September 2012 Archives

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Father Roy writes: The following article reports a detail of contemporary history while history is in the process of being made.  One must never misunderestimate the efficacy of details.  Benjamin Netanyahu is complaining (whining, really wailing) that President Obama has snubbed him, and some are making an issue of it.  There will be a sensation in the media.

Future historians will refer to today’s detail as "The Snub of September 2012".  Details are most interesting when we ferret out the significance in the process, so let’s read between the lines of the article pasted below.  Let’s notice the comedy in the situation as well as the human tragedy.  Let’s start figuring out what we can do to avoid another world war.

President Obama will address the UNGA on 25 September.  Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the UNGA on September the 28th.  If either of them starts telling lies in his speech, the International Community will be exceeding "annoyed".   There’s a possibility that there will be walk-outs.

Peace,

Roy

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U.S. President Barack Obama Avoids Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Meeting

By Matt Spetalnick and Allyn Fisher-Ilan

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM, Sept 11 (Reuters) – In a highly unusual rebuff to a close ally, the White House said on Tuesday that President Barack Obama would not meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a U.S. visit later this month, as tensions escalated over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.

The apparent snub, coupled with Netanyahu’s sharpened demands for a tougher U.S. line against Iran, threatened to plunge U.S.-Israeli relations into crisis and add pressure on Obama in the final stretch of a tight presidential election campaign.

An Israeli official said the White House had refused Netanyahu’s request to meet Obama when the Israeli leader visits the United States to attend the U.N. General Assembly, telling the Israelis "the president’s schedule will not permit that."

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor denied Netanyahu’s request had been spurned, insisting instead that the two leaders were attending the General Assembly on different days and would not be in New York at the same time.

Netanyahu has had a strained relationship with Obama, but they have met on all but one of his U.S trips since 2009. The president was on a foreign visit when the prime minister came to the United States in November 2010.

By withholding a meeting, Obama could alienate some Jewish and pro-Israel voters as he seeks a second term in the Nov. 6 election. Republican rival Mitt Romney has already accused Obama of being too tough on Israel and not hard enough on Iran.

The White House’s decision could signal U.S. displeasure with the Israeli leader’s intensifying pressure for Obama to set specific red lines on Iran.

Word that the two men would not meet came on the same day that Netanyahu said the United States had forfeited its moral right to stop Israel from taking action against Iran’s nuclear program because it had refused to be firm with Tehran itself.

Netanyahu has argued that setting a clear boundary for Iran’s uranium enrichment activities and imposing stronger economic sanctions could deter Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and mitigate the need for military action.

In comments that appeared to bring the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran closer, Netanyahu took Washington to task for rebuffing his call to set a "red line" for Iran’s nuclear program, which has already prompted four rounds of U.N. sanctions.

"The world tells Israel ‘wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’" said Netanyahu, speaking in English.

"Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel," he added, addressing a news conference with Bulgaria’s prime minister.

"UNPRECEDENTED ATTACK"

The website of Israel’s daily newspaper Haaretz called his words "an unprecedented verbal attack on the U.S. government".

Iran makes no secret of its hostility to Israel, widely assumed to be the region’s only nuclear-armed power, but says its nuclear program is purely peaceful.

Netanyahu’s relations with Obama have been tense because of Iran and other issues, such as Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

But he has never framed his differences with Obama – who has pledged he will "always have Israel’s back" and is deep in a re-election campaign – in moral terms.

Obama has been seeking to shore up his advantage over Romney with Jewish voters – who could make a difference in election battleground states like Florida and Ohio – by recently stressing his rock-solid support for Israel’s security.

He received 78 percent of the Jewish vote in the 2008 election, but a nationwide Gallup poll in June showed him down to 64 percent backing versus Romney’s 29 percent.

While seeking to put Netanyahu in his place might not go down well with pro-Israel voters, the White House may also be trying to avoid the prospects of an embarrassing encounter at a difficult time in U.S.-Israeli relations.

When the two men met in the Oval Office in May 2011, Netanyahu lectured Obama on Jewish history and criticized his approach to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.

Netanyahu’s office had offered a solution to the leaders’ scheduling problems by having him visit Washington before his U.N. speech on Sept. 28, the Israeli official said. But the White House did not accept the idea.

Obama, who is keeping up a busy schedule of campaign rallies around the country, is expected to take a break to address the United Nations on Sept. 25.

