Pope Benedict and Hamas: Two Ways of Looking at History

Two separate pieces of news this week show two organizations moving in opposite directions, one toward reconciliation and historical justice and the other toward hatred and endless conflict.

The two organizations are the Catholic Church and Iranian-backed Hamas. Let's take the good news first.

The Associated Press reports: "Pope Benedict XVI has made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus Christ, tackling one of the most controversial issues in Christianity in a new book."

After a detailed analysis of the accounts in the Gospels, Benedict asks, "How could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamor for Jesus' death?" It could not have happened that way, he concludes. Instead, he puts the blame on "a few Temple leaders and a small group of supporters."

This particular blood libel -- that the Jewish people bore collective responsibility, handed down through the generations for eternity, for the death of Jesus -- has caused untold suffering through almost 2,000 years. Ultimately, it helped create the conditions that produced the Holocaust.

Of course, Benedict knows all about the Holocaust. He grew up in Nazi Germany and was forced at age 14 to join the Hitler Youth. As Pope, he has prayed at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Poland and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

His statement is a welcome step forward and goes a long way toward healing and reconciliation between Catholics and Jews.

Which brings me to the second headline of the week -- that Hamas has vowed to prevent Palestinian children being taught about the Holocaust in U.N.-funded schools in the Gaza Strip.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) runs 228 schools in Gaza, educating over 200,000 children. Its curriculum has included a unit on human rights since 2002 and the agency said in 2009 it would include references to Holocaust in its eighth grade curriculum.

Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip and permits no opposition, has called the Holocaust "a lie made up by the Zionists." The fundamentalist Islamic Group's Charter calls for the destruction of Israel and urges supporters to kill Jews. The organization is in the strange position of denying one Holocaust while aspiring to create another.

Gaza Education Minister Mahammad Ashquol said this week his ministry "will never allow teaching Holocaust to Gazan refugee camp children. Messing up Gaza's education system is a red line which can't be ignored ... This is a flagrant intervention in the internal affairs of the Palestinians and a violation of regulations that have existed since the establishment of UNRWA."

Hamas is urging teachers to refuse to include the Holocaust in their lessons and has ordered children to leave the classroom if teachers tried to tell them about the Holocaust. Hamas backs up words with action. Already this year, they and their various offshoot groups have fired 57 rockets and mortars at Israel. The international media has almost ignored this since there have fortunately not been any casualties - although one rocket demolished a building in Beersheba last week.

Such hatred is purely destructive. It cannot lead anywhere except to more suffering for Israelis and Palestinians alike. The leaders of Hamas should take a leaf from Pope Benedict's book. The truth will help set them free.