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January 09, 2009

Vatican's "Justice" and "Peace" Official Compares Gaza to Concentration Camp

For some reason, whenever the words "justice" and "peace" are introduced into Christian discourse about the Arab-Israeli conflict, harsh, unreasonable and fantastic anti-Israel polemic is not far behind.

This was demonstrated most recently by the statements from Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace who recently stated in an interview in an Italian newspaper that the Gaza Strip resembled "a big concentration camp."

Cardinal Martino's statement provoked an angry response from Jewish groups and from the Israeli diplomatic corps. According to Reuters Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said, "These remarks are untrue, distort the memory of the Holocaust and are only used against Israel by terrorist organisations and Holocaust deniers."

The New York Times reports that the Vatican has "sought to downplay the cardinal’s remarks."

The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, called Cardinal Martino’s choice of words “inopportune,�? and said they created “irritation and confusion�? more than illumination.

While calling the cardinal “an authoritative person,�? Rev. Lombardi added that “The more authoritative voice and line would be that of the pope.�?

This is not the first time Catholic officials have compared Palestinian suffering to that of the Jews in Europe during the Holocaust.

In 2007, a German bishop compared conditions in Ramallah to the Warsaw Ghetto.

Anyone who thinks there are meaningful similarities between the Gaza Strip and conditions in the death camps of Europe during the 1940s should peruse the pages of Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau written by Fr. Jean Bernard. Fr. Bernard, a Dachau survivor, tells a story of regular executions, unending work and tremendous deprivation. While there is suffering in the Gaza Strip, it does not approach the suffering at places like Dachau. And while people were killed at Dachau because they were Jews or members of other undesireable populations, the deaths of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is the consequence of the actions of Hamas, an anti-Semitic authoritarian movement that seeks the destruction of the state of Israel, and targets civilians in an effort to achieve this goal.

Nowhere in Fr. Bernard's book is there any mention of a desire on the part of the victims at Dachau to perpetrate a genocide against anyone. They just wanted to survive. The vast majority of them did not.

Posted by dvz at January 9, 2009 04:48 PM


Can justice and peace really be advanced when such historically bloody hands are wiped clean by this pious display of a moral equivalency as outrageous
as it is false?

Posted by: am olam at January 9, 2009 10:12 PM

I think it is important to remember that the term "concentration camp" does not automatically refer to the Holocaust, although the Nazi pogroms during WWII is probably the most infamous and horrible practice of concentration camps in history. Other examples are concentration camps in Libya during the Italian occupation and concentration camps in the USA for Japanese immigrants after Pearl Harbour.

concentration camp
a place where large numbers of people, esp. political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labor or to await mass execution. The term is most strongly associated with the several hundred camps established by the Nazis in Germany and occupied Europe in 1933–45, among the most infamous being Dachau, Belsen, and Auschwitz.

Posted by: Alf at January 10, 2009 09:36 AM

I don't want to offend anybody, but honestly - The Vatican have no clue about what is even going on in the Middle East. They're the sort of people that cry at Pallywood productions because it's all children that are shown.

Posted by: k at January 10, 2009 11:38 AM

Thanks for the formal definition. More proof that comparing Gaza to a concentration camp is outragious, because A) they are not put there as imprisonment; B) they are not forced to provide labor, and do not await execution (one of the fastest growing populations in the world).
Still, altough you are technically correct, everyone knows what the cardinal is alluding to: jews are nazis.

Posted by: Ron at January 10, 2009 01:00 PM

No WONDER the pope at the time didn't loudly speak out against the Holocaust! It's so clear now. He apparently thought the Jews were firing rockets into German population centers, and that the Nazis were fighting back. Huh.

Posted by: Greg at January 10, 2009 04:33 PM


What is the source of your definition?

And in any of the examples you provided, did the inmates of said concentration camps have small arms, rockets, missiles and mortars?

Get real. The Palestinians had a chance to show the world what they would do with sovereignty and self-determination and to prove to Israel that a land-for-peace deal would in fact result in peace.

They blew it.

The cardinal's dishonest depiction of the Gaza Strip as a "concentration camp" and your apparent efforts to defnd his use of the phrase do not obscure this reality.

Posted by: A reader at January 10, 2009 07:18 PM

I didn't research it, but I don't think the camps for the Japanese immigrants were that bad. I read somewhere that at the end of the war some of them didn't want to leave. Likewise for the Germans, things got less comfortable when we saw how they treated our POWs.

Posted by: davidM at January 11, 2009 02:20 AM

@davidM: Be careful when presenting second-thirdhand knowledge mixed with conjecture; people may read it as truth. In actuality the Japanese concentration camps weren't nicely run prison camps, and a lot of Indonesians in the Netherlands who have suffered in Japanese concentration camps are still highly traumatized.

Posted by: Ron at January 11, 2009 04:57 AM

Thoughtful comments. We need more cutting through the emotional rhetoric. Down here in south Fla. Palestinian supporters led by and Imam in Ft. Lauderdale are yelling for the Jews to go back to the ovens. What surprises me is that this is not deemed hate speech and the Muslims here get away with it on the public street. BTW, the demostrations are now weekly, every Tues. Watch for it on the news!

Posted by: Susan at January 11, 2009 05:14 PM

Please do not include evangelical Christians with Catholics (they are neither Christian or relevant IMO). We support Isreal and their right to resolve this issue as they see fit. There is a chant at football games that I'd apply to this situation and it is "hit them again, harder, harder."

Posted by: MarsHillRocks at January 11, 2009 07:50 PM

Just completed a visit to former British concentration camps remaining in South Africa, which were established during the Boer War. The Brits, back then, collected women and children from the Boer farms, while the men were fighting the war. They locked them up in concentration camps and forgot to feed them, killing through desease and starvation thousands upon thousands of them. Concentration camps - a British innovation really.

Posted by: werner zepp at January 27, 2009 12:25 PM

Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Natenyahu government stated during the siege on Gaza, "the idea is to put the Palestinian on a diet but not make them die of hunger." Now...the question is why not let them die of hunger? Because that would be a holocaust and the world is watching.

Posted by: Leo Alkhatib at April 22, 2011 02:33 AM

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