Prayer for Just and Lasting Peace – July 2006

The horrific cycle of violence in the Middle East is destroying the lives of innocent people on all sides of the conflict. It is also destroying the hopes for negotiations and accommodations that could lead to a just peace that would offer genuine security to Israelis, a viable state for Palestinians and real independence for the Lebanese people.

As Catholics and Americans, we should be deeply and urgently concerned about the human costs, the moral implications and future consequences of these unfolding events. Policies and actions proposed to address the conflict must take as their point of departure the fundamental dignity of the human person, for no lasting peace can be built without successfully resolving the situations of objective injustice that have existed too long in the region.

Hamas and Hezbollah both precipitated this present crisis with their cross border attacks, abductions and their indefensible rocket and missile attacks on Israeli citizens, both Jews and Arabs. These acts of terrorism rightly deserved the condemnation of all people of good will. These radical armed groups (and their supporters in Syria and Iran) bear the blame for initiating the current cycle of violence. Israel clearly has a right to defend itself.

However, at the same time, as Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, said, Israel’s right to self-defense “does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations.” Israel’s response has been in some instances militarily disproportionate and indiscriminate. Punishment of entire peoples for the indefensible acts of militant armed factions contradicts traditional just war norms.

Because of the massive counterattacks on civilian areas and infrastructure, blockades and other acts of war, a serious humanitarian crisis is looming in both Gaza and Lebanon.

Violence, from whatever side, for whatever purpose, cannot bring a lasting or just peace in the Land that Jews, Muslims and Christians call holy. For this reason, Pope Benedict XVI in asking that Sunday July 23 be a day of prayer for peace in the region called for an immediate ceasefire and asked that the warring parties allow that “humanitarian corridors” be opened in order to bring help to the suffering people. The United States also can and must play an important role in ending this current cycle of violence and in helping to meet the immediate needs of thousands of displaced innocents.

There are brave and wise people on both sides who seek a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a solution that would see two states living side by side in peace with each other. Their efforts are undermined by this recurrent cycle of terrorist attacks, deliberate provocations and disproportionate military responses.

Likewise, Lebanon’s struggle to free itself from outside domination and from becoming once again a bloody pawn in the broader Middle East conflict is also undermined by the morally indefensible bombing of innocent civilians.

Karl von Clausewitz, a 19th century Prussian general, said that “war is politics pursued by other means.” Yet given the complexities of the Middle East, “might makes right” policies are condemned to fail. Only genuine dialogue and negotiations can bring a lasting and just peace to the region. May we make our own the prayers of Pope Benedict XVI, “So that the beloved peoples of the Middle East are able to abandon the path of armed confrontation and build, with boldness and dialogue, a just and lasting peace.”