A Catholic Narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A Catholic Narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Over a decade ago, I read the story of a Palestinian priest living in a small village in Galilee. His name was Father Elias Chacour, and the book’s name was – Blood Brothers-. I made pilgrimage to the Holy Land and volunteered at Fr. Chacour’s school for some months, and traveled into the West Bank as well. What I saw and heard during my experiences there changed my life forever. I realized then that the Palestinians truly are the “victim’s of the Victims”, as Edward Said so eloquently phrased it, referring to the fact that the Jews, who were the biggest victims of World War II, were now in the position of the oppressor with respect to the Palestinian people.

From a Catholic vantage point, the American policy of pretty much one-sided support for the Israeli State is both detrimental to the cause of Holy Land Christians, and is a primary root cause of Middle Eastern anger and terrorism directed at otherwise innocent Israelis and Americans.

Pope John Paul II stated that the question of Jerusalem is fundamental for a just peace in the Middle East that the City should stand out as a symbol of universal peace for the human family. Pope Benedict XVI seems similarly inclined on this issue.

The Vatican-PLO Accord of 2000 directly implied that Israel’s unilateral actions concerning Jerusalem were “morally and legally unacceptable”. Peace and security for all peoples of the region should be settled on the basis of international law, relevant UN and its Security Council resolutions; Justice and equity- realizing the inalienable national legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people. I recommend that all Catholics read the Accord and draw your own conclusions.

The highest ranking Catholic in the Holy Land (just recently retired), has been the Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah (lpj.org). The Patriarch has been pleading for years that American Catholics need to work to change the American policy of financing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. He has stated that: “ The State of Israel encompasses 78% of historical Palestine…the remaining 22% was occupied by Israel in 1967, and this is all Palestinians want- a small part of what they had before 1947. They want that 22% to be free of occupation, all of it. Israel cannot have both things- security and occupation. They must give up occupation for security.” (As quoted in the St. Anthony Messenger). The Church has stood behind the Geneva Conventions regarding the right of people displaced by war to return to their homes, and the UN Resolutions 194, 224, and 478, as well as Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of human rights.

Father Labib Kobti runs an excellent Arab-American Roman Catholic website (al-bushra.org), which is packed full of research separating fact from myth in the history of Holy Land conflicts. One learns that “The claims of Israel that Jerusalem is the eternal, unique and unified capital of Israel is contrary to the long history of the city, and its spiritual mission.” The Holy Land started off being Canaanite-Phoenician (among others) homeland; It was occupied by pagans for 800 years, Jews for 543 years, Christians for 427 and Muslims 1193 years, respectively. Jerusalem should be an international city for all, not the exclusive political domain of any one religion or people.

There are so many sources of solid information on the truth about how self-destructive the policies of the U.S.-Israel have been, and how things ought to be. For a taste of what I witnessed check out the Christian Peacemaker Teams (Hebron) (cpt.org), and read some heart wrenching personal accounts. For Jewish viewpoints that don’t reflect the AIPAC party line, I recommend the following: jewishvoiceforpeace.org, tikkun.org, gush-shalom.org, icahd.org, phr.org.il, seruv.org, and btselem.org. Other excellent American sources of information would include Paul Findley at cnionline.org, and Pat Buchanan at amconmag.com, as well the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (wrmea.com). Cactus48.com, electronicintifada.net and al-awda.org are also quite interesting.

The politicians may refuse to debate our incredible support for an expansionist and nuclear armed Israel, but responsible Catholic citizens should find their voice and dare to speak out.

Tim Shipe (www.timshipe.com) on the Board of Advisors for: Florida Democrats for Life Organization, and Pax Romana Center for International Study of Catholic Social Teaching-

39 Responses to A Catholic Narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

  • The State of Israel encompasses 78% of historical Palestine…the remaining 22% was occupied by Israel in 1967, and this is all Palestinians want- a small part of what they had before 1947. They want that 22% to be free of occupation

    If only this were really true.

  • Considering that the PLO was founded in 1964 and under its original charter declared its intention to “liberate” all of Palestine, I’d say the ultimate goal of the PLO is to ensure that Jews rule in no part of Palestine. Everything else is for Western consumption. The evidence for this is overwhelming. For example Fatah is the largest component of the PLO. In March Muhammad Dahlan, former Fatah security commander, called on Hamas not to recognize Israel’s right to exist because Fatah never has done so, distinguishing Fatah from the PLO.

    http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1237114855755&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

    Of course all of this is part and parcel of Palestinian politics. Hamas controls Gaza, and the PLO controls the West Bank. They hate each other only a little less than they hate the Israelis, and have frequently murdered members of the other group. Dahlan in his statement was attempting to refute the frequent Hamas refrain that the PLO are sellouts to the Jews. Of course the simple truth is that if it will get them something they want, the PLO will be willing to recognize the right to exist of Israel, until they have the power to destroy it. This does not mean they will not continually engage in a terrorist war against Israel, as in a Fatah attack which killed 8 yeshiva students in March.

    http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1204546441603

  • “PRESIDENT CLINTON was preparing last night to cut short his visit to Japan and fly back to the United States after Israel conceded a key principle by publicly accepting that Palestinians could control part of Jerusalem.

