Father Firas Aridah tolled bells at noon May 14 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jifna, West Bank, to mourn people injured and killed in clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers in Gaza. According to a Catholic News Service report, he also marked the commemoration of the day Palestinians call al-Naqba and lamented the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
On May 14, 1948, Israel declared its independence; Palestinians commemorate that 250,000-300,000 Arabs living in the British mandate of Palestine were forced off their lands and homes at the time.
“Jerusalem is at the heart of the conflict,” Father Aridah said. “Opening the American embassy without resolving the conflict is going to the extreme. They can resolve the conflict of Jerusalem and then do whatever they want. But why just move the embassy to Jerusalem without resolving the conflict?”
An outburst of violence accompanied the inauguration of the embassy. Israeli forces responded, and 57 Palestinians along the Gaza border were shot and killed May 13.
In December, Pope Francis voiced profound concern over the embassy move, urging respect for “the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.”
The United States must move closer to the goal of unity and away from deeper divisions and increased hatred, conflict and violence, which the U.S. seems to have stoked by moving the embassy.
The Vatican supports a “two-state solution” for Israel and Palestine, with both entities existing in peace and security within internationally recognized borders. At the same time, the Vatican consistently has called for a special status for Jerusalem, particularly its Old City, in order to protect and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its central importance to Jews, Christians and Muslims explains why, despite recognizing the state of Israel, no nation had its embassy in the holy city.
In his earlier appeal, Pope Francis hoped that wisdom and prudence would prevail to avoid adding new elements of tension to a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts. Unfortunately, the U.S. action seems neither wise nor prudent.
Extremists on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict share blame for blocking efforts for peace, of course. Violent protests aren’t the way to secure progress. An unending blockade means the people of the West Bank suffer with high unemployment and barriers to reaching its potential. Israelis need to be free from violence that has been inflicted upon them. People on both sides share the same aspirations for a peaceful coexistence. A diplomatic solution that respects the legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians and promotes a just peace must be our goal.
The United States must do its part in promoting peace and bringing both sides together, not tearing them apart.