.- Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Bishop of Mainz and President of the German Bishops Conference, responded today to criticism over comments a few German bishops made regarding the situation of Palestinians in Israel. Lehmann said that while some of his brothers made harsh statements about the wall between Israeli and Palestinian territories, they do not deny Israel’s right to defend itself.
"Hard expressions are not to be confused with a global judgment on the whole situation," Cardinal Lehmann said in response to criticisms of Avner Shalev, Director of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
Shalev had sent a letter to Lehmann complaining about comments made by two German bishops which he felt compared conditions in the West Bank to the Holocaust.
The Diocese of Eichstaett’s Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke was reported by Germany's “Sueddeutsche Zeitung” as commenting on the bishops’ recent trip to the Holy Land, noting that they saw "photos of the inhuman Warsaw ghetto at Yad Vashem in the morning, and in the evening we go to the ghetto in Ramallah - that blows your lid off."
According to the report, Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa also spoke of ghetto-like conditions and described the [West Bank] situation as nearly racism.
The Israeli’s have continued to extend a “security fence” in the West Bank, in part to prevent terrorist attacks. While the fence has reportedly caused a dramatic reduction of terrorism against Israeli citizens, it has been criticized internationally as greatly limiting the freedom of Palestinians, preventing their free movement, retarding their economic growth, and greatly reducing their access to medical facilities.
In his statement today Lehmann explained that “in the Palestinian territories, some bishops perceived a high tension owing to the oppressive situation, above all, near the safety fences and the walls of Bethlehem.”
The bishops’ were astonished and made some harsh statements, but “some of them were not adequate at all,” he admitted. However, he continued, such statements regarding the condition of Palestinians "must not be confused with a global judgment on the whole situation, based on an accurate examination of contexts, and of all the points of view.”
“Those who expressed themselves with hard tones about the situation in the independent territories, too, do not actually question the terrorism threat suffered by the Israeli people at all", and they "unconditionally profess the right to existence and self-defense of the State of Israel", confirmed the cardinal.
According to Lehmann, "hurting the sentiments of the people surviving the Shoah, or of the Hebrew population in Israel, has never been the intention of anyone. The German bishops are aware of their particular historical responsibility.”
The Cardinal’s response two days after the German Bishops’ Conference spokesman, Fr. Hans Langendörfer expressed similar sentiments. In his statement Fr. Langendörfer note that in all his speeches while in the Holy Land, “Cardinal Karl Lehmann expressly underlined the right for the State of Israel to exist, even though this right is still questioned by some parties, also with reference to the threat of terrorism suffered by its citizens."
Therefore, he added, "one cannot talk about the fact that the German bishops demonized one part of the conflict and had double standards: it is rather the opposite.”
Langendörfer also noted that the remarks of the two bishops sprang from the "emotional involvement of single individuals", and that those words had already been "corrected in a self-critical way."