With many countries urging their citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon, the timing of the 85 year old Pope's visit is indeed courageous.
What no one has observed so far, however, is that it also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Sabra and Chatila massacres in Beirut between 16th-18th September 1982 when 1,700 Palestinians were killed by Phalangists supervised by the Israeli army.
According to Wikipedia,
The Israel Defense Forces surrounded the Palestinian refugee camps, controlled access to them, and fired illuminating flares over the camps. In 1982, an independent commission chaired by Sean MacBride concluded that the Israeli authorities or forces were, directly or indirectly, responsible for the events.If only Pope Benedict would spend an hour visiting the camps this weekend. That would indeed be 'extraordinary and historic', or even miraculous, because as Robert Fisk observes today in The forgotten massacre,
While presidents and prime ministers have lined up in Manhattan to mourn the dead of the 2001 international crimes against humanity at the World Trade Centre, not a single Western leader has dared to visit the dank and grubby Sabra and Chatila mass graves, shaded by a few scruffy trees and faded photographs of the dead. Nor, let it be said – in 30 years – has a single Arab leader bothered to visit the last resting place of at least 600 of the 1,700 victims. Arab potentates bleed in their hearts for the Palestinians but an airfare to Beirut might be a bit much these days – and which of them would want to offend the Israelis or the Americans?"I have come to Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace," Pope Benedict said upon arrival in Beirut, speaking under a canopy at the airport on a sultry afternoon. "As a friend of God and as a friend of men." He also denounced religious fundamentalism, calling it "a falsification of religion."
The problem is we invariably only recognise fundamentalism in others and not in our selves.
The fact is, peace can only be achieved through reconciliation, and reconciliation requires justice, and justice requires the recognition and atonement for historic wrongs.
That is why there is an historic link, whether we recognise it or not, between the massacres of Sabra and Chatila, with 9/11, and with this week's violent protests across the Middle East targeting US embassies caused by the film 'the Innocence of Muslims'.
Robert Fisk concludes,
Dr Bayan al-Hout, widow of the PLO's former ambassador to Beirut, has written the most authoritative and detailed account of the Sabra and Chatila war crimes – for that is what they were – and concludes that in the years that followed, people feared to recall the event. "Then international groups started talking and enquiring. We must remember that all of us are responsible for what happened. And the victims are still scarred by these events – even those who are unborn will be scarred – and they need love." In the conclusion to her book, Dr al-Hout asks some difficult – indeed, dangerous – questions: "Were the perpetrators the only ones responsible? Were the people who committed the crimes the only criminals? Were even those who issued the orders solely responsible? Who in truth is responsible?"
In other words, doesn't Lebanon bear responsibility with the Phalangist Lebanese, Israel with the Israeli army, the West with its Israeli ally, the Arabs with their American ally? Dr al-Hout ends her investigation with a quotation from Rabbi Abraham Heschel who raged against the Vietnam war. "In a free society," the Rabbi said, "some are guilty, but all are responsible."Source: Independent
See also Robert Fisk At Last the Truth about Sabre and Chatila
See also Innocence of Muslims