There is something that eludes us when it comes to the meaning of some words. Or better, the meaning that is currently attributed to them. Let us take for example two words that have been widely used these days. The English term “casualties” is often incorrectly referred to as “collateral damage” in Italian. Collateral is something that is added but that is in some ways inevitable. Collateral damage is when 10 soldiers die in a battle, but there is one unlucky civilian who, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, ends up losing his life. Thus, 10 soldiers and one civilian. But what we have been seeing in the last three weeks or so is a “collateral damage in reverse”. The ratio [of casualties] on both sides is 10 civilians to one soldier. The collateral effect of the inhuman terrorist attacks on the kibbutzim and the bombings on Gaza was that, in addition to thousands of civilian deaths, there were some military personnel or militia members among the casualties.
This is not to say that the lives of military personnel have less value or [that their loss] leaves us indifferent, but the way the sacrifice of innocent victims is becoming “ordinary” scandalizes and impoverishes us. As Edith Bruck said in an article published in L’Osservatore Romano last week, “There are never any just wars, but at least in the past, it was a clash between two armies […] these cannot even be called wars, but rather savage massacres”.
There is also a noticeable kind of passive acceptance of the unavoidability of the mechanism of “attack and reaction”, in these new “wars”. It is part of those “patterns of war” Pope Francis has often spoken about, patterns that humanity is stubbornly unable to break.
We love Israel and its people, and we will never grow weary of supporting the reasons for its existence and its right to defend itself from terrorism. However, we cannot be exempt from asking ourselves, and from asking: how many of the more than 6,000 people killed in Gaza in recent weeks were Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorists? And the ground operations have yet to begin. Our 40 or so brothers in the faith buried beneath the rubble of their church were “collateral” to what?
President Biden and Prime Minister Sunak flew to Israel. Macron is working hard, and with him, government leaders across the world. Europe has mobilized, perhaps conscious of the Pavlovian reflex that keeps it nailed to the distant roots of this conflict. A great deal of activity, which, had it occurred prior to 7 October, when signs of irreparable degeneration were already evident, might have avoided such tragedy.
For months now, our newspaper and Patriarch Pizzaballa have been denouncing the disappearance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the radar of Western governments. But even among international politicians who are now seeking a mediation role, there is an expression that stands out and deserves observation: “humanitarian corridors”. A humanitarian corridor implies war. All the leaders who spoke about the situation [at the beginning of the conflict] called for the opening of humanitarian corridors, but no one asked for an immediate ceasefire.
Only one world leader, in this circumstance like earlier in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, called for a ceasefire: Pope Francis, who tried to break the pattern of war and proposed a pattern for peace. But it is well-known and history tells us that the prophets of peace are often that because they are unheard. The prophetic voice of one who grasps that it will be impossible to move from hatred to compassion as long as everyone is focused only on their own suffering without recognizing the suffering of others. The spiral of hatred cannot be stopped until each side recognizes the dignity of the victims of the opposite side. (Andrea Monda)