A few months ago I visited the Jabaliya camp in Gaza. Its a temporary home for over 52,000 Palestinian refugees administered by the U.N. Its a hodgepodge of cinder block, tin sheet, and scrap wood construction tiny rooms or huts, usually separated by narrow, sandy alleys.
We arrived the morning after a six-day curfew had been lifted. (Curfew means no one leaves their home or even appears in the doorway or window for the 24 hours of the day not for food or water, medicine or relief.) Garbage littered the camp; tattered remnants of Palestinian flags festooned power lines; empty tear gas canisters were proudly shown as trophies by the irrepressible children.
A barbed wire island of security in the middle of the camp housed an Israel Defense Force post. A small garrison of wary, young Israeli soldiers was charged with keeping order among a sea of hostile Arabs. The young soldiers Arab peers were not there to trouble them for the most part the Arab youth were confined in other barbed wire enclaves, in administrative detention.
So much squalor, so much dignity so much courage, so much fear so much hatred, so much talk of peace . My head and my heart were bewildered and grieved.
In 1947 the U.N. voted to partition the mandated territory of Palestine (until the end of World War I, for 400 years a small piece of the Ottoman Turkish empire) and to create of it two states: one Jewish, one Arab. Israel was born then; the birth pangs of the Arab state we witness now.
The Jews who suffered and fought for the right to a homeland gave the world an example; Palestinians now are beginning to emulate it. There was a sea change last December, and an apparently irreversible movement has begun. Ironically, the efforts to control it have nurtured it. For the Israelis it is a rebellion, the world media calls it an uprising, but for the Palestinians it is an intifada a stirring and shaking and making ready of a people.
Since 1949, when the Holy Fathers concern led to the establishment of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, weve tried to help the victims of war and violence in the Holy Land. During the last 21 years of Israeli martial rule of the West Bank and Gaza our humanitarian and charitable assistance has continued, as best we can.
Politics is not our business, but justice and peace for all must be. Seeds for a poor farmer, education for a young woman, dressings for the injured even these small helps may be perceived as political intervention. But, what else can we do? Our hearts and the charity of Christ urge us to keep helping the needy and praying to the One Who is compassionate and merciful.
O, Lord Jesus, you who are a Jew and Palestinian too, be for us all Prince of Peace!
Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA