So the Pope won't be visiting Gaza on his trip to the Holy Land next month. The Holy Father's spokesman has told the Israeli press that he’ll refrain from visiting Gaza regardless of attempts to persuade him otherwise. ‘Refrain’ is a telling choice of words: "the Pope will refrain from visiting Gaza...." It smacks of abstinence, as in abstaining from having sex. Setting foot in Gaza would be so sinful that it is forbidden.
Gaza's isolated and besieged Catholic community are none too happy judging by the reaction of their redoubtable priest Fr Manuel Mussallam, who feels the Holy Father’s trip is miss-timed. "We will ask him why he came, what he intends saying to the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims and why he isn't coming to Gaza," he said. "We'll tell him that this is not the right moment to come and visit the holy places, while Jerusalem is occupied."
Bad timing or not, if the Pope arrives in Palestine he must visit Gaza or it’ll look as if he doesn’t give a damn about the human condition in the very land where Christianity was born. He might as well hammer one more nail into Christendom’s coffin.
We've seen quite enough wishy-washy conduct by Christian leaders in the face of Israel’s defilement of the Holy Land. Last November, while the Israeli regime was planning its knockout blitzkrieg against Gaza's Muslims and Christians after blockading and starving them for 2 years, we in the West were treated to the spectacle of the Archbishop of Canterbury joining the Chief Rabbi on a visit to Auschwitz to show joint solidarity against extreme hostility and genocide. The Archbishop called it "a place of utter profanity" and spoke of the collective corruption and moral sickness that made the Holocaust possible.
Will these two visit Gaza in the same spirit? The scale of horror may be different but the moral sickness and corruption are the same. And this being the Holy Land the profanity is many times worse.
The Pope too has been to Auschwitz to pray for the people murdered there. "I had to come here as a duty to truth and to those that suffered," he said and talked of the Nazis' mania for destruction and domination, well aware that the same thing was being perpetuated in the Holy Land.
So why isn’t he just as keen to come and pray for those in Gaza - Muslim and Christian - who have been subjugated and cruelly slaughtered or maimed or made homeless? Has his 'duty to truth' evaporated? According to the Pope’s itinerary he'll be turning up at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Western (Wailing) Wall, and hob-nobbing with Israel’s two chief rabbis. But not with his heroic priest in Gaza.
My last visit to Gaza was in 2007. I wrote then:
“Fuel is running out, so are basics like washing powder. Shattered infrastructure and food shortages mean serious public health problems. Power cuts disrupt hospitals and vital drugs cannot be kept refrigerated. Thousands look death in the face as medicare collapses.”
A friend emailed: “Today in Gaza we have no cement to build graves for those who die.”
The subjugation and dispossession of Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land continues.
It remains a mystery to me why our largely Christian (but increasingly Muslimised) democracy in Britain slavishly supports the Middle East ethnocracy that’s doing this.
Today things are much, much worse and Gazans need to be shown that the Christian Church cares about them even if nobody else does. So where are these magnificently robed and mitred Men of God when needed?
I hear the temperature in Gaza today is 36ºC, an unimaginable torment amid the dust and rubble, the stench of untreated sewage, the lack of running water and the continual power cuts. A little too rugged for the Holy Father perhaps, and for the Archbishop and the Chief Rabbi.
- Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation.