Row over whether Pope called Gaza situation ‘genocide’

Published November 23, 2023
Pope Francis speaks with a Palestinian who currently has family living in Gaza.—AFP
Pope Francis speaks with a Palestinian who currently has family living in Gaza.—AFP

VATICAN CITY: A messy dispute broke out on Wednesday over whether Pope Francis used the word “genocide” to describe events in Gaza, with Palestinians who met with him insisting that he did and the Vatican saying he did not.

The opposing versions emerged at an afternoon press conference with 10 Palestinians who met the pope on Wednesday morning at his Vatican residence. That meeting followed a separate one with Israeli relatives of prisoners in Gaza.

“When we shared the stories of the families that have been killed (in Gaza) he mentioned ‘I see the genocide’,” said Shireen Awwad Hilal, who teaches at the Bethlehem Bible College. “It was very clear, the word genocide did not come from us. It came from His Holiness, Pope Francis,” she said.

But a statement sent by Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni, in response to question texted by a reporter, said the opposite. “I am not aware that he (the pope) used such a word. He used terms that he expressed during the general audience and words that in any case represent the terrible situation that is being lived out in Gaza,” Bruni’s statement said.

Other participants at the Palestinian news conference concurred that they had heard the pope use the word genocide.

“We were all there. We heard it and no one has a hearing problem,” Hilal said when pressed by reporters.

The participants said the pope was very informed about the situation in Gaza and the lack of water, medicine and basic necessities.

“Terror should not justify terror”

The Palestinians at their news conference said the pope condemned Hamas’ action as ‘’terror’’, with more than one quoting the pope during the meeting as saying “terror should not justify terror”.

Earlier on Wednesday, in unscripted words at his general audience, Pope Francis said, “This is what wars do. But here we have gone beyond wars. This is not war. This is terrorism,” he said.

He asked for prayers so that both sides would “not go ahead with passions, which, in the end, kill everyone”.

Most said they were not aware of the pope’s comments because they happened after the meeting.

During the general audience, a group of Palestinians in the crowd held up pictures of bodies wrapped in white cloth and a placard saying “the Nakba continues”.

Nakba is the Arab word for catastrophe and refers to the displacement and dispossession of Palest­inians in the 1948 war.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2023

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