Following the agreement of an indefinite ceasefire in Gaza earlier this week, a key priest in Jerusalem says the only way for it to last is if both sides overcome dehumanizing prejudices of the other.
“Until there is a real dialogue that starts where the two sides see the other side in its full human reality, we can't really talk about the beginning of a process that will lead us to peace,” Father Neuhaus told CNA Aug. 28.
One of the patriarchal vicars of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Fr. Neuhaus is also responsible for Hebrew speaking Catholics in his diocese and a large population of migrant workers and asylum seekers in the country.
The long-term ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip was negotiated by Egypt, and took effect at 7 p.m. (4 p.m. GMT) Tuesday, ending seven weeks of fighting which has left more than 2,200 people dead, most of them Palestinians.
According BBC News, Palestinian officials stated that the ceasefire proposal called for an indefinite end to hostilities, an immediate opening of Gaza's access to Israel and Egypt, and an extension of the area's Mediterranean fishing zone.
The agency reports that immediately Israel was to end its blockade of Gaza in order to allow aid and building materials in. Further discussion on issues of greater tension, such as Israel's call for a disarming of militant groups in Gaza, and the release of Hamas prisoners in the West Bank, are set to begin in Cairo within a month.
Despite the great feeling of relief on both sides to have an end to the last 50 days of intense fighting in Gaza – which he expects will take roughly 15 years to fully repair – Fr. Neuhaus said that now begins the great task of Israelis and Palestinians in learning to view each other as neighbors rather than enemies.
The question of putting themselves in each other's shoes is “a very, very difficult question and perhaps the most difficult question we face,” he said.
In order to come to a position in which Israelis and Palestinians can really speak to one another, we “need a real lesson in language where we will cease to use with such ease the terms that confine the other in an almost satanic role.”
Drawing attention to rapid resolution to past conflicts in South Africa, Fr. Neuhaus stated that although there is still a long way to go for Israel and Palestine, it doesn’t necessarily mean a “long distance to travel in time.”
“What we need – and this we need desperately – are leaders who are creative enough to propose meaningful discourse to those people who are living in these situations so that they can open their eyes and open their ears and take in the reality of the other.”
However, currently “We live in a society based on the building of walls: the walls that you see and the walls that cannot be seen, which are probably even higher in the hearts of the people who live there,” he said, noting that “Behind those walls is 'another' that I don't want to see.”
Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land in May “was a moment of great triumph of this discourse” of humanization, Fr. Neuhaus observed, and pointed to the June invocation for peace held in the Vatican with the Pope, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, and the Israeli and Palestinian presidents as a further step forward.
Holding this prayer inside the Vatican was as if the Pope were saying to the presidents, “Please, put yourselves before God. Put yourselves before God as you speak, as you act towards the other and see that as God’s children God has no favorites,” he continued.
“God loves all of God's children. And it is God who has planted these children right in this land, so they need to find ways to relate to one another.”
As for the length of this latest ceasefire, Fr. Neuhaus explained that although he is not “not a prophet so I cannot tell how long it will last,” his is “a person of prayer and I pray that it lasts.”
“I pray that it lasts so that people can put their lives together. I pray that it lasts so that people can get some critical perspective on the behavior of their governments on both sides that led us into the escalated violence we've just been through. I hope it lasts long enough so that children can get enough sleep and start slowly to get back to the normal life of a child.”
“I think it's very, very important that we also begin to speak a language of hope,” the priest reflected.
Drawing attention to the important role of the Church in fostering this dialogue, he stated that she “does speak and needs to speak even louder a language of possibilities and alternatives.”
She needs to speak “of a prophetic vision for what the Holy Land could be if Jews, Christians and Muslims, if Palestinians and Israelis really could live together and build up that land as a blessing for one and all.”