While Pope Francis was signing the visitors’ book in the Holy Land as he rounded up his three day visit to the Middle East he wrote; “Never again!” and repeated “Never again!” as if in consonance with Menachem Begin who in 1981 said; “Never again will there be another holocaust in Israel.” This was after the two minutes sixteen of his Air Force pilots spent over Baghdad and permanently disabled the Osirak nuclear reactor. The operation was top secret; even members of his cabinet were unaware of the plot.

It was on the day of Pentecost 7th June 1981 when the Prime Minister Mr Menachem Begin summoned members of his cabinet. Each one that arrived at his residence was met by a driver who took his car and parked it out of sight, as the cabinet member entered Mr Menachem Begin’s house he met another and expressed surprise at seeing another member of the cabinet attending. This was because it was the day of Pentecost and they would have thought it was a private invite and had nothing to do with anything official. These members of cabinet took their seats at the back garden.

These sixteen pilots had trained for months without even their closest relatives being made aware of the plot. As they took off heading for Baghdad Mr Begin called his minsters to tell them of the plot to destroy the Osirak nuclear reactor and for them to agree on what to tell the world should they fail. It was given the code name Operation Opera. But as he was about to begin to speak to his members of cabinet the telephone rang and he picked up the phone. The person at the other end of the phone was the Chief of Air Staff. He reported to Mr Begin that the sixteen pilots were back, safe and sound and mission accomplished.

These sixteen pilots trained so well that reports revealed that before the operation they knew the distance between two trees within the parameters of the Osirak nuclear reactor which meant that if there was someone standing in between the tree they would have known. They agreed on how to destroy the nuclear reactor which was to bomb its base and not on its dome.

Menachem Begin then announced to his cabinet what had happened and that the telephone call he had just received was from the Chief of Air Staff who confirmed that all went well according to the plot. They were all very furious and enraged that no one knew about the plot except Menachem Begin, the Chief of Air Staff and the sixteen pilots. The ambassadors to the United States of America and the United Kingdom were also furious and enraged on learning what had happened. The press: this is what they like; swung immediately into action and wanted to know why he took such an action. It was in response to this that Menachem Begin told them of the Nazis’ killing of the Jewish people and added; “Never again will there be another holocaust in Israel,” and repeated as if in anger, “Never, Never, Never!” (Time, June 1981).

No one would visit Israel Memorial or Auschwitz without being moved at what man’s inhumanity to man could bring. I can remember writing in my book Images In Places of Worship of what Pope John Paul II said during his visit to Auschwitz, he said that it was impossible merely to visit Auschwitz, without thinking with fear how far hatred can lead one, how far man’s destruction of man can go and how far cruelty can go.

I do not mind independent Palestinian state. But the question is what guarantees would the Muslims give to the world that they would leave Israel to exist in peace. Israel is not a warmonger. They have a right to exist as any other country or people of the world. Iran has been spitting out venom against Israel so also Hamas and many other Islamic groups, but we need peace in that land and the region. I am sure they could exist side by side without war. It is only the devil that gives to the people ‘the spirit of rage’ and causes nations to rise against nations. Jesus said before he departed this world; “Peace I give you my peace I leave with you.” Not as man gives but a peace that comes from love for one another. If you love your neighbour you will not kill or maim your neighbour or even try to destroy your neighbour’s property.

While watching CNN yesterday and them commenting on Pope Francis’ visit to the holy land they mentioned that the access Christians used to have to Bethlehem has now been curtailed since having been in the hands of Palestinians. This is the case in Iraq, since Saddam Hussain was forcibly removed from power and executed. It is also the case with many other Arab countries. But we allow freedom of worship in the United Kingdom and United States of America and many other countries of the world. Why should theirs be different? With a smiling face they put forward their request and claim that they are being marginalised but that is not true. We allow freedom of worship. We expect that if Palestinians are given autonomy that they in turn should guarantee peaceful co-existence in that region. I am suspicious of Iran’s intentions following the acquisition of a nuclear reactor and I do not blame Israel if they are too. The world should bear in mind that if Israel did not destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor at the time it did the world would have faced a nuclear Iraq at the time they went into Iraq.

Pope Francis was undoubtedly moved by the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man during his visit. One cannot measure the magnitude of what happened to the people and the reason behind such atrocities. The important thing is that what he saw made him write in the words of Menachem Begin ‘Never again!’ and he repeated it as if once was not enough. Today, Israel’s Arab neighbours want to split Jerusalem into East and West, thus making the Word of God of no effect. This is not possible and Jerusalem must not be split. I attribute some Christians’ and Muslims’ attitudes towards the Jews as being anti-Semitic.

Pope Francis also just like his predecessor John Paul II prayed at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. It is not clear if he did that without making reference to Jesus. He met at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial with several Jewish concentration-camp survivors. Before his departure from the Holy Land he invited the presidents of Israel and Palestine to meet and pray together with him in Rome and possibly to seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

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