How can the Church promote peace in the Holy Land?

As conflict has erupted once again between Israelis and Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarchal Vicar said that the Catholic Church has a unique role to play in bringing about justice and peace.

“When two religious communities lay claim to the same area, we have a recipe for disaster, particular when members of the two communities are also involved in a political, territorial and historical conflict,” Fr. David M. Neuhaus told CNA July 24.

“The Church has a very special vocation in Israel/Palestine. Without power of any kind, the Church is free from playing political games and can be a voice that speaks out for truth, justice and peace.”

The Church has important assets “to contribute to building a reality of justice and peace instead of the war and violence that dominate,” he said.

The site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, where the al-Aqsa Mosque is located, was the scene of another round of violence last week when Israeli authorities installed metal detectors at the entrances of the mosque.

Palestinian objection to the metal detectors manifested in mass protests and escalated to include the killing of three Israelis at a Jewish settlement July 21. Four Palestinians were killed in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The controversial metal detectors were removed by Israeli security forces early Tuesday morning.

Fr. Neuhaus said that it can be very difficult to discern what is true and false in the conflict because each side has its own vision of what is happening.

“Why is it so difficult to find a solution to this conflict? Perhaps one part of the difficulty is that each one of the two sides believes in the total justice of its cause and is unwilling to listen with empathy to the other side,” he said.

In the face of these clashes, the Church’s political neutrality has an important role to play, stemming from two important assets, he emphasized.

“One is the Church’s way of speaking, formulating words carefully, words that are built on truth, that teach respect and that promote justice and peace. This language is not diplomatic but rather language that works for reconciliation in the respect of truth.”

The second comes from the Church’s “vast network” of institutions, including schools, universities, hospitals, and homes for the elderly, orphans, the handicapped, and more, he said.

“In these institutions, the discourse of the Church is incarnated as the institutions serve one and all with no discrimination, showing that coexistence in mutual respect is not only possible but is the way forward that can open up the future, offering hope for the next generation.”

In the current controversy, Israel maintains it installed the metal detectors as a safety measure after three Arab Israeli gunmen smuggled homemade machine guns into the al-Aqsa Mosque July 14, shooting and killing two Israeli policemen.

Palestinians claim the metal detectors were a way for Israel to enact more control over access to the site, which is governed by a status quo arrangement which Israel has said it will maintain.

East Jerusalem has been occupied by Israel since its victory in 1967’s Six-Day War.

Israelis seem to live in perpetual fear and Palestinians in unrelenting anger, Fr. Neuhaus said. “Unfortunately, those who speak the language of reason and understanding are unable to garner the support of the masses, who buy into the simplistic slogans of the dominant political elites.”

The political authority in Israel “repeats that it is not changing the status quo and insists on this particularly in front of the international community,” Fr. Neuhaus said.

But at the same time, there are radicals in Israel “who explicitly endorse a change in the status quo” and have been supported in instances by government ministries.

“The central problem is not restricting access to Al-Aqsa but rather the fear that the Israelis seek to replace Al-Aqsa with a Jewish Temple.”

“Any change to the status quo, however minor, is perceived as preparation for a hidden master plan that Palestinians (and the entire Muslim world) formulate as their worst nightmare. The Israelis are fully aware that this is the case as every threat to the status quo has erupted in similar violence in the past.”

Though the status quo for Christians and their holy places (like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) is less threatened, the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis only serves to worsen the political divide already present among Christians – split between those who are Arabs and thus form one with their Muslim brothers and sisters, and those integrated with the Jewish side.

“Nonetheless, Jewish extremists have manifested their refusal to coexist with Christians in the Holy Land through attacks on churches and other Christian holy sites,” Fr. Neuhaus explained.

Because Christians only make up 2-3 percent of the overall population, they are particularly vulnerable under the ongoing instability and violence, he continued, but “Christians are determined to struggle for full integration in their society, whether Palestinian or Israeli, demanding equal rights and mutual respect.”

“In times of conflict, the Christians are even more insistent in their prayers for peace.”

Miguel Perez Pichel contributed to this report.

By Hannah Brockhaus



  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    The solution is pretty simple – and not so simple. The simple part is – we can have religion or we can have peace, the not so simple part is that we can’t have both at the same time. Peace and religion are not compatible. Never have been. Never will be. They are based on my tribe vs your tribe, us versus them, saved versus damned; they are all about separation and division, and no religion in history has ever produced as much separation and division as Christianity, so the Catholic Church is hardly in a position to be helpful.
    My idea…. assemble a large number of secular Jews, people who are prominent in all walks of life – business, law, art, science, philosophy, etc. and have them all sign a treatise that announces that they reject the concept of a chosen people and a chosen land, and call upon fellow Jews to do the same. Acknowledge in a very public way, to the whole world, that we must stop killing each other over mythology. The treatise would describe the five crumbled pillars that once supported the foundation for the Abrahamic gods: No six day creation, no two-person DNA bottleneck, no global flood, no mass Exodus from Egypt and no conquest of Canaan. It would point out that the foundation for the Abrahamic gods had washed away, and that it makes no sense to continue to fight over religion. This treatise would imply that Israel give up any land. They were given the land by the UN, not by some god, and they should be able to stay, but they should drop any reference to being chosen people with a promised land and maintain a strictly secular government.
    Muslims would be thrilled at the acknowledgement that there is no chosen people or promised land, but they would have to deal with the foundation for their god being debunked as well. The whole idea is to start the discussion we all need to have, about how to get these ancient mythologies that once served a useful function, out of the way so that we can move civilization forward again. The Catholic Church is too busy with its own financial and sex scandals to pretend to have any moral high ground from which to contribute.

  2. Peter Aiello Reply

    I think that Palestinians are angry because the Arabs have not been able to remove Israel from the Middle East.
    After the 1967 war, Arabs were given administrative control of the Temple Mount, but Jews still cannot pray there. It is the holiest site of Judaism.
    Before 1967, Jews were not allowed into East Jerusalem. Jews captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 war in which Jordan attacked Israel. Can it be morally and legitimately said that Israel is “occupying” East Jerusalem, regardless of what the rest of the world says?

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