11/11/2006, 00.00
HOLY LAND
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"Death of hope" defeated by commitment of Europe and America

by p. David-Maria A. Jaeger, ofm

A Franciscan priest of the Holy Land, David-Maria A. Jaeger OFM, reflects on the "death of hope" in so many hearts in Israel and Palestine and yet discerns prospects for peace, attainable only through a renewed alliance of Europe and the United States, based on the rediscovery of shared spiritual roots.

Jersualem (AsiaNews) – Even the most hardened observer of the unending tragedy in the Holy Land could not hold back tears at the reports of seventeen members of the same extended family killed by artillery fire the other day, in a little town in the northern Gaza Strip, along with other civilian casualties. From the smallest child to an octogenarian grandparent, they were all felled as one.

While the number of victims in a single incident has drawn such extraordinary attention, the deaths of innocents have been occurring almost "regularly," as it were, with no end in sight. No end in sight either for the terror that unremittingly afflicts the residents of the portion of Israel that borders on Gaza Strip, as they live under the continuing threat – and reality – of the missiles hurled at them from across the border.

Forecasts of only more blood and tears to come are now the "norm" on both sides of the border, spoken with grim determination, as if in some fictional tale of seemingly endless tribal enmity, in which the only object is to see who, when the end does come, will be the "Last Man Standing".

 This indeed is what strikes the observer most: The apparent death of hope. Hope appears dead because there is, as a matter of fact, no present plan, no present project, to bring about peace. At most what is being talked about anywhere is some sort of "reduction in the level of violence." Talk of peace seems to all to be but a pitiable delusion.

Given all that the two peoples of the Holy Land have been through over the last six years or so, this may be a bitter but not a surprising observation. Truly surprising, on the other hand, is the seeming complacency with which "the world" is looking on.. All, it seems, are simply staring at the tragedy unfolding before their eyes, as if it were no more than one of those despicable "reality shows" on television.

It is evident indeed that there is almost no realistic possibility of the Israeli and the Palestinian Nations themselves initiating peace negotiations at this time. The botched attempts of the last decade, the blood that has flowed in the present decade, the reciprocal demonisation and dehumanisation, all of these increasingly deter the governing circles of the two Nations from embarking by themselves on the path that leads to peace.

It is, therefore, equally evident that "the world" must take up the initiative again - and this time decisively, seeing it through to a successful conclusion. The time is over – if there ever was a time – for the arcane alchemies of road maps to nowhere. The time is over for talking about a virtual-reality "peace process" as a substitute for peace itself.

Curiously though, just as the situation on the ground continues to degenerate, new opportunities are arising for it to be definitively remedied. The President of the United States, in the final two-year stretch of his second (and last) term, is in a uniquely propitious position to take up once more the Peace Conference, which his father convened, and thus to leave a legacy of unprecedented achievement, and to enhance America's prestige among the nations, as the standard-bearer of liberty, working generously to secure freedom and justice for all, with peace and security.

In Europe too, something new is stirring, although so far mostly beneath the visible surface. The Old Continent may have had enough, for a while, of its self-referential struggles to define itself, and may be coming to the realisation that its "identity" may be better found in turning outwards, that it may best "find itself" in putting its vast material and moral resources to work for others.

Whatever the stalled European "constitution" may or may not say explicitly about Europe's roots, it cannot be denied that these "roots" are to be found, in large part, precisely in the Holy Land, and that Europe's future too is significantly tied to that of the Near East.

Not surprisingly, Italy, the trusted friend of both Arabs and Israelis, to whom it pledges "equal closeness", may well provide leadership in this area, or so sources within its governing majority are now telling me.

All in all, it should be the best kind of triumph for "Western civilisation," if the United States and Europe now powerfully rediscovered their essential alliance precisely in joining together in this purposeful making of peace for the Holy Land, their common spiritual homeland.

Should not peace now unite those whom war so recently divided?

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