Netanyahu’s harsh comments on Tuesday followed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks on Monday that the United States would not set a deadline in further talks with Iran, and that there was still time for diplomacy to work.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that Washington would have little more than a year to act to stop Iran if it decided to produce a nuclear weapon.

Iran has threatened to retaliate against Israel and U.S. interests in the Gulf if it is attacked, and any such conflict could throw Obama’s re-election bid off course.

DEADLINE

Netanyahu did not mention Clinton by name but pointedly parroted her use of the word "deadline," saying:

"If Iran knows that there is no ‘deadline’, what will it do? Exactly what it’s doing. It’s continuing, without any interference, towards obtaining a nuclear weapons capability and from there, nuclear bombs …

"So far we can say with certainty that diplomacy and sanctions haven’t worked. The sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy but they haven’t stopped the Iranian nuclear program. That’s a fact. And the fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs."

Despite the recent tougher Israeli rhetoric, over the past week, Netanyahu, in calling for a "red line," had appeared to be backing away from military action and preparing the ground for a possible meeting with Obama.

Opinion polls suggest that a majority of Israelis do not want their military to strike Iran without U.S. support.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak seemed to criticize Netanyahu’s assault on the Jewish state’s biggest ally.

"Despite the differences and importance of maintaining Israel’s independence of action, we must remember the importance of partnership with the United States and try as much as possible not to hurt that," a statement from his office said.

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Father Roy writes: According to the article pasted below, an anonymous Palestinian faction fired two rockets into Israel last evening “despite” Israel’s earlier warning that Israel might re-occupy Gaza.  One might say that the rockets were fired “because” of Israel’s neverending threats.  Notice in the article that the faction has claimed responsibility for the two rockets.  Have you noticed?  Arab Freedom Fighters generally do claim responsibility for their violent resistance.  Which is not the case with the CIA or the Mossad or other groups who involve themselves in false flag operations.  Israel could stop the bombings altogether if Israel would quit the Siege of Gaza.  And end the occupation of Palestinian territories.  And stop all the thunderous threats and boasting.  And comply with International Law.  And learn to share Jerusalem, for starters.

One wonders whether Israel can be convinced that peace would be beneficial for Israel’s economy.  What better incentive can there be?  Here’s a possible peace dividend:  Valley of Peace (03:41).  We’ve got the technology to make it happen.  Cooperative efforts would be required, of course.

I’ve done a bit of highlighting in the article pasted below.  You’ll notice that Hamas still does not trust Israel’s government.  I added a postscript at the very, very bottom.

Peace,Roy+

source: Rockets fired into southern Israel despite Israeli threat to re-occupy Gaza

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Damaged buildings in Gaza after operation Cast-Lead

Rockets fired into southern Israel despite Israeli threat to re-occupy Gaza

On the night of Sept. 9, an anonymous Palestinian faction from Gaza Strip fired two Grad rockets into Israel, damaging two buildings in city of Netivot and causing light injuries to thirteen Israelis, including four people who suffered from shock.

According to Jerusalem Post, one of the Grad rockets hit a home in the city of Netivot while the second struck the city of Beersheba, exploded in an open area of the city.

The attack came despite the latest Israeli threats, such as most recent Israeli defense minister’s statement of readiness to re-occupy Gaza. Indeed, it seems that there are factions actually aiming at dragging Israel to a military operation or a war in Gaza, regardless of the consequences it would have on Gaza residents, who are already suffering due to the conflict and are often being forced to leave their homeland and immigrate.

The new attack came hours after Salafist militants named ” the Mujahedeen Shura Council” claimed rockets fired into Israel is in response to the killing of six people in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza last week. In addition, the rocket fire is said to be in repsonse to Israeli policies towards Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the Beersheba mosque, where Israel held a wine festival this week.

We claim responsibility for firing two rockets, on Saturday morning, against the region of Sdot Negev,” said the statement signed by the hardline Islamist splinter group, called the Mujahedeen Shura Council.

The group also said that, the Hamas government is cracking down on its members in an attempt to halt rocket fire into Israel.

“Security forces confiscated homemade projectiles and light weapons belonging to Salafi militants, and detained 20 fighters,” the group added.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said, a rocket hit Israel’s Eshkol region early Saturday, without causing injuries or damage, and another missile alert had sounded.

Another red color alert, the official warning of a rocket, was issued in the area this morning, but it was not immediately clear if the rocket had hit Israel, she added.

