During a heated phone chat with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog last month, Pope Francis reportedly labelled military actions against Hamas in Gaza as “terror,” according to a Washington Post story published on Thursday that quoted an unidentified senior Israeli source.
According to the latter, Francis stated that it is “forbidden to respond to terror with terror.” Herzog objected to the Catholic pontiff’s claim, restating the Israeli government’s stance that the Jewish state was defending its own citizens in Gaza by taking the necessary measures. The pope went on to explain that while those guilty should be held accountable, citizens should not.
The Vatican did not provide specifics on the call, but it did acknowledge that it happened. “The phone call, like others in the same days, takes place in the context of the Holy Father’s efforts aimed at containing the gravity and scope of the conflict situation in the Holy Land,” the Holy See said as reported by the Washington Post.
That secret conversation would shape Israeli perceptions of Francis’ controversial remark in St. Peter’s Square on Nov. 22 that the situation had “gone beyond war”, labelling the Gaza massacre as “acts of terrorism”. When combined with the diplomatic exchange—which the Israelis considered to be so “bad” that they chose not to disclose it to the public—it was apparent that the pope was accusing their operation in Gaza of being terrorist acts.
A few hours before his public audience on November 22, Francis also conducted two meetings: one with the families of those slain in Gaza and the other with the families of those held captive by Hamas. During the meeting with the Palestinians, the pope broke down in tears when they discussed the high death toll and apparently used the English word “genocide.”
A Vatican spokesman did not confirm that the pope had mentioned the word “genocide”, although he did not completely rule out either .
Often pointing out the misery in Gaza, the pope has demanded increased humanitarian help as well as an extended cease-fire. As per the Vatican, he has also been in regular communication with a Catholic church in Gaza that provides refuge to seven hundred Palestinians.
Pope Francis has made headlines lately for some controversial and unusually undiplomatic statements, ranging from a partial justification of Russian aggression of Ukraine because of NATO extension to open criticism of “reactionary” American clergy.