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7 Aug, 2005

Vatican Shows Islamic World Where & How to Draw The Line

Originally Published: 07 Aug 2005

If the leaders of the Islamic world have been waiting for someone to show them where to draw the line in terms of how far they can be pushed around, the Vatican has just led the way.

On July 29, the leaders of the world’s more than one billion Catholics told Israel that terrorist attacks in Israel cannot always be unilaterally condemned because Israeli reactions to those attacks are “not always compatible with the norms of international law.”

It also told Israel, “Just as the Israeli government understandably does not allow its pronouncements to be dictated by others, neither can the Holy See accept lessons and directives from any other authority concerning the orientation and contents of its own declarations.”

What triggered that strong reaction from the usually unflappable Vatican?

According to the Catholic News Service, the Pope, in his July 24 Angelus address, decried a wave of “abominable terrorist attacks” in Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Britain and called on God to convert the hearts of those responsible for the bloodshed.

On July 25, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing its disappointment that the Pope had not mentioned a July 12 terrorist attack in Netanya. The Jerusalem Post reported [http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1122259872076]:

Open Quote

Nimrod Barkan, director of the Foreign Ministry’s World Jewish Affairs Bureau, called Vatican Archbishop Pietro Sambi into his office to protest what Israel believes was not just an innocent oversight.

Barkan said not condemning terrorism in Israel had been Vatican policy for years, and “now that there is a new pope, we have decided to deal with it.”

“We feel that now that there is a new pope, we need to turn over a new leaf and change the fact that the Vatican refrained in the past from condemning attacks here,” he said. “They need to help the moderates in the Middle East, not the extremists.”

Barkan said that during the reign of Pope John Paul II, Israel “quietly” protested in Rome the pope’s lack of condemnation of attacks in Israel. He said Israel had now decided to go public with the matter to change an entrenched but negative mode of conduct.

Asked to speculate why the previous pope refrained from condemning attacks in Israel, Barkan said: “There are forces in the Vatican pulling in different direction regarding Israel. Since they never paid a price for the lack of a condemnation, they continued to do it. But if they understand we won’t let this pass quietly, I assume they will change their ways.”

If the protest is not effective, “we will have to weigh other steps,” he said.

Barkan said he was not concerned the public protest would damage relations with the new pope. “What could be worse than implying that it is okay to kill Jews? What else am I supposed to do,” he said. End quote

The Vatican did not take kindly to the undiplomatic language and threats by Israel, a “democracy.” This is how it retorted in a note released by Holy See press office: []

Open quote

“The untenability of the groundless accusations directed against Pope Benedict XVI for not having mentioned – in comments following the Angelus prayer on July 24 – the July 12 terrorist attack in Netanya, Israel, cannot but be clear to the people who made them. Perhaps it is also for this reason that an attempt has been made to uphold the accusations by shifting attention to supposed silences of John Paul II on attacks against Israel in past years, even inventing repeated Israeli government petitions to the Holy See on the subject, and requesting that with the new pontificate the Holy See change its attitude.

“On this matter, it should be noted that:

“John Paul II’s declarations condemning all forms of terrorism, and condemning single acts of terrorism committed against Israel, were numerous and public.

“Not every attack against Israel could be followed by an immediate public condemnation. There are various reasons for this, among them the fact that attacks against Israel were sometimes followed by immediate Israeli reactions not always compatible with the norms of international law. It would, consequently, have been impossible to condemn the former and remain silent on the latter.

“Just as the Israeli government understandably does not allow its pronouncements to be dictated by others, neither can the Holy See accept lessons and directives from any other authority concerning the orientation and contents of its own declarations.” End quote

Rightly deciding that he was not going to be cowed, the “new Pope” drew the line right at the outset of his papacy.

The Israeli reaction: Silence, though it is difficult to ascertain whether they are too stunned, or simply biding their time.

The initial exchange had hit the global media, especially the Catholic news networks, and the Israelis are smart enough to know that it’s not in their interests, at the moment, to divert attention from their primary agenda – ensuring that “Islamic terrorism” remains the global lead story and is not over-shadowed in the public eye by any other row.

Now, if Muslim leaders read the Vatican’s response carefully, they will see that it is effectively telling Israel that ‘enough is enough’.

The Vatican has heard enough guilt-trip accusations about Christians looking the other way during the Holocaust, and has done enough since to atone for it.

It also knows well that Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, is located in occupied Palestine, now encircled by an eight-metre high Israeli separation wall, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice. The incarcerating impact of this wall on the people of Bethlehem can be read on: [http://www.bethlehem-city.org/What_is_new/getto.htm]

In other words, Israeli actions are “not always compatible with the norms of international law.” And if they expect the Vatican to denounce Palestinian “terrorism”, it will also in future denounce any future Israeli reaction that it deems incompatible with the norms of international law.

Fair and square. Justice at its best.

So what are the Europeans and Americans, the sanctimonious lovers of human rights, rule of law, freedom and democracy, doing to ensure justice for the Palestinians? Nothing.

And what are the leaders of the Islamic world doing to hold the Europeans and Americans accountable for those double standards? Nothing.

When these double standards are pointed out by Muslim leaders in public places, including mosques, they are called “extremists” who “preach hate”.

It is precisely because the political leaders of the Muslim-majority countries allow themselves to be outfoxed, outclassed and out-negotiated in defending their legitimate rights and concerns – ranging from Palestine to Iraq and Afghanistan — in peaceful dialogue forums like the UN that frustrations boil over within the Muslim world.

As I have asked previously, to what extent and for how long would the people of Thailand tolerate the occupation and living conditions similar to those in Bethlehem before getting enraged enough to act?

Clearly much smarter than the Muslim world’s leadership, the Catholic leadership’s note to Israel highlights the double standards which are the root cause of the injustice and grievances that foment terrorist violence.

These ‘root causes’ are barely mentioned in the one-sided definition of ‘terrorism’ now awaiting approval in the United Nations. Indeed, one of neocon hawk John Bolton’s primary courses of action there will be to pressure the world body to quickly sign off on this definition.

The Vatican’s unequivocal retort suggests that the Jewish state also has to account for its actions. If Islamic leaders, as well as the moderate European and American politicians, truly want to tackle global terrorism, they too should follow the Vatican’s lead and draw the line.