The Passionists Compassion

The Wall

by Kevin Dance, CP

For 101 years Passionists have lived in Jerusalem, 'City of Peace.' Perched on the back of the Mount of Olives, where those great friends of Jesus--Mary, Martha and Lazarus -- offered him hospitality and a home, is the Passionist Retreat of St. Martha.

A gaping hole now tears apart the stone wall round St. Martha's and a much higher wall is poised to cut through the quiet grounds.

On June 16th, 2002 Israel began building the wall to protect its citizens against suicide attacks. It will be 750 kilometers when finished and enclose almost 400,000 Palestinians. It symbolizes the deepening division between Israelis and Palestinians and makes peace more elusive.

Both peoples have suffered too much from dispossession and pain. A new word --genocide-- had to be minted to name the extermination of Jewish people in the madness of the Nazi Holocaust. To create a refuge for the Jewish people, another people was dispossessed of homes and lands in Palestine.

The past four years have seen the needless deaths of hundreds of Israeli Jews (975) and thousands of Palestinians (3,086). Too many were children and innocent bystanders going about their lives.

At the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a dispute over borders. Two peoples-- with too much history and too little geography.

Without reservation I support Israel's right to exist as a sovereign state and for its citizens to live in peace, free from fear of violence or terror. I support, with equal strength, the Palestinian people's right to a viable and sovereign state where they can live in peace, without fearing destruction of their homes. I am for both peoples; I am also for that justice of right relationships whence peace springs; facts cannot be sacrificed to rhetoric by either side of the conflict.

If the wall were completed, Palestinians would lose more than 900 square kilometres of their land between the Green Line and the wall. In one town close to Jerusalem, 30,000 people cannot enter the city. In four villages, the source of the people's income--olive, almond and fig trees--have been torn up. They can no longer reach their land farmed for hundreds of years.

If the wall were truly about security, it would have been built on Israel's internationally recognized 1967 pre-occupation border (Green Line). But the wall does not follow the Green Line--it cuts deep into Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Concerns about the wall's impact on peace and human rights, led the UN General Assembly to ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to give an Advisory Opinion on the legality of the wall. The Court presented that Opinion on July 9, 2004. As this was happening in The Hague, the Supreme Court of Israel had been asked to give a ruling on the legality of the Separation Barrier.

Both Courts have rejected the present path of the wall. Both courts have ruled the present path violates international law and imposes immense and unnecessary suffering on the Palestinian population. The International Court of Justice advised that if Israel wants to build a wall, it should do so on the pre-1967 Green Line. The Israeli Supreme Court decided to reject most of the present path and to bring the wall much closer to the Green Line. The Israeli government says it will ignore the ICJ'S advice. Perhaps it will listen to the decision of its own Supreme Court.

On July 20th the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to require Israel to comply with the ICJ's advisory opinion that declared the construction of the separation barrier in violation of international law.

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 150 to 6 with 10 abstentions. It calls on UN Member States to fulfill their obligations by not recognizing "the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around East Jerusalem."

The Resolution also calls both parties to the conflict to immediately fulfill their obligations to the Road Map for peace. The resolution calls Israel to heed the Court and calls the Palestinian Authority to show clear signs of its efforts to restrain and arrest individuals or groups planning or carrying out violent attacks.

In the early morning of December 6th, 2003, Father Claudio Ghilardi, a Italian Passionist priest living at St. Martha's monastery near Jerusalem, was awakened by Israeli military bulldozers breaking through the ancient monastery's stone walls to prepare for a thirty-foot high concrete security wall. Plans are for the wall, estimated to cost over a billion dollars, to wind 450 miles through the West Bank. Running to the site, honored by Christians as "Bethany," where Jesus found hospitality in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus,

Father Claudio (right) protested that this was Vatican property protected by a 1997 agreement between the State of Israel and the Vatican. The construction, temporarily stopped, threatens to split not only the monastery property, but also a Catholic complex of orphanage, school and rest home run by other Catholic religious orders.

The Israelis claim the wall is meant to separate Israelis from Palestinians. Clearly, here, deep in the West Bank it will separate Palestinian from Palestinian, and Christian from Christian. "This is not a barrier," Father Claudio told Larry Fata, from the World Council of Churches, "this is a border. Why don't they speak the truth? This wall is scandalous."

Now, Father Claudio offers the monastery property, once a peaceful spread of olive and pine trees, as a thoroughfare for his Palestinian neighbors: men, women and children desperately trying to avoid an Israeli checkpoint in order to get to work in Jerusalem, or visit family, or seek medical attention at clinics. Along with Ecumenical Accompaniers from the World Council, Father Claudio facilitates their passage against the wishes of the Border Police. The Palestinians call him "Abuna" ("Father").

"They are my guests˝and this is my house," the priest says. Fitting words from a spot where the gracious Martha once welcomed her Guest.

Pope John Paul offered a wise reminder that we need to build bridges, not barriers to peace in this place so many of us call the Holy Land. What can each of us do, in the spirit of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, to help create an atmosphere of hospitality once again? What could we do to melt the bitterness and point to a shared way forward for two peoples who in the depth of their hearts want only peace? Oppressed and oppressor are both victims of too much violence!

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