VATICAN CITY Jul 28, 2005 — Responding to Israeli criticism, the Vatican said Thursday it hasn’t condemned every strike by Palestinian militants against the Jewish state because Israel’s military response to the attacks has sometimes violated international law.
Largely good relations between the Vatican and Israel in recent years were strained this week by Israeli outrage that Pope Benedict XVI failed to condemn terror against Israelis in recent remarks.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry complained Monday that Benedict, in a public appearance at his Alpine vacation retreat on Sunday, “deliberately” didn’t mention a July 12 suicide bombing in the coastal city of Netanya while the pontiff did refer to recent terror strikes in Egypt, Britain, Turkey and Iraq.
“It’s not always possible to immediately follow every attack against Israel with a public statement of condemnation, and for various reasons, among them the fact that the attacks against Israel sometimes were followed by immediate Israeli reactions not always compatible with the rules of international law,” a statement from the Vatican press office said Thursday night.
“It would thus be impossible to condemn the first (the terror strikes) and let the second (Israeli retaliation) pass in silence,” said the Vatican statement, which had an unusually strong tone for the Holy See.
The Vatican didn’t describe any of the alleged violations. Israel often has responded to terror attacks by raiding Palestinian towns and refugee camps that are home to suspected militants and destroying their homes. But since a Feb. 8 cease-fire went into effect, Israel has halted most of its retaliatory operations.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on the Vatican statement.
On Monday, the Vatican envoy to Israel was summoned to the Foreign Ministry as the Israeli government expressed its outrage over Benedict’s remarks that didn’t condemn the Netanya bombing, which killed five Israelis.
A day earlier, as Benedict addressed pilgrims while on vacation, he prayed for God to stop the “murderous hand” of terrorists. He denounced as “abhorrent” the terror strikes at a Red Sea resort in Egypt, the attacks in London and other terrorism in Iraq and Turkey.
On Monday, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Benedict had been referring to the attacks of the last few days and, referring to the ministry statement, called it “surprising that one would have wanted to take the opportunity to distort the intentions of the Holy Father.”
Navarro-Valls said then that the Netanya attack “falls under the general and unreserved condemnation of terrorism” by the pontiff.
Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, also came under criticism by an Israeli foreign ministry official in the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
In the paper, Nimrod Barkan, head of the World Jewish Affairs department at the ministry, was quoted as saying that during John Paul’s tenure Israel “quietly” protested in Rome the pope’s lack of condemnation of attacks in Israel.
Referring to Monday’s summoning of the Vatican envoy, Barkan is quoted as saying: “We will have to weigh other steps” if the protest isn’t effective.
Reacting to Barkan’s remarks, the Vatican said he was “inventing” that Israel supposedly made numerous protests to the Holy See about John Paul’s record.
“The interventions of John Paul II against every form of terrorism and against every single act of terrorism against Israel have been many and public,” the Vatican said.
The statement also denounced Monday’s complaint about Benedict as “presumptuous.”
“Just as the Israeli government understandably doesn’t allow itself to be told by others what it should say, neither can the Holy See accept teachings and directives by some other authority regarding the leaning and content of its own statements,” the Vatican press office said.
July 28, 2005