05/07/2024, 11.37
Send to a friend

Gaza, Abbot Schnabel: the ‘scandal’ of Christian forgiveness and the war that ‘de-humanises’

by Dario Salvi

The German-born Benedictine who leads the Dormition Monastery stigmatises the ‘fanatical’ attitude while ‘people are suffering, dying’. The opposing front seen as ‘monster’ or ‘animal’ to justify the violence. The rise to power of the ultra-right Ben-Gvir government has led to an escalation in anti-Christian attacks in the Old City. Like Jesus prayer and forgiveness in response to hatred, the way to reconciliation.

Milan (AsiaNews) - Outside there is a "mistaken perception" of the events that are happening in the Holy Land in recent months, people "do not seem to grasp the situation" misunderstanding it, almost as if they were spectators "of a football match" with the opposing fans to support their team: one part "waves Israeli flags", others "the Palestinian ones" but "it's not a game", because here "people suffer, many die". In these hours in which the hopes of a truce and further military actions on the battlefield alternate dramatically, Abbot Nikodemus Schnabel, a Benedictine of German origin at the helm of the Basilica of the Dormition on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, forcefully insists on the erroneous and misleading vision of the war in Gaza, triggered by the (terrorist) attack by Hamas on 7 October.

“In this way - explains the religious person reached by telephone by AsiaNews who is also the head of the Monastery in Tabgha - the point of the issue is lost, which is why I invite all parties to stop, to put an end to the logic of hashtags whether 'standwithisrael' or freepalestine' which do not help to understand the profound reasons for the conflict. For me it is impossible to choose one of the two sides." Continuing his reflection, he does not hide criticism even for those who say that we should be in solidarity with Israel because it has suffered or with the Palestinians because they are victims of oppression. “This is not the way,” he observes, “because flags and borders are created by human beings” and are, in many cases, an element “of confusion: we are talking about human beings”.

'Dehumanize' the conflict

Born in December 1978 in Stuttgart, Germany, the Benedictine has lived in the Holy Land for some time and is among the leading experts on the Eastern Church. Already administrator of the Dormition and patriarchal vicar of migrants for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem from 2021 to 2023, on May 28 last year he was enthroned as abbot of the basilica in Jerusalem. A place of worship located in an area which, even in the past, has experienced moments of tension and is no stranger to episodes of sectarian violence or attacks by Jewish extremist groups. Abbot Nikodemus himself was spat upon on more than one occasion by extremists while, on one occasion, the Israeli authorities also asked him to remove his cross while he was near the Wailing Wall, outside the area reserved for Jews for prayer. Words which, according to the religious man, betrayed the lack of respect and denial of rights by the current leadership in power, as well as representing a clear violation of religious freedom.

In Striscia he observes with concern a growing "de-humanization of the conflict", which is evident from the declarations, as well as from the events on the ground: "The Israeli Defense Minister - he underlines - who defines those who launched the attack as 'animals' October 7. And the same Hamas propaganda, according to which Israelis are monsters. As an ecclesiastic - he points out - I would like to remember that we are talking about human beings. Of Christians, Jews, Muslims who live together and who, like every human being, are equal." A "de-humanization" he repeats, insisting on the definition, which he considers "very problematic" and is reflected in a vision characterized by "opposing fans", while the issue must be addressed in depth. “Before even talking about dialogue – he explains – we must think that we are dealing with people”. And stop exploiting personal tragedies on both sides, to "arouse emotion and empathy" and justify actions.

Extremists in government

Behind the explosion of violence, the radicalisation, the polarization of the parties involved which not only gave rise to the conflict in the Strip but is at the basis of the attacks against Christians (progressively increasing) there is the rise to power of the current government in Israel at the end of 2022. Starting from the Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, among the supporters of this "explosion of violence and the escalation of attacks" which lead Abbot Nikodemus to define last year as "horrible for Christians : acts of vandalism, spitting, desecration of cemeteries, physical and verbal attacks" were a crescendo until October 7, a date that represented "a collective shock" that profoundly affected behavior. Since December "the attacks have resumed, but what has changed compared to the past - he observes - is that the current executive justifies and supports these" violent actions against Christians, in open violation of human rights and religious freedom. More than a confessional problem, today in the Holy Land we are faced with a "political problem" that originates from the highest institutional positions in the country.

Abbot Nikodemus recalls what happened in 2015 when a series of fires hit some important Christian places of worship, at the time condemned by most institutions starting from President Reuven Rivlin. Among these we remember the convent of Saint Charbel of the Maronites in Bethlehem and the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, on the north-western shore of Lake Tiberias. The then lawyer Ben-Gvir defended the extremists in court, supporting these actions on an ideological and practical level. "Now this man - underlines the cleric - is responsible for my safety, today he is in government and this is the problem". In the past, he continues, extremists "spit on me at night, almost secretly, while now they do it in broad daylight and even in front of the cameras, openly, because they feel legitimized. They also tried to deprive me of the cross... that's why we are faced with a political problem, rather than a religious one and it is unacceptable." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "is looking at how to survive" and to do so he has not hesitated to compromise with the radical, extremist and Jewish supremacist wing which does not bother to condemn sectarian violence, on the contrary it legitimizes it. This is why we must recognise, and admit, that "we also have the problem of the hatred of Jewish extremists against Christians and that Israel is no longer that 'paradise' for Christians and the only democracy in the Middle East".

The Christian “scandal”.

Returning to October 7, the abbot of the Dormition recalls the tribute of blood shed by Christians "with the four Filipino migrants killed by Hamas" and "an Indian Catholic hit by Hezbollah rockets" in the following weeks. And again "the 32 Catholics of Gaza" killed by the Israeli army in the war against the extremist movement that controls the Strip and this despite "the community being peaceful and having nothing to do with Hamas. Nothing - he states - justifies their killing and the same goes for Filipinos who are not involved in the occupation, with the incursions" of the army with the Star of David into the Territories or "the actions of settlers and Jewish extremists". To the violence in a part of the country, endorsed by the ruling class, the abbot of the Dormition contrasts dialogue, discussion and collaboration with civil society and religious leaders "who believe in coexistence and share my vision of Jerusalem as an open city" to monotheistic religions.

“As Christians - he recalls - we must be aware that we are a small minority, we cannot really be a bridge between Jews and Muslims, between Israelis and Palestinians. For this reason we must be more authentic, value the difference in languages and cultures because our community is made up of Palestinians, Israelis, immigrants from Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, from Europe with a distinctive trait that unites: baptism. Last November 2nd we celebrated a touching mass for the Filipino victims killed by Hamas, during which in the first intercession we prayed to God asking him to protect our brothers and sisters in Gaza". This, he underlines, is precisely "the human vision that contrasts with the prevailing dehumanization". Finally, the religious underlines an element that "can perhaps scandalise" but which is in contrast to "extreme polarisation: each of the two sides suffers and asks for prayers for their victims - concludes Abbot Nikodemus - but I reply that we must have the courage to pray for enemies. A mass for those who hate us: this is the answer according to the teaching of Jesus, the only way of reconciliation."


Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
Sharm el-Sheikh summit, a positive and encouraging step, says Nuncio in Jerusalem
Gaza parish priest: despite COVID-19, Easter is a time of lively participation for Christians
03/04/2021 11:53
Holy Land Coordination to focus annual visit on peace and Gaza Christians
09/01/2020 16:56
Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
24/06/2016 13:47
The Pope was always close to the sufferings of the peoples of the Holy Land, says Patriarch Sabbah


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”