· Vatican City ·

Interview with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin

Attack on Israel ‘inhuman’ legitimate defense should not harm civilians

People gather and light candles to show solidarity with Israel and remember the victims following an ...
13 October 2023

“The Holy See is ready for any necessary mediation, as always.” Six days after the terrorist attack on Israel, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, describes the attack last Saturday as “inhuman”. He also reiterates Pope Francis’ appeal for the release of all hostages held by Hamas, and calls for proportionality in Israel’s legitimate defense.

The Cardinal expresses concern for the civilian casualties in Gaza due to bombings, emphasizing that despite the ongoing events a truly just peace requires a two-state solution, “which would allow Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side in peace and security.”

Your Eminence, all conflicts are terrible, but as we learned last Saturday, there has been a crescendo of unprecedented cruelty. We are witnessing a total loss of humanity. Do you think there is still room to avoid the worst?

The terrorist attack carried out by Hamas and other militias last Saturday against thousands of Israelis who were about to celebrate the day of Simchat Torah, concluding the week of the Sukkot festival, is inhuman. The Holy See expresses complete and firm condemnation.

Furthermore, we are concerned for the men, women, children, and the elderly held hostage in Gaza. We express our solidarity with the affected families, the vast majority of whom are Jewish, and we pray for them, for those still in shock, for the wounded.

It is necessary to regain a sense of reason, abandon the blind logic of hatred, and reject violence as a solution. It is the right of those who are attacked to defend themselves, but even legitimate defense must respect the parameter of proportionality.

I do not know how much room for dialogue there can be between Israel and the Hamas militia, but if there is — and we hope there is — it should be pursued immediately and without delay. This is to avoid further bloodshed, as is happening in Gaza, where many innocent civilian victims have been caused by the Israeli army’s attacks.

Pope Francis reiterates that peace is built on justice. There is no peace that is not just. How is this call for justice for both parties in conflict articulated today?

Peace can only be based on justice. The Latins liked to say, “Opus iustitiae pax,” there can be no peace among men without justice. It seems to me that the greatest possible justice in the Holy Land is the two-state solution, which would allow Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side in peace and security, meeting the aspirations of the majority.

This solution, which is supported by the international community, has recently seemed to some, on both sides, to be no longer feasible. For others, it never was. The Holy See is convinced of the opposite and continues to support it.

Now, however, what is just? It is just for the hostages to be returned immediately, even those held by Hamas since previous conflicts. In this sense, I strongly renew the heartfelt appeal made and repeated by Pope Francis in recent days. It is just that in Israel’s legitimate defense, the lives of Palestinian civilians living in Gaza should not be endangered. It is just — indeed, essential — that in this conflict, as in any other, humanitarian law be fully respected.

Pope Francis, at the end of this Wednesday’s General Audience, made an appeal for the release of the hostages and asked for the lives of the innocent to be spared. Do you see room for a diplomatic initiative by the Holy See, similar to what has been undertaken for the conflict between Russia and Ukraine?

Yes, the release of Israeli hostages and the protection of innocent lives in Gaza are at the heart of the problem created by Hamas’s attack and the response of the Israeli army. They are at the centre of all of our concerns: the Pope and the entire international community.

The Holy See is ready for any necessary mediation, as always. In the meantime, we try to use the channels that are already open. However, any mediation to end the conflict must take into account a series of elements that make the issue very complex and articulated, such as the issue of Israeli settlements, security, and the issue of the city of Jerusalem.

A solution can be found in direct dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis, encouraged and supported by the international community, even though it will be more difficult now.

In two recent interviews granted to L’Osservatore Romano by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, both expressed their appreciation for the constant words of peace that come from the Christian minority of the Holy Land, which is the ‘salt’ of this land. However, Christians are hemmed in by the conflict and in a situation of suffering. The situation of the small Christian community in Gaza, which is at risk of extinction, is a cause for concern. How can the Christians of the Holy Land be helped concretely now?

First and foremost, with prayer and spiritual and material support. These words of mine are meant to be a renewed affirmation of the affectionate closeness of the Pope and the Holy See. Christians are an essential part of the land where Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again.

No one can imagine Palestine or Israel without a Christian presence, which has been there from the beginning and will be there forever. It is true that the small Catholic community in Gaza, about 150 families, is suffering immensely. When one member suffers, the whole Church suffers, and so we all suffer. We know they have gathered in the parish. The parish priest could not return and remains in Bethlehem. Everything is at a standstill, paralyzed, as if gripped by fear and anger.

Let us pray for the Israelis; let us pray for the Palestinians; let us pray for Christians, Jews, and Muslims: For the peace of Jerusalem pray... For the sake of my brothers and friends I say, ‘Peace be with you.’ For the sake of the house of the Lord, our God, I pray for your good.” (Psalm 122:6-9).

By Andrea Tornielli & Roberto Cetera