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Response to an open letter from Robert Rozett

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Sunday, 13 September, 2009

During The Elders' trip to the Middle East, Desmond Tutu was interviewed for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Following the publication of the interview Robert Rozett - who had acted as The Elders' guide during their visit to Yad Vashem - wrote an open letter challenging some of the views expressed in the article. Archbishop Tutu responds to that letter by elaborating on his earlier remarks.

Dear Dr Rozett,

Thank you for your gracious open letter (Haaretz English Edition, September 4). The campaign for peace and justice is always far too serious an enterprise to be jeopardised by inappropriate language. I am distressed that you should accuse me of an intemperate vocabulary, as if I were playing to a particular gallery. This is a serious accusation. I hope you might be persuaded to revise it.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the thief is expected to make restitution to the victim, paying up to fourfold for a stolen sheep and fivefold for an ox (Exodus 21:37). Thus the thief pays for his crime. In the Christian theology of sacramental confession, the offender must first express sorrow for his offense, either in the form of remorse or, better yet, contrition. Then there is a penance imposed, which can include restitution, doing one's bit to undo the consequences of one's misdeed. It is this sense of penance that I was thinking of when I declared that it was the Palestinians who were paying for the horrors of the Holocaust.

Germany in particular, but much of the West in general, was responsible for perpetrating the Holocaust, and quite rightly they have felt guilty. They should then have carried out the penance appropriate for such a dastardly deed. But no, it is not the West but the Palestinians who have borne the brunt.

We may of course differ on this. But no one can deny the incontrovertible fact that the Palestinians are victims of a harsh regime. They gave up 78 percent of their land. They have seen the remaining 22 percent being progressively encroached upon by illegal Jewish settlements that will present the international community with a fait accompli when the issue of land distribution comes up. They are locked out of portions of their land by a wall that separates family members, a wall that was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice. They have to run the gauntlet of a multiplicity of checkpoints, where they are at the mercy of the whims of young Israeli soldiers. Sick, pregnant women requiring hospital treatment can be denied entry into Israel for no discernible reason. Palestinians are being steadily evicted from East Jerusalem, which is part of the West Bank.

Can anyone doubt that the more than 1.5 million Palestinians cut off in the Gaza Strip are suffering? Hamas is wrong to fire rockets at civilians living in Sderot, and Israel has a right to ensure its security - but not by the collective punishment of a million persons in the ghetto that is Gaza.

When you guided us so expertly around Yad Vashem, and especially the Children's Memorial, I prayed that your Hebrew Scriptures would reverberate in Jewish ears: "....you shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger for you were strangers in Egypt" (Exodus 23:9).

I owe so much to these Scriptures, which have inspired me profoundly in my campaign for justice, peace and reconciliation. I care enormously for my Jewish and Palestinian sisters and brothers. My heart aches for what you are doing to yourselves.

I am a patron of the Cape Town Holocaust Center.

God bless you to become more and more the people of the God of the Exodus, the God of the downtrodden, of the widow, the orphan and the alien.

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