It is worth mentioning that, Salafist groups accuse the Hamas government in Gaza of showing weakness against Israel and its failure to impose Islamic law.

However, Israeli forces killed six Palestinians, in separate attacks, on Wednesday and Thursday, claiming they targeted militants firing rockets into the Negev and planting bombs near the border. According to Palestinian media, all of the dead were civilians.

Moreover, according to Alresalah news, Hamas’s prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said in an interview with Al-Aqsa TV of Hamas that his government has been honest and maintained its political positions as it will never recognize Israel and will not give up a single inch of Palestinian land.

Haniyeh stressed that the resistance in Gaza has all elements of force and can protect Gaza Strip from any attack or aggression by the Israeli occupation army.

“We emphasized resistance option in order to liberate the land. We now live in a stage that gathers reconstruction and liberation and resistance,” Haniyeh added.  

(Peers…. Please review this article which comes from HamasPause for Peace – New York Times It’s not the least bit out-of-date.  R) 

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Sonja Karkar of Australians for Palestine writes:   

Below is an excerpt from Rabbi Brant Rosen’s new book.  It is a record of his journey from liberal Zionist to Palestinian solidarity activist.  Along the way he has grappled with issues that have elicited heated debate from his congregants and his readers – something he is glad about because he says “we simply must find a way to widen the limits of public discourse on Israel/Palestine, no matter how painful the prospect.”  

In it you will find discussions about the growing campaign for BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – and whether it is anti-Semitic; Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and whether it constitutes apartheid; and whether the founding of Israel is based on an injustice.  His own growing realisation of the terrible injustice that has been done and continues to be done to the Palestinians is something that he covered up with the usual plea for “peace and coexistence” until Israel’s ferocious attack on Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead, left him in no doubt that “this is not about security at all – this is about bringing the Palestinian people to their knees.  Once I admitted this to myself, I realized how utterly tired I had become.   Tired of trying to excuse the inexcusable. Tired of using torturous, exhausting rationalizations to explain away what I really knew in my heart was sheer and simple oppression.”

If a rabbi can come to this conclusion beyond any shadow of doubt, then our political and religious leaders really need to search their own consciences and stop talking about the conflict as if it is between two equal protagonists – it is most definitely not and never has been – and move on from the long compromised “peace process” based on a two state solution that was doomed from the moment the Oslo accords were signed.  We may not be able to make good the cumulative injustices suffered by the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have died in exile and under occupation, but we must begin to make reparations to the generations who bear still festering wounds and new ones of this monumental human catastrophe.

source: MONDOWEISS

Wrestling in the daylight –

A rabbi’s path to Palestinian solidarity

by Brant Rosen

Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.

       — Genesis 32:25

This well-known Biblical episode leaves behind tantalizing questions. Who is the mysterious “man” with whom Jacob wrestles? What is his identity, and where did he come from? One popular interpretation suggests that the night stranger with whom Jacob struggles at this critical moment is none other than Jacob himself—perhaps his alter ego or his shadow self.

But why must the wrestling match necessarily take place at night? Why does the night stranger say so desperately to Jacob in the next verse, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking?” Perhaps this detail is teaching us that our deepest struggles invariably occur in the most private of places. After all, whenever we publicly wrestle with our deepest dilemmas, doubts, or fears, we take a very real risk. That’s why we tend to engage in our most challenging struggles internally—“in the dead of night.” This book is, among other things, a record of the moment I personally began to wrestle in the daylight. It documents a two-year period during which I publicly struggled, as a congregational rabbi, with one of the most difficult and painfully divisive issues facing the American Jewish community.

* * *

I’ve identified deeply with Israel for most of my life. I first visited at a very young age and have been back to visit more times than I can even count.

In my early twenties, I spent two years there studying, working, and living on kibbutzim. I have family members and many dear friends who live in Israel. My Jewish identity has been profoundly informed by the classic Zionist narrative: the story of a small underdog nation forging a national and cultural rebirth out of the ashes of its near-destruction. The redemptive nature of this narrative has at times assumed a quasi-sacred status for me, as it has for many American Jews of my generation and older.

Politically speaking, I’ve identified with what tends to be referred to today as “liberal Zionism.” I’ve long been inspired by Israel’s Labor Zionist origins, and I’ve generally aligned myself with positions advocated by the Israeli left and the Israeli peace movement. When it came to the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, I’d invariably intone a familiar refrain of liberal Zionists: “It’s complicated.”

