On 8 July 2014, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land issued a statement entitled, “Call for a Courageous Change.” The document is in response to the increasing violence that has followed upon the murder of three Israeli teenagers and the revenge murder of a Palestinian teenager. The response of the Israeli government and the Palestinian organization Hamas has been to escalate the violence and revenge. Each side with some justification sees itself as the aggrieved partner seeking justice, which is often little more than blood vengeance. Each side — again with some justification — sees the other as the aggressor and occupier. As has so often been the case in the past, the conflict conceives itself as a battle of the righteous against the unrighteous and then feeds upon itself getting larger and more violent.
With clarity and courage, the commission analyzes what it sees to be the main forces driving the crisis. The commission also is very clear as to where it sees responsibility on both sides. The statement clearly mentions “the irresponsible language of collective punishment and revenge that breeds violence” and lays responsibility on “many in position of power and political leadership [who] remain entrenched, not only unwilling to enter into any real and meaningful process of dialogue, but also pouring oil on the fire with words and acts that nurture the conflict.”
Following in the path of Pope Francis, the commission in its statement attempts to “speak truth to power.” It recognizes that no side in this conflict is pure victim and no side is pure victimizer. The roles go back and forth. The statement’s critique of that common human trait to see where I am right and my opponent is wrong, while overlooking the instances where I am wrong and my opponent is right, traces its roots to the saying of Jesus, “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own” (Matt 7:3). The commission’s “Call for a Courageous Change” also throws strong light on one of the major problems in the conflict — namely, the mutual demonization of the other.
The statement makes a very important point that is often selectively overlooked in the media: “We need to recognize that resistance to occupation cannot be equated with terrorism. Resistance to occupation is a legitimate right, terrorism is part of the problem.” Throughout the entire document, however, there is the constant call for non-violent solutions and the commission condemns violence regardless of the side from which it originates.
In a region where polarization has become a way of life, “Call for a Courageous Change” is a light shining in the darkness. However, in a region where both sides have become “comfortable” with polarization, one wonders how much impact the document will have.
Read the statement here.