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Translation of an article to be published
in Ma'ariv on March 27, 2000

A visit to Israel:
The Polish Priest

by Uri Avnery

I looked at the Pope and was envious. I envied the Catholics for such a leader. A fragile, sick old man, standing for hours out in the wind and, speaking about the suffering of others and sending a message of justice and the love of man. A message that came from the heart, for this man has proven himself : Once he carried on his back a worn-out, strange Jewish woman who was on her way back to Krakow from the horrible camps of the Holocaust.

Unlike so many of our rabbis, he did not curse, he did not call for self-isolation, he did not preach the rejection of the other, the stranger and the different. He opened his arms to the world.

His is the language of symbols. His words were measured, but his real message was transmitted in symbolic acts, in gestures, in body language and facial expressions. When he kissed the earth in two places, when he went towards the Holocaust survivors (instead the other way round), when he visited Dheishe refugee camp (which is not a Christian holy place), when he went to the Rabbinate. This is a language that goes straight to the hearts of hundred of millions.

When he was standing in the darkness of the memorial hall of Yad Vashem, his head dropped, his face tortured, mere words were superfluous. At that moment, the earth devoured the Holocaust-deniers wherever they are. Billions around the globe sense the bottomless evil of that awful happening. Even many Palestinians, who tend to perceive the Holocaust as a Zionist propaganda ploy.

A day before the visit to Yad Vashem, when he visited the Palestinian refugee camp, he transmitted in his own way that the tragedy of one people does not obliterate the tragedy of another, that no scales can weight their respective suffering. He took into his shaking hands the heart of the Palestinian refugees, the neglected and forgotten people, and put it on the table of humanity.

When he kissed the Israeli earth, he gave the blessing of the church to the existence and wellbeing of the Israeli state. When he kissed the Palestinian earth, he gave the blessing of the church to the State of Palestine. One picture of the pope's face in Bethlehem, flanked by Palestinian flags, was enough to finalize the world-wide consensus that the Palestinian people are entitled to proclaim their state this year, for historical justice and for peace with Israel.

Every second of this visit was rich in emotions, symbols and gestures. Even the political messages - and they were many - were expressed in this language. Unfortunately, this is a foreign language to Israeli leaders, both political and spiritual. Even when they at long last started on the way to peace in Oslo, they were unable to make even one single real gesture from the heart, that would have entered the hearts and created a spirit of peace. Every "gesture", such as releasing prisoners and giving back land., was the outcome of endless haggling, humiliations, accusations and postponements, so that in the end they were nothing but dry peelings.

Between the Pope and Yassir Arafat - himself a master of gestures - there was an immediate click. With Ehud Barak, who suspects and scorns emotions, no such click was possible.

Even before the end of the visit, Israelis started to quarrel about who won and who lost. The answer is: Peace won. The enemies of peace on both sides lost. Yassir Arafat gained ground with his own people, because the visit clearly proves that his peace policy bears fruit, puts the Palestinian cause on the world agenda and achieves, step after step, world-wide recognition for Palestinian independence. Israel gained by his ringing statement against anti-Semitism and his making the world, and especially the young, aware again of the terrible legacy of the Holocaust.

I am an atheist. I do nor believe in any religion - neither the Jewish one I was born into nor any other. I strongly reject the ultra-conservative views of this Pope in many fields. But I deeply admire his personality. How wonderful it would be, if contemporary Jewish religion were able to produce such a person, instead of so many hate-preachers, amulet-peddlers and Goyim-bashers (whenever such a opportunity arises.)

This visit was not a passing episode, a TV event that will fade away tomorrow. This Polish priest entered many hearts, aroused admiration and impressed unforgettable pictures in our memory. He enriched our spiritual world. Like the Israelite prophets long ago, he motivated us, even ever so slightly, to listen to the Other, to do justice, to be better human beings.


Gush Shalom
[Visit the Settlement Special]

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