On Monday, Pope Francis spoke with Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about the escalating conflict between Israel and Palestine. Erdoğan pressured the pontiff to rally the international community into punishing Israel for “crimes against humanity.” Erdoğan twisted the facts of the situation on the ground to demonize Israel and convince the pope to spread his propaganda.
Arguing “that the Palestinians would continue to be massacred unless the international community punished Israel, which has been committing a crime against humanity, with due sanctions, President Erdoğan highlighted the great importance of the messages and reactions Pope Francis would continue to give in terms of mobilizing the Christian world and the international community,” the Turkish office of the presidency said in a statement.
— Turkish Presidency (@trpresidency) May 17, 2021
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Erdoğan presented a one-sided litany of Israel’s alleged sins. “Underscoring that the occupying Israel, which prevented access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, restricted freedom of worship and massacred innocent civilians in the Palestinian lands, was also trampling on human dignity, President Erdoğan noted that this atrocity for which Israel was responsible threatened the regional security as well,” the release said.
The Turkish president argued that “the entire humanity should join hands against the occupying Israel which recklessly attacked the sacred.”
While Israel has occasionally limited access to holy sites like the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the government has had security reasons for some of these actions. For instance, the episode at the center of the recent conflict involved Palestinian protesters engaging in violence to protest the lawful eviction of squatters who refused to pay rent after they agreed to acknowledge a Jewish land claim over their homes. The protesters violently attacked police, who responded with crowd-control measures that injured hundreds.
Hamas responded by firing thousands of rockets into Israel. The Iron Dome interceptor system has blocked the vast majority of the rockets, but the attacks have killed at least ten people in Israeli, including two children.
Israel has responded with rockets of their own, and Gaza has reported at least 201 Palestinians killed, including 58 children. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has claimed to have killed several Hamas commanders in the strikes.
According to the IDF, many of Hamas’ rockets have misfired, so the Palestinian terrorist group may be responsible for many of the deaths in the Gaza Strip. Israel has claimed that Hamas misfired 350 rockets in the first 3 days, killing innocent civilians in Gaza.
Before Israel sends precision-strike rockets, it first warns occupants of the targeted building, allowing people time to leave before destroying buildings that allegedly house Hamas weapons and intelligence. Hamas gives no such warnings to Israeli targets.
On Sunday, Pope Francis called for an end to the conflict.
“Let us pray constantly that the Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness. Let us pray for the victims, in particular for the children; let us pray for peace,” the pope tweeted.
Let us pray constantly that the Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness. Let us pray for the victims, in particular for the children; let us pray for peace.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) May 16, 2021
Given the fact that American President Joe Biden identifies as a Roman Catholic and attends mass — despite his aggressive support for abortion and his willingness to undermine religious freedom on social issues — Erdoğan may hope that Pope Francis may sway Biden away from Israel, or at least encourage the American president to refrain from coming to Israel’s aid.
The conflict may spread outside of Israel and Palestine, as Arab leaders come to Palestine’s defense. Erdoğan has championed Turkish dominance in the region, echoing the rule of the Ottoman Empire over most of the Middle East. If he can bring the pope around to his position, the Turkish president could claim a powerful mantle as the defender of the Palestinian people.