Vatican in terror dispute with Israel
John Hooper in Rome and Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Saturday July 30, 2005
Adapted : The Guardian
Pope Benedict XVI was yesterday immersed in the first big diplomatic crisis of his papacy after the Vatican issued an unusually blunt statement criticising Israel for its response to Palestinian attacks. The Vatican's stinging rebuke came after Israel demanded to know why the Pope did not refer to a Palestinian suicide bombing in remarks he made on Sunday condemning terrorist attacks in London and Sharm el-Sheikh.
In a 1,300-word communique, the Vatican said: "It has not always been possible to follow every attack against Israel with a public declaration of condemnation."
It said one reason for this was that "the attacks on Israel were sometimes followed by immediate Israeli reactions not always compatible with the norms of international law ... It would thus be impossible to condemn the [terrorist operations] and pass over the [Israeli retaliation] in silence".
The statement also expressed irritation with the reaction of the Israeli government to the Pope's original comments and said it was not prepared to "take lessons or instructions from any other authority on the content and direction of its own statements".
Israel has repeatedly demanded that other governments recognise Palestinian attacks as part of an international Islamist campaign against western democracy, therefore implicitly not connected to its own actions in the occupied territories.
The Israeli foreign ministry called in the Vatican's envoy on Monday to complain that the Pope, in condemning terrorist attacks in several countries, had "deliberately" omitted mention of a July 12 suicide bombing in the coastal city of Netanya in which five Israelis died. The Pope's spokesman replied that the pontiff had explicitly indicated he was referring to all the recent attacks. He said it was "surprising that one would have wanted to take the opportunity to distort the intentions of the Holy Father".
The generally conciliatory tone of the Vatican's initial response appeared to have put an end to the row. But the next day an Israeli foreign ministry official told the Jerusalem Post that it has been Vatican policy for years not to condemn terrorism in Israel.
Thursday's statement was framed as a response to that claim. It included a long list of references to statements made by the late pope, John Paul II, condemning violence against civilians in Israel.
After the July 7 bombings in London, Israel's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, said suicide attacks around the world were driven by a common hatred for freedom. "Ultimately terrorism can strike any country in the world that has an ideology of freedom, of democracy, that has an ideology of openness," he said.
Shortly afterwards the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, ordered his ministers not to comment on the London bombings for fear that their remarks could be interpreted as seeking to make political capital out of the killings.
But Mr Shalom's wife, Judy, felt no such restraint on a television chatshow a few days later. "As long as I hold no official position I can say it's not all bad for the English to find out what it's like," she said.