If I found myself occasionally troubled by ill-advised or even unjust Israeli policies, I tended to view them as “blemishes” on an otherwise stable democracy and a noble national project. At the end of the day, I understood the essence of this conflict to be a clash between two national movements, each with compelling and valid claims to the same small piece of land. In the end, the only viable, equitable solution would be its division into two states for two peoples.

Over the years, however, I confess, I struggled with nagging, gnawing doubts over the tenets of this liberal Zionist narrative. Although I was able to keep these doubts at bay—for the most part—I was never able to successfully silence them. I experienced the earliest of these doubting voices when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, unleashing a shocking degree of military firepower that shook my naive “David vs. Goliath” assumptions to their core.

Several years later, the voices grew even louder as I witnessed the brutality with which Israel put down the nonviolent Palestinian demonstrations of the First Intifada. And they grew more insistent still when I began to witness firsthand the darker truths of Israel’s oppressive occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Truth be told, however, if I was troubled by these things, it was less out of concern for the well-being or safety of Palestinians per se than it was the tribal notion that the occupation was “corrupting Israel’s soul” and endangering Israel’s future existence as a “Jewish and democratic state.”

Like many liberal Zionists, I dealt with such concerns by retreating to the safety of political pedagogy: These troubling realities simply proved to us all the more that we needed to redouble our efforts toward the peace process and an eventual two-state solution.

When I was ordained as a rabbi in 1992, the stakes were raised on my political views—particularly when it came to Israel/Palestine. Given the ideological centrality of Zionism in the American Jewish community, my inner conflicts over Israel’s oppressive treatment of Palestinians now carried very real professional consequences. Rabbis and Jewish leaders are under tremendous pressure by the American Jewish organizational establishment to maintain unflagging support for the state of Israel. Congregational rabbis in particular take a very real professional risk when they criticize Israel publicly. To actually stand in solidarity with Palestinians would be tantamount to communal heresy.

Shortly after I was ordained, I began reading the newly published English translations of Israel’s “New Historians”—important scholars, such as Benny Morris, Tom Segev, Avi Shalim, and Ilan Pappe—who exposed the darker truths about the establishment of the Jewish state and the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem. These books had a powerful, even radicalizing, impact upon me. I became increasingly struck by the sheer injustice that accompanied Israel’s birth, an injustice that was not only historical but, as I was coming to believe, still very much present and ongoing.

From here, I began to entertain difficult questions about the ethnic nationalism at the heart of Zionism—and became more and more troubled that Israel’s identity as a Jewish state was entirely dependent upon the maintenance of a Jewish majority within its borders. In the United States, the very suggestion of a “demographic time bomb” (an oft-used term used by liberal Zionists to advocate the critical importance of a two-state solution) would be considered incorrigibly racist. In my more unguarded moments, I’d ask myself: Why, then, do we bandy this concept about so freely when it pertains to the Jewish state?

Despite the questions, I nevertheless found a safe and comfortable home in liberal Zionism for the first decade of my rabbinate, affiliating with such organizations as Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, and J Street. All the while, the gnawing voices continued. Although I shared the elation of many at the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, my optimism was short-lived. In due time, Israel expanded its settlement regime over the Palestinian territories, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and the Clinton-brokered peace talks at Camp David crashed and burned.

When the horrors of the Second Intifada began in the fall of 2000, I dealt with my anguish through a carefully cultivated avoidance of the Israel/Palestine issue. Whenever I addressed the subject in writings or sermons, it was usually with a vague but essentially substance-free plea for “peace and coexistence” on both sides. I would mourn the loss of life for both peoples and advocate redoubling our efforts at a peace process I increasingly feared was empty at the core.

Israel’s second military campaign in Lebanon during the summer of 2006 jolted me temporarily out of my avoidance. As I read and watched another military bombardment of Beirut—and my e-mail inbox filled up with Jewish Federation blasts exhorting me to support the Israel Emergency Campaign—I was deeply saddened that my community showed precious little concern about the sheer magnitude of the violence Israel was unleashing yet again against the people of Lebanon. Although I certainly felt compassion for—along with a certain tribal solidarity with—the citizens of Northern Israel suffering under Hezbollah rocket fire, I was unable to accept the utter destruction the IDF was inflicting upon Lebanon in the name of national security. Still, I kept my silence. The pressure to present a united Jewish communal front during a time of war still trumped my own inner struggle.

