“Holy Land and the Middle East. Current events and possible perspectives"
ROME - The following are some subjects taken from the live conference of Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, addressed to the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulcher, from Palazzo della Rovere in Rome, on October 21, 2020.
“We already live together in the Holy Land. We have always lived together with Christians, Muslims, and Jews. So, it's not new at all. The people of the Holy Land have always been able to live together, coexist, and feast together. They have had to cope with the same difficulties.
Arising from this situation and together having always experienced good moments and difficulties, especially in political issues. The Holy Land is famous for this, while on the ground we find and we see many opportunities for living and coming together. At the institutional level, this is a bit more difficult. In recent years, in the Middle East, we have seen the consequences of this difficulty. The historic challenges made of prejudice and ancient long-standing prejudice are something that we have to carry as a sort of baggage, and what we have to do now is to do away with the stereotypes and prejudice. That is something that we need to remove so that it does not become an obstacle that we need to overcome. To continue coexisting, we need to do all we can so that our living together is not something we are subjected to, but that we can embrace positively. The schools and all the various activities that can involve people can accomplish it.
So these meetings in Rome, in Assisi and Abu Dhabi, are most welcome, of course. However, we must practice their effects in our everyday life. That requires a commitment; it requires leadership, training, and even raise up prophets in schools and not only in the highest institutions. In schools and hospitals, where we find people, that is where we need to promote this type of mindset. It is not easy, but it must be done.”
“Dialogue is not simply a word! Dialogue is something that must be practiced; otherwise, it's only a slogan! And that is something we are trying to do through our schools, our Christian institutions, and hospitals, which are places open to all, and where dialogue, therefore, is lived. It is part of our experience. I think that by being together, friendships are formed, and dialogue is promoted. And so, dialogue is not abstract, but it is lived, we practice it by living together.”
ENCYCLICAL OF POPE FRANCIS “FRATELLI TUTTI”
“I think that this Encyclical, which speaks of us as a brotherhood, comprises all of the teachings of Pope Francis: the environment, dialogue, encounter with others, and coming together. Brotherhood, I think, is something that can bring us together; it is a common denominator of all the typical issues promoted by Pope Francis, and what he says is quite true. We might say that the situation is dramatic, because the temptation towards individualism and seeing things from a personal standpoint are always evident in our societies, while seeing things from others’ standpoint should always been promoted. It is a call to all believers to become aware…”.
SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST… PALESTINIANS… CATASTROPHIES… PEACE AGREEMENT… HOW TO EMERGE?
“If I knew how to do this, they would award me the Nobel Prize! But it's not at all simple. These are critical issues that are different from each other. The agreement with the Emirates, promoted by Trump Administration, has isolated the Palestinians even more. The Palestinian issue is no longer on the international agenda; Palestinians have been in isolation for a long time, and even concerning the Arab world, they are even more isolated. So, this is, let's say, the end of a particular era or cycle. We need to think of how to go ahead. The balance of relations in the Middle East are changing, but I am convinced that unless there is a clear solution, a dignified solution to the Palestinian situation, there will not be any stability in the Middle East.
The Palestinian issue, which is no longer on the agenda of the world, still exists. There are millions of persons waiting to know about their future as a people. And to answer your question, despite the impression that now this issue is no longer central, the Palestinian problem is part of a Middle Eastern situation that is continually evolving: Syria, Lebanon, and the presence of Erdogan points out how the situation in the Middle East is changing. The leading players are Turkey, the Emirates with Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Lebanon and Syria and also Iraq are the battlefield of these big players together. Then there is also Iran, Russia, the United States, and even China in the background…”
“Well, so far, Europe is so immersed in its problems that it has forgotten the international agenda. It has been on the sidelines for a long time, now and even the interventions in the recent events, it hasn't taken a stance.”
LONG TERM PEACE AND TWO-STATE SOLUTION
“The Two-State solution for Two People is the starting point that cannot be overlooked. In principle, the Two-State for Two People solution is the only possible solution. You can't say to the Palestinians that they don't have a right to their own land and to their own nation! That is something that you can't say. Now, technically, how is this possible given the current political situation? It is very difficult to say the two-state solution is no longer feasible; that is something that you can't say. At the same time, you wonder how you can bring it about. Right now, it is complicated to bring this about; because there isn't any dialogue between Israel and Palestine. There's no confidence; there is no dialogue. The international bodies are not present apart from statements made here and there. Nothing is being done apart from some economical support to the Palestinians. So, the situation is in a way suspended. It's a “wait and see” situation. We don't know how it will evolve. However, the Two-State for Two-People solution ideally is the only possible solution which, however, is not technically feasible right now (…).
We need to look to the future. Today and in this context, speaking about peace between the two sides is utopian. It's not that I don't want peace! Of course, I want peace, but we need first to build up confidence between the two parties, which no longer exists. There is no confidence, no trust. There is a wall that divides them, and it shows that there is no prospect for the future; there is no mutual trust in this territory. We need to reconstruct or reintroduce actions that may build up confidence and trust from both sides, which cannot be done overnight. And it takes vision; it takes leadership, something that we don't have right now. So, we need to start from scratch, bearing in mind and learn from the past and its failures: the Oslo and other various agreements that were not kept. So we need leaders on both sides that have a vision, something that is going to take time. The only thing that we can do now at the local level is to work in schools, hospitals, and cultural centers, even though these may seem little things, niches, but that is where we need to do more. That is what is on the ground and needs to be promoted. We need to create a fabric, a network, and we can't expect changes overnight.”
US ELECTIONS and the ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
“Reinstating confidence is something that requires work at the local level. Elections in the United States have always had a significant impact on the Holy Land, particularly on Israel and the Israeli and Palestinian governments. I believe that the Trump administration has focused a lot on the Israeli government, and there is a strong coalition. Therefore, there would be an evident and immediate impact on the Israeli government.
Now I think that it would be indispensable, but difficult, to reconstruct the confidence of the Palestinians in the U.S. administration. In recent years, US Administration policies destroyed the trust of the Palestinian Authority, and that of the Palestinian people. So, rebuilding this confidence will take time and decisive actions. There is a difference between the statements made before the elections and what is actually done afterward; so, we will see. But it's not going to be simple.”
“I'VE COME TO KNOW THE KNIGHTS FROM WITHIN THROUGH THEIR SERVICE IN THE HOLY LAND”
“The commitment of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher is substantial. Of course, in the past, I knew them but only indirectly. Now, as the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, I have come to know the Knights and Ladies from within through their service in the Holy Land. First of all, what I have seen is a beautiful proximity, a closeness, interest, and affection for the Holy Land; this is through the organization of pilgrimages.
As a Franciscan and as a Custos, I knew that the Knights and Ladies came to the Holy Land, but I didn't know very much more about it. But these past few years, I have observed a substantial number of well-organized pilgrimages with huge attendance. They visit the parishes and the historical sites, and also they provide concrete support to the various activities of the Holy Land because you need to be practical. I mean, if there are schools and hospitals and parishes, those, of course, generate costs, and one needs to incur costs to support them. The Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher have always given a strong concrete contribution and tough times because we have experienced difficult times as a Patriarchate. They were very, very much present, so it's not just about organizing processions or pilgrimages. You know they're there! Of course, they organize pilgrimages and provide concrete help and support. I have really learned to appreciate the service of this Order very much. The Order of Knights and Ladies is also very religious.”
A SURPRISING APPEAL DURING THE PANDEMIC
“During the pandemic, the Patriarchate made an appeal. I admit - I don't know whether I can say this or not - that I never really believed in these great appeals! You know, there are so many of them, and nobody pays much attention to them. The ones we made appealed to the Knights for aid to the thousands of families left jobless and without prospects due to the COVID-19 emergency. Well, the response was unexpected and went well beyond our expectations. It allowed us to breathe easier as it was possible to help out many families somehow thanks to the generous response of the knights.”
HOW TO LIVE AMONG NON-CHRISTIANS ACCORDING TO SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI
“Saint Francis turned to the friars who were ready to go to the Holy Land, and he recommended that they not seek out arguments and disputes. So what do we learn from this warning? Well, it's part of the First Rule. He said: when you go amongst the “Saracens” and the Holy Land, there are two ways to do this: first, you have to be subjected to all human creatures and then proclaim that Christ is the Lord. Eight hundred years ago, Saint Francis reminded us that a Christian testimony, before it is a direct proclamation, it has to be a lived life. So you must live as Christians, subjected to or submitted to all other human creatures; live by avoiding disputes and arguments, without imposing your ideas or your prospects upon others and then the rest will come, will grow, and when the Spirit will tell, you will proclaim that Christ is the Lord.”
WHAT’S AFTER THE ABU DHABI DECLARATION?
“We are just at the very beginning of this journey. I repeated this more than once when the Abu Dhabi meeting took place. When organizing such an event, we had to look back 800 years to Saint Francis to find a similar event to that of Abou Dhabi. It says a lot about our common history. So, it means that we are at the start of a process that will be very complex because these events are critical, of course, but then they have to become actual life for thousands of people. And that is going to take a long time. It is the long step on a long journey and we want to be part of it.”
Transcription by: Fr. Firas Abedrabbo