March 3, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Meetings with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem in 1982

John F. Fink(Third in a series)

I’m writing about a trip I took back in 1982 when I led a group of 26 American Catholic journalists on a fact-finding trip to Jordan, Israel and Egypt. Last week, I wrote about meetings with the top religious leaders in Jerusalem and the Christian mayor of Bethlehem. This week, I’ll write about the Israeli leaders.

The first of those was Teddy Kollek, then the mayor of Jerusalem. He stressed the “absolute free worship” in Jerusalem for all religions, something that he said was not true under previous rulers. He listed a number of things that his administration had done to help Christians rebuild their shrines and to encourage Christians to remain in the Holy Land.

Kollek really was a great mayor who sought to help all the people of Jerusalem, and it’s too bad that he was later defeated in an election.

Then we had meetings with members of the ruling Likud government in the Knesset, mainly Eliahu Ben-Allissar. He gave us the hardline position of the Menachem Begin administration, which was in power in 1982, especially emphasizing that Israel would never negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) because it was a terrorist organization. He also defended Israel’s right to build settlements in the West Bank.

That afternoon, when we returned to the Notre Dame Center, where we were staying, we learned that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was there and would be glad to meet with our group. She spent a half-hour with us, posing for pictures, talking briefly to each of us, and then giving a little talk.

She said: “God has brought you to the Holy Land for you to learn the truth and then to write it. We must share the sufferings of the people. Your work is a work of love to bring peace to the world. Be the carriers of God’s love. Be close to Jesus so that he will write with your hand.”

The next morning, we met with

Dr. Yousef Bourg, one of the most influential members of the Israeli government at the time. He was a member of the National Religious Party, which has influence all out of proportion to its numbers because it can throw its support to any candidate it wants and that support goes only as a result of special favors.

In the afternoon, we met with Semcha Dinitz, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States when the Israeli Liberal Party was in power. When we met with him, he was vice president of Hebrew University and adviser to the Labor Party. We met with him for two hours and came away impressed with what he had to say.

For example, when we asked about the possible annexation of the West Bank, Dinitz said, “If Israel were to annex the West Bank, what would we do with all those Arabs? Do we keep them as second-class citizens or make them citizens and lose the Jewish character of the state?” He also expressed the wish that King Hussein of Jordan would negotiate for the Palestinians. That, of course, never happened.

Next week: On to Egypt.

(John Fink’s recent series of columns on Church history is now available in book form from Amazon. It is titled How Could This Church Survive? with the subtitle, It Must Be More Than a Human Institution.)

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