Pope Francis recently concluded his visit to the Holy Land. Now, I’m not a religious guy, but it doesn’t matter, this pope likes me!
His visit was, of course, much more significant to us Palestinians than it was to Israelis. We like showing the reality of the situation to outsiders. Israel, well, she’s not so crazy about it. We are Israel’s dirty little secret, and, frankly, she would rather we just stay locked up and out of sight.
The pope went to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and he even stopped for a moment at the separation wall. The New York Times reported, “Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank.” Of course, the wall does not separate the West Bank from Israel. It separates the West Bank from the West Bank. Assuming he is literate, I would think Pope Francis is aware of this fact. As it turns out, the New York Times isn’t.
But facts don’t bother Israel and her supporters. Benjamin Netanyahu tried to pull a fast one on Francis. “Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,” Netanyahu told Francis. The pope interrupted him. “Aramaic,” he observed. “He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew,” Netanyahu asserted. Now, Netanyahu is probably right. But saying Jesus spoke Hebrew is kind of like saying my dad speaks English. Sure, my dad knows English, but it’s not how he expresses himself. If you really want to know what language someone speaks, you have to get him mad enough to curse. And I can tell you from experience, for my dad, it’s not English.
And although I’m not in the business of dispensing advice to Benjamin Netanyahu, I feel compelled here. Bibi, I know you like arguing, but if you’re going to quarrel with someone about the history of Jesus, you can literally pick no one worse than the pope. That’s like arguing with Albert Einstein about gravity. You just don’t do it.
Pope Francis, as is the custom in our part of the world, invited his hosts to his place some time in the future in return for their hospitality:
In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with Israeli President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace.
Some have interpreted this invitation to Peres as a snub to the leader of the Israeli government, Prime Minister Netanyahu. I hope they’re right. If I were the pope, I wouldn’t invite Netanyahu to my house either. Aside from being pretty imperialistic, racist, and violent, he just doesn’t seem like a nice guy. Peres is no angel either, but if you have to pick between the two… well, it’s a pretty easy decision. And while Abbas is not likely to add anything intelligent to any conversation, he will probably at least be respectful.
The Palestinian Authority has already said that Abbas will visit The Vatican. Israel has said that she appreciates the invitation but has made no commitment to actually make the visit. Let me be the first to make a bold prediction: Israel won’t visit the pope. It would just be awkward. And I know how she feels. I have met many priests in my life, and I always worry about what they might think of me if they actually knew my resumé of sins. Well, Francis knows who Israel is. If I were in her shoes, I would stay home too.
Now, I followed Francis’ visit closely. And maybe it was just me, but it seemed that whenever he was hanging out with Palestinians, he was happy and laughing. And whenever he was with Netanyahu, he was miserable and frowning. I think I even saw him check his watch. Bibi can have that effect on people. When he was with us, he looked like a guy at a party. When he was with Netanyahu, he looked like a guy at the dentist’s office.
Now, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the pope likes us. After all, Pope Francis and all his friends at The Vatican are spending their lives trying to live up to the standard of the most famous Palestinian of all time. And his visit allowed him to see how Jesus’ cousins are living today.
He should visit more often.
* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."