Letter to Pope

Afif Safieh

Director of the Office of representation of the PLO

to the Holy See

The Palestinian General Delegate to the UK

London October 7, 1997

H.H. Pope John Paul II

Apostolic Palace Vatican City

Holy Father,

I wish to express my gratitude for the very moving audience we, the Palestinian Delegation, had with Your Holiness on September 22. It was a tremendous encouragement to our people at an extremely depressing moment in our painful contemporary history.

I have read with great interest your statement made en route towards Brazil a few weeks before the symposium convened by Your Holiness on "Christians and anti-Semitism".

The Agence France Press quotes Your Holiness saying: "It is interesting to see that it is always the Catholic Church and the Pope who apologise while others remain silent". Holy Father, this rare and courageous exercise in soul-searching is what makes me proud to be a Palestinian Roman Catholic. It is a pity that in international relations, up to now at least, it is not good health but sickness which is contagious.

Incapable of attending the seminar, I wish to make the following observations which I hope will be taken into consideration during the proceedings of the above- mentioned symposium:

1. If Jews were the obvious victims of anti-semitism, the Palestinian People were its undeniable indirect victims. Until the early 1930's, Zionism was a minority tendency within Jewish communities all over the world destined to failure and historical oblivion . The accession of Hitler to power and Nazi barbarity ensured its success among Jews in particular and around the world in general. 2. A leading Zionist, decades ago, declared that Zionism will be judged not by the way it treats Jews but by the way it treats the Arabs. I leave to others to address the issue of racial discrimination inflicted on Shepardic Jews but the plight of the Palestinian People, their dispossession and their dispersion, is a daily reminder of an unending and unresolved collective tragedy. 3. Certain circles exploit shamelessly Jewish suffering to try to banalise and trivialise the ordeal of the Palestinian people and use it as a tool of intellectual terrorism to silence justified criticism of Israeli misbehaviours. One often hears " compared to ..." in a way aiming at depriving the Palestinians of the sympathy, solidarity and support they so desperately need. Holy Father, I often wonder how one can quantify pain and measure suffering. Does the planting of a tree justify the uprooting of a human being? Does the planting of a forest justify the expulsion of an entire people? How does one quantify the agony of 50 years of statelessness, of forced diasporisation and/or military occupation? How does one measure the burdens and inhumanity of a life, from birth to death, already for two generations, spent in the misery of refugees camps and the absence of any convincing avenue for hope? 4. The world suffers enormously from questionable and devastating intrusions of religion into the political sphere. For the last few years, commentators usually focus and single out Islamic fundamentalism. Holy Father, I am sure you are aware that Christian fundamentalism and Jewish fundamentalism __ which today is at the heart of the ruling class in Israel as an indispensable coalition partner __ have transformed God into a real estate agent and that crimes against humanity are perpetrated under the guise of " a divine mission for the chosen people in the promised land". I was brought up to believe that God created man in his image. These fundamentalists have themselves created a god after their own image which is absolutely frightening. 5. In the same report, Your Holiness, very justly referred to other holocausts. Few people are aware that, as a result of the emerging alliance between Israel and the Turkish military, influential circles, in the USA and elsewhere, deploy a protective umbrella so that no serious discussion occurs in political circles, in the media and in academia around the Turkish massacres against the Armenian people earlier this century and against the Kurds nowadays.

6. The symposium will address Christian- Jewish relations and Christian responsibilities in the persecution of Jews. I applaud this quest for the truth, reconciliation and justice. In the same spirit and also as a descendent of the first Christian community in the Holy Land, I would welcome a reciprocal study of Jewish attitudes during the persecution and extermination of the early Christians by the Roman Empire and by successive emperors and the silence then that accompanied Christians when they were sent to the circus to amuse the mob and feed the lions. I personally believe that dialogue, historical research and mea culpas should be a double- way traffic.

Holy Father, we the Palestinians, the victims of the victims of European history, the Jews of the Jews, we often wonder if somebody owes us, one day, hopefully soon, a historical apology. Such an apology will undeniably be a tremendous contribution to the badely-needed reconciliation in the Holy Land.

Please accept, Your Holiness, the expression of my highest consideration.

Afif Safieh

Director of the Office of representation of the PLO

to the Holy See

The Palestinian General Delegate to the UK