In October 2006, I started a keeping a blog I called Shalom Rav. (The title is a pun: Shalom rav, or “abundant peace,” is the name of a well-known Jewish prayer—but the Hebrew can also be taken to mean “hello, Rabbi.”) At the time, my intention was simply to hold forth on anything or everything I thought to be worthy of sharing over the blogosphere. As a congregational rabbi serving in Evanston, Illinois, I also thought it would be an effective way for my congregants to hear more regularly from their rabbi.

Because social action had always played an important role in my rabbinate, I intended to devote a significant percentage of my blog posts to current issues of social justice and human rights. As a result, a reader perusing Shalom Rav in those early years could read my thoughts on subjects as wide-ranging and diverse as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fair-trade coffee, torture at Guantánamo, poverty and hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, and human rights in Darfur. Soon, however, the focus of my blog changed dramatically.

* * *

On December 28, 2008, I read the first news report of Israel’s military assault on Gaza—a campaign that would soon be well-known as Operation Cast Lead. On the first day of operations, the Israeli Air Force destroyed Hamas security facilities in Gaza, killing more than 225 people, most of whom were new police cadets participating in a graduation ceremony. Numerous civilians, including children, were also among the dead. By the end of the day, it was clear we were only witnessing the beginning of a much longer and even more violent military campaign that would drive much farther into Gaza.

I remember reading this news with utter anguish. At the same, oddly enough, I realized that I was finally observing this issue with something approaching true clarity: This is not about security at all—this is about bringing the Palestinian people to their knees. Once I admitted this to myself, I realized how utterly tired I had become. Tired of trying to excuse the inexcusable. Tired of using torturous, exhausting rationalizations to explain away what I really knew in my heart was sheer and simple oppression.

After staring at my screen for what seemed like an eternity, I logged on to my blog and typed out a post entitled “Outrage in Gaza: No More Apologies.” I ended with a declaration—and a question: What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza is an outrage. It has brought neither safety nor security to the people of Israel and it has wrought nothing but misery and tragedy upon the people of Gaza. There, I’ve said it. Now what do I do?

Although it was a simple and not particularly eloquent post, I knew full well what it would mean when I clicked “publish.” It represented a very conscious and public break from the liberal Zionist fold that had been my spiritual and political home for almost my entire life. But although I was finally very clear about what I was leaving behind, I was not at all sure about where I now belonged. Hence the final line of my post: Now what do I do?

Although I expected my words to make waves, I was still astonished by what happened next: The post immediately went viral, eliciting 125 comments in less than a month—far more than I have ever received before or since.

Although some of the initial commenters were congregants, I ultimately received responses from all over the world. Predictably, some lashed out against my post, but as the comments continued to roll in, I was surprised to read the words of many more—congregants, Jews, and non-Jews alike—expressing their immense thanks for what I had written. The comment thread was peppered with a palpable sense of gratitude and relief that a Jewish leader—a rabbi, no less—had finally crossed a significant line so publicly.

My post was not, as many assumed at the time, a temporary burst of emotion on my part. As Israel intensified its military assault on Gaza throughout January 2009, my anguish only deepened. I read news reports of Apache helicopters dropping hundreds of tons of bombs on 1.5 million people crowded into a besieged 140-square-mile patch of land. I learned about the bombing of schools and homes in which entire families were destroyed, about men, women, and children literally burned to the bone with white phosphorus. Throughout it all, I continued to blog openly about the outrages I believed Israel was committing in Gaza—and about my increasing sense of solidarity with Gazan civilians.

Over the months following Cast Lead, I broadened my scope, writing numerous posts addressing my changing relationship to Israel. As the months went by, I brought all my nagging, gnawing doubts out into the bright light of day. It soon became clear to me that Cast Lead was simply the final tipping point of a domino line I’d been setting up steadily over the years. I became increasingly involved in Palestinian solidarity work, founding, with my colleague Rabbi Brian Walt, an initiative called Jewish Fast for Gaza and taking on a leadership role in the rapidly growing national organization Jewish Voice for Peace. Along the way, I recorded and commented upon my newfound activism in Shalom Rav.

