Jerusalem victims had a name, a family, a story, priest recalls

For one Jerusalem priest, the “horrific” killings at a Jerusalem synagogue show the need to humanize the victims of violence, in order to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy City.

Nov 20, 2014

Israeli emergency personnel remove body of an Israeli man killed in a synagogue in Jerusalem on Nov. 18, 2014. Credit: Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL: For one Jerusalem priest, the “horrific” killings at a Jerusalem synagogue show the need to humanize the victims of violence, in order to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy City.

“What happened yesterday is an absolute tragedy. Four grandfathers killed, a policeman killed. The scenes yesterday were absolutely horrific,” Father David Neuhaus, S.J. told CNA Nov. 19.

“Going into a synagogue where people are praying is of course a terrible act of violence. But let’s not forget that we’re talking about a situation in which tragedy is almost our daily food, and that is what makes it even more sad.”

Two Palestinian men on Nov. 18 attacked the Bnei Torah Kehilat Yaakov synagogue in West Jerusalem, wielding a gun, an axe and meat cleavers. They killed four rabbis and a police officer. The attack is the latest example of ongoing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Fr. Neuhaus, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s vicar in Jerusalem for Hebrew-speaking Catholics, said that mourning the dead is “very important to do.” He noted that Christian leaders went into the neighborhood of the synagogue to say “we are with you in this moment of terrible tragedy, in this moment of suffering.”

“But needless to say we cannot but mourn all those who are dying, even the two young men who did this terrible act,” he said.

Fr. Neuhaus encouraged work for peace and reconciliation.

“At the present time it seems that the sides are so far apart,” he said, emphasizing the need to “remind everybody of the basic humanity of all people… Palestinian and Israeli, Muslims, Jews and Christians.”

He said people should “keep really close to our hearts, to our mouths, to our minds, to our eyes the vocation of Jerusalem as a holy city.”

“Jerusalem will only be a holy city when life is holy in Jerusalem. Jerusalem cannot be a holy city based on death and on attempting to squeeze out the other, squash his life, squash his rights. That cannot be the holy city of Jerusalem.”

Fr. Neuhaus said news coverage in both the Israeli and Palestinian press tends to focus on their own victims and not the victims found among the other side of the conflict.

“Of course in the Israeli press we immediately get to know the victims: they have names, they have dates, they have children, they have wives, they have those who mourn them. But unfortunately in the Israeli press we’re not very good at getting to know the victims that are dying because of Israeli violence,” he said.

“At the same time the reverse is true. In the Palestinian press: you open up (the news) and you meet the people who are dying, and once again they have names, and they have neighborhoods and they have communities, and they are mourned in those communities. But the Jewish victims often are simply the enemy.”

“(We) need to be aware of the humanity of the victims, the terrible loss that these people are to their families, to their communities, and ultimately to the city of Jerusalem, because all of these people make up what Jerusalem is,” he said.

Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians erupted again in military conflict in early July, after a Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned to death in apparent retaliation for the mid-June abductions and murders of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank.

Over a 50-day period Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip fired several thousand rockets at Israel, while the Israeli military responded with several thousand airstrikes. Over 2,000 people were killed in Israel and the Gaza Strip, with the heaviest casualties among Palestinians.

The Israeli government recently announced plans to build more homes for its settlers in East Jerusalem, the BBC reports.

Additional tensions have arisen concerning a dispute over a ban on Jews praying at an area that contains the holiest site in Jerusalem and the third holiest site for Islam. Jews know the area as the Temple Mount, while Muslims call it the al-Haram al-Sharif, where the al-Aqsa Mosque is located.

Fr. Neuhaus said there is “a war of terminology” where the names themselves have implications.

“Again I would say that we must be very, very careful about the words that we use, about the way we describe reality,” he said.

This care with words should also apply to people, he added.

“If only our leaders would start speaking a responsible language and not define the other as enemy, but define the other as a brother with whom we have to find a space to live together.”--CNA

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