Images can be powerful. Arguably, this one of Pope Francis making an unscheduled visit to the Separation Wall in Bethlehem is just such an image. While the Israeli government claims it is for security, the facts tell a different story. The Wall has been widely criticized due to its carving up of Palestinian ancestral lands and has made life a living hell for the tens of thousands of people who must traverse its dehumanizing checkpoints to get to school, or the hospital, or to their own olive groves.
It is fatally easy to be cynical in this day and age. It is easy to be suspicious of every act taken, however symbolic, of a powerful religious or political figure. But one has to question whether such cynicism is warranted in every instance.
The Pope represents worldwide Catholicism, and there is much to be criticized about the institution of the Catholic Church from its horrendous record of child abuse and subsequent cover-ups, or its egregious stance on women’s and LGBTQ rights, or its bloody and cruel history. But there are millions of devout Catholics around the world who struggle for peace and justice. And there are nuns, priests and brothers who are persecuted and even killed for the stands they take to protect indigenous peoples from exploitation and ethnic cleansing. I have been fortunate to have known some of them.
This action taken by Pope Francis can be taken as an empty gesture; but I will choose to check my cynicism at the door this time. If this image can shed even a small amount of attention to the plight of the Palestinians, if it can open up the hearts and minds of people, regardless of their religion or lack there of, to the universality of human rights, if it can show that this ancient land is home to all who live there, be they Jewish or Arab, or if it can lead, even slightly, to the demolition of this wall instead of houses, then it is a worthwhile, welcome and beneficial gesture to be lauded.
Kenn Orphan 2014
(image courtesy of the International Middle East Media Center)