Gaza Comments Criticized

A Palestinian woman surveys her damaged house after an Israeli airstrike Jan. 1 in Gaza.
A Palestinian woman surveys her damaged house after an Israeli airstrike Jan. 1 in Gaza. (photo: CNS/Reuters)

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, today lamented the plight of those living in the war-torn Gaza Strip.

“Defenseless populations are always the ones who pay,” Cardinal Martino said in comments made to the Italian website Il Sussidiario, BBC reported. “Look at the conditions in Gaza: more and more, it resembles a big concentration camp.”

Cardinal Martino’s comparison of conditions in Gaza to a concentration camp provoked a critical response from Israeli officials. They accused the Vatican of echoing the rhetoric of the Hamas extremists who Israel is targeting in its current military intervention in Gaza.

“The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that this amounted to ‘Hamas propaganda,’ and accused the cardinal of ignoring Hamas’s ‘numerous crimes,’” the London Times reported. “This does not bring the people closer to truth and peace.”

As Register correspondent Edward Pentin reported on the Daily Blog on Monday, the Vatican already has come under criticism from some quarters for allegedly favoring the Palestinian side in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And although Cardinal Martino’s office deals primarily with social justice concerns and has no authority over the Vatican’s foreign policy, the cardinal’s comments will be interpreted by such critics as additional evidence of this alleged pro-Palestinian tilt.

But, as with some of the previous occasions cited by the Vatican critics as evidence of “bias,” Cardinal Martino’s overall comments are not as one-sided as the “concentration camp” comment might appear if taken in isolation.

Cardinal Martino urged both sides to seek peace, and suggested international intervention is warranted if they don’t do so, BBC reported.

“We Christians are not the only ones to call this land ‘holy,’ Jews and Muslims do so too,” Cardinal Martino noted. “The fact that this land is the scene of bloodshed seems a great tragedy.”

— Tom McFeely