Although I knew I was taking a risk on many levels by publishing my initial post, the conversation that has resulted fills me with hope. I am immensely proud of the relatively high and eloquent level of the debate on my blog, and I am regularly awed by the willingness of so many of my commenters to be fundamentally challenged over such a difficult issue. Over the years, I’ve been humbled and excited to convene this lively, almost Talmudic discussion between members of my congregation along with countless others: Jews, Israelis, Palestinians, Muslims, Christians, and citizens of various ethnicities and nations, many of whom I have never actually met—and most likely never will.

* * *

Today, I continue to serve my congregation in Evanston. I continue to “wrestle in the daylight,” and I continue to advocate for a just peace in Israel/Palestine. I’m often asked where I stand now—that is, now that I’ve officially broken ranks with liberal Zionism. Although it’s not a simple answer, I do know this: My primary religious motivation comes from my inherited Jewish tradition, in which God commands me to stand with the oppressed and to call out the oppressor. I know that the American Jewish community is my spiritual home and that I stand with the Palestinian people in their struggle against oppression. And I know that I fervently desire a just and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians.

I also know that my constituency is not as narrow as some might think. Through my work, I have come to discover increasing numbers of Jews—particularly young Jews—who genuinely seek a home in the Jewish community but cannot countenance the Jewish establishment’s orthodoxy on Israel. I have also met many non-Jews—including Palestinians, interfaith colleagues, and fellow political activists—who constitute a new, exciting, ever-growing community of conscience.

Along the way, I’ve come to believe that too many of us have been wrestling in the dark on this issue for far too long. I believe we simply must find a way to widen the limits of public discourse on Israel/Palestine, no matter how painful the prospect. It is my fervent hope that the conversations presented here might represent, in their small way, a step toward the light of day.

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Could the church actually take the lead here in bringing justice to the Middle East, and by extension invoke a new hope for peace across the globe?

It is a wonderful thought, and the Pope is certainly in a position to make an enormous difference.  History suggests though hat church leaders tend to be politically conservative in such matters rather than prophetic, but there is still room for hope (and prayer). Dave 

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Patriarch Gregorios III Laham

‘Statehood for Palestine now’, patriarch tells pope

BEIRUT — One of Lebanon’s most senior Christian leaders tonight told Pope Benedict XVI that recognition of Palestinian statehood would be “the most precious good the Arab world can obtain” for both Christians and Muslims, but stopped short of directly calling on the Vatican to extend that recognition unilaterally.

Patriarch Gregorios III Laham spoke tonight while welcoming Benedict to the Greek Melkite Basilica of St. Paul, where the pope was to formally sign the concluding document from a 2010 Synod of Bishops on the Middle East.

An advance text of Laham’s welcome was briefly placed on the official Lebanese web site for the papal visit two weeks ago, then quickly taken down. In it, Laham called on the pope to recognize Palestine, ahead of an expected push for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations General Assembly later this month. Tonight, Laham didn’t go quite that far, but he made his support for the Palestinian cause abundantly clear.

“The recognition of a Palestinian state is the most precious good that the Arab world can obtain in all its confessions, Christian and Muslim,” Laham said.

“It can guarantee the realization of the orientations expressed in the post-synodal exhortation,” referring to the pope’s document, “for which we express our most lively gratitude.”

Statehood for Palestine, Laham said, “would prepare the way for a true Arab Spring, true democracy, and a real revolution capable of changing the face of the Arab world and of bringing peace to the Holy Land, the Middle East, and the world.”

In general, Christian leaders in the Middle East tend to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, in part because many of them are Arabs themselves, and in part because they believe Christians in Israel and Palestine suffer the same injustices as Arab Muslims.

Though never officially confirmed, it was widely believed that Laham’s original text, asking the pope to recognize Palestine himself, was taken down because it could embarrass Benedict during his three-day stop in the Middle East. Officially, the Vatican’s line on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict favors a negotiated two-state solution without unilateral gestures on either side.

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According to a report aired on Russian TV last month, the Israeli government recently decided to designated roughly 18% of the West Bank as ‘closed military zones’ to be used by the IDF for training and military exercises!  Small family tragedies like this, taking place outside the village of Nabi Saleh, are the inevitable outcome of such decisions.

As a father of four children, I find this report (screened on Palestinian TV) hard to watch. My paternal instincts are inflamed, seeing these  young children man-handled by the heavily-armed IDF soldiers. Of course the soldiers are not ultimately the ones to blame. They are only doing their job in enforcing the Occupation and the theft of this family’s land. The real villains are far removed from the front line, hidden safely in the comfortable corridors of political power.

Father Dave

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