horizon seems once again bleak for Israelis and Palestinians... May it spread throughout Lebanon, Iraq and the whole Middle East.”
7. An appeal by 13 patriarchs and heads of Christian Churches denounces the violence by both sides. It calls on Palestinian factions to seek reconciliation and put the interests of the population before their own; it also urges the international community to make a commitment to a lasting solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For a Catholic perspective see http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&geo=57&theme=5&size=A Statements from bishops may be found at http://www.zenit.org/article-24684?l=english
What can we do in these circumstances?
• Pray, both individually and together that the situation can be resolved without complete bloodshed on both sides. Pax Christi have useful resources http://www.paxchristi.org.uk/Wall.HTML
• Be informed. There is so much on the web about the situation. Among useful sites - Gush Shalom http://zope.gush-shalom.org/index_en.html The Other Israel http://www.geocities.com/toi_billboard/recommen.htm Electronic Intifada http://electronicintifada.net/ and Christian Aid www.christian-aid.org for the latest information.
• Demonstrate but be clear about the distinction between the State of Israel and being Jewish. These are different things and it is easy to get caught up in virulent anti Semitism under the guise of opposition to Israeli policies (consider eg the ‘Zionist entity’ language and some boycotting campaigns; as well as the naiveté of sloganising of the ‘We are all Hamas now’ variety).
• Light a candle for Gaza, a light to shine in the darkness of these times. But do not lose sight of the other less highlighted areas of conflict eg DR Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Somalia...