“Adam, where are you?” (cf. Gen 3:9). Where are you, o man? What have you come to? …Who corrupted you? Who disfigured you? Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil? Who convinced you that you were god? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god. — Pope Francis, 26 May 2014
Germany, 1945. I am with the triumphant Russian Army in the province of Mecklenburg on the Baltic Sea. I was lodged in a private German house where the owner was a woman still living there. Inadvertently, she asked me where I was from and about my experience during the war. I told her my experience, that my family was killed, my town wiped out, thousands of others murdered. And then she looked at me with a straight face and said “But you bombed our cities!”
This episode comes to my mind when we talk about the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Only the moments that the reporter sees are delivered to the view, without context, without perspective, as if the conflict had just begun at the moment when this particular bomb was dropped. And this is occurring in Gaza, where strangely, after three or sometimes four generations, a majority of the inhabitants are classified as refugees under the supervision and with the support of the United Nations.
When we talk about refugees, we have to ask “Why are there still refugees in camps in Gaza when refugees from other wars have been more quickly resettled or absorbed into the countries in which they were refugees?” How is it that under the auspices of the United Nations these camps have spawned terrorist groups who export their violence to many corners of the world? In Europe, in the United States, and even in some Arab countries like Jordan, refugees were absorbed, and their children were educated and became successful professionals, businesses people, politicians and educators. Why were refugees in Gaza not treated in the same way?
We should consider this a violation of basic human rights: the United Nations by facilitating and financing such a state of affairs has violated the human rights of those who are in the camps. People are not supposed to be in camps for so many years. By sponsoring those camps, by allowing them to exist, by not making a greater effort to resettle those refugees, and by failing to support and facilitate efforts made by others to disband the camps, the UN has failed in its mission and become a violator of the very human rights principles that it proclaims.
There have been refugees after every war, and none of them have been allowed to live in camps supported by the UN for more than a few years. Why is it that in Gaza those who found themselves unable or unwilling to return to their homes have been allowed to remain for as long as 66 years, the better part of a century, with no attempt to settle them permanently? Israeli prime ministers tried during the peace process to suggest disbandment of the camps, but by that time the idea of resettlement was in direct conflict with the idea of the so-called “right of return,” and Yasser Arafat refused to consider negotiating that right.
I believe that the answer has less to do with historical enmities in the Middle East and much more to do with global politics. As time went on, the UN became a hotbed of Cold War politics, a place of contention for support of third world countries. Israel was ground zero in this battle: dozens of resolutions were passed by third-world countries opposing support of Israel simply because the US was in support of Israel.
As I surfed the internet, I came across the story of the visit of the Pope to Jerusalem this past May. And I read the words of his speech “Adam, where are you?”, the words that God said to Adam in the Garden of Eden. So I say to this dis-United Nations “Where are you? Your function is to secure peace among the nations of the world, and instead you have become a tool of the enemies of Israel who waged wars, boycotts, assassinations, and massacres without any consequences. Where have you been, you dis-United Nations?”
As I finished the last line of this blog, the news came that an indefinite truce has been announced. In the rubble-filled streets of Gaza, people burst into shouts of joy. “WE WON!” Thousands killed and many wounded. “We WON!” MIllions spent on building tunnels, obtaining and constructing rockets. Millions more will now be spent on rebuilding. “We won!” I will leave to the mathematicians what could have been done with those millions if they were spent for the benefit of the people of Gaza by helping them find permanent homes. But as it stands now the U.N. and those who provide the funds will “GENEROUSLY” keep the residents of Gaza in misery and despair as Eternal Refugees.
I hope you will all join me in raising this question with your friends as we continue to focus our thoughts and prayers towards a permanent resolution of the conflict in the Middle East. Do not be complacent: Israel may be the current target, but if we do not confront this campaign of hate, vilification, and slander, Israel will not be the last.