Pray for Palestinians to be free of their homicidal leaders

During the last Hamas-Israel war, in the summer of 2014, I was staying at the Catholic research center at Tantur, next door to Bethlehem.

Once a week, the center leaders would say a rosary to Our Lady of the Wall—the Wall being the massive concrete border wall, 30 feet high, that Israel built along the entire Green Line of the West Bank, from north of Jenin all the way south of Hebron.

The idea was that Catholic leaders were praying for all those suffering because of the wall—the tens of thousands of Palestinian workers cut off from their former livelihoods in central Israel.

Yet there were two sides to the story of the Wall. One day, soon after I arrived, I visited the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years. I stood in the plaza outside the Frank Sinatra International Student Centre and saw this odd tree growing sideways from a planter. Intrigued, I walked over to read the plaque nearby.

In July 2002, the Palestinian organization Hamas—the same Hamas that attacked innocent Israelis on October 7—planted a bomb in the Hebrew University cafeteria. The bomb killed nine students, including five Americans, and wounded 100 more. The sideways tree is a memorial to those who died. The Hamas terrorists who carried out the bombing, now languishing in Israeli prisons, just had their stipends from the Palestinian Authority increased to $2,572 per month.

Image: The wreckage of the Dizengoff Street bus bombing. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Bombings were rife in the years before my visit. During the Second Intifada that began in 2000, Palestinian terrorists from the West Bank regularly blew up civilian buses and school buses. By 2003, there had been 73 suicide bomber attacks from the West Bank in central Israel, killing 293 Israelis and wounding 1,900 more, many of them children.

After the wall was finished, the bus bombings declined to virtually zero. Apparently, border walls work.

Naturally, everyone at Tantur, the European academics and the Palestinian staff, supported the Palestinian cause. Yet we European and American researchers were regularly advised to take only “Arab buses” to Jerusalem. The theory was that Arab buses would be safer because, presumably, Palestinian terrorists would only strike Israeli buses.

I took both Arab and Israeli buses, whichever went where I wanted to go. I got along fine with the Arabs, regularly squeezing myself into the hot and sweaty 231 bus from the Bethlehem checkpoint up to Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate.

Of the four or five dozen researchers then working at Tantur, I was one of the few who spoke some Hebrew and supported Israel. The only other one who did was a Portuguese fellow working on his master’s degree at Oxford on Vatican diplomacy.

The truth is, it’s difficult not to sympathize with ordinary Palestinians. Hardworking and friendly, they are among the best educated and generous of Arab peoples. Now, they must endure regular humiliations at the hands of 18-year-old Israeli soldiers, forced to walk through innumerable checkpoints, produce papers, and keep their eyes down.

Israelis, who have been in the Army all their lives, can be abrasive, even to tourists. Hebrew is a “me Tarzan, you Jane” language at the best of times, and when combined with typical Israeli brusqueness can sound mostly like barked commands.

In addition, Palestinians have been betrayed by their leaders for more than 70 years.

From the first U.N. proposal for a two-state solution in 1947, the Palestinian leadership has consistently chosen war over peace. Their “all or nothing” intransigence—“from the river to the sea, all of Palestine will be free,” as U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib chants—has cost ordinary Palestinian families dearly.

Plus, those who call Israel an “apartheid state” don’t know what it’s like to live among people who want to kill you. While I was staying at Tantur, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped on the West Bank and, it was discovered later, summarily executed.

At the same time, Hamas began firing mortar shells and rockets into central Israel—literally hundreds of thousands of them. I got the app on my iPhone that lets Israelis know when a rocket attack has started in their area, and it went off constantly—one of the most startling and grating alarms you’ve ever heard.

At the time, I kept wondering what would happen if Mexican drug cartels began regularly blowing up school buses in downtown San Diego and lobbing mortar rounds into Newport Beach. How would the U.S. population react? Probably not very peacefully, I imagine.

So, yes, everyone should pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for ordinary Palestinians to be finally free of the brutal killers who speak for them and who make peace impossible. Pray for Israelis as well, who are regularly victimized by brutal terrorist attacks and the murder of innocent women and children.

Our Lady of the Wall, pray for us.

Robert J. Hutchinson is the author of Searching for Jesus: New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth.

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