    Point of agreement: Ehud Barak, Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State and Yasser Arafat enjoy a lighter moment at Camp David

    The Israeli move was viewed as an important breakthrough and US officials said that Mr Clinton would press Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to give up his demand for Palestinian sovereignty over the city.

    Mr Clinton, who had already delayed his arrival in Okinawa for the G8 economic summit because of the Camp David talks, decided to return early after an Israeli cabinet minister revealed that Palestinians could be granted control over an autonomous East Jerusalem.

    Michael Melchior, who had been part of Israeli premier Ehud Barak’s negotiating team, said that Israel was prepared to accept an American plan on the future of Jerusalem. The talks had continued under Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, since Thursday but officials said that another concerted push for an elusive deal was only possible with the president at the reins.

    White House officials said that if Mrs Albright told Mr Clinton that the Palestinian and Israeli positions were moving closer then he could be back at Camp David, where Mr Barak and Mr Arafat had remained, as early as tomorrow.

    But Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian spokesman, said that Mr Arafat believed that the US plan was unacceptable. He said: “What the Israelis are trying to do is find formulations whereby they would maintain an illegal Israeli sovereignty over occupied Jerusalem.”

    Seems like there was some give by Israel over the Jerusalem question in 2000.

  • I’m not buying, either. The “Palestinians” may have peace at any time once they stop attempting to wipe out the Jews.

    If they put half as much effort into agriculture, animal husbandry, industry, and the elimination of their political corruption as they put into trying to kill Jews, I might be willing to consider the argument.

    That many “Palestinian” Christians and fellow travelers continue to spread this sort of propaganda invites uncharitable thoughts regarding dhimmitude.

    Islam means submission. And neither Jews nor Christians should be willing to submit. That is the crux of the problem, not the policies of the State of Israel or the United States of America.

  • I am attempting to represent a Catholic perspective on the Holy Land conflict, not a Christian/Jewish Zionist perspective- so my information reflects my own on-site observations taken over several months, and a wide-ranging research that began by seeking counsel from local Catholics who actually live in Israel proper- I suggest all Catholics who are seeking the true circumstances, begin by reading Father Chacour’s Blood Brothers book, followed that with – We Belong to the Land. It is incorrect to frame the root cause of this political conflict between the majority Israelis and majority Palestinians as primarily a Muslim problem- any more than the story of Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” were primarily a Catholic problem. I personally want to see Jews, Christians and Muslims all live and take care of their families in peace- and I think the jewishvoiceforpeace.org perspective is a much better one than that put forth by the AIPAC establishment.

  • Flame,

    Are you serious?

    “If they put half as much effort into agriculture, animal husbandry, industry, and the elimination of their political corruption as they put into trying to kill Jews, I might be willing to consider the argument.”

    Every incursion against the Palestinian people I have ever read of in the whole history of this bloody conflict has involved Israeli troops uprooting and destroying their agriculture – their olive trees, their farms, etc.

    Does anyone think the Palestinian people choose to live in over packed ghettos with no access to basic human necessities? When you treat people like animals, they become animals. Then they become rabid.

    I’m not ashamed to say that I am anti-Zionist, that that the terrible crime of the Holocaust should have been paid for by the German government, not Palestinian goat herders and peasants.

  • I think Flame’s assessment is about as balanced as Tim Shipe’s.

  • This is not a “Catholic” perspective, it is a personal perspective. Period.

    Every incursion against the Palestinian people I have ever read of in the whole history of this bloody conflict has involved Israeli troops uprooting and destroying their agriculture – their olive trees, their farms, etc.

    In response to what? Tell the truth. Israel has been under almost constant terrorist attack since before 1967 from those “peace loving Palestinians”. Do you want them to just give in?

    Let me ask you this. If you’re a Christian Arab would you feel safer living in Israeli controlled territory or Hamas/Fatah controlled territory?

    What happened to the greenhouses that Israel left intact when it voluntarily left Gaza???? They were destroyed out of hatred. Until the Palestinians change their focus they will not have peace.

    Stop spreading lies about the denial of “basic human necessities”, if this were true would be all dead. Where does Gaza get it’s electricity from?

    The US has provided massive assistance both financial, technical and diplomatic to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank… in response, what happens? They elect an avowed terrorist organization and fall into civil war…

  • Israeli policy on settlements has been wrong, to be blunt. It’s a legitimate gripe of the Palestinians, as is the expropriation of land for security purposes. Moreover, there are influential personalities in Israeli politics (Avigdor Lieberman) who are repellent bigots, not to put too fine a point on it. People who are pro-Israel (I count myself among them) have to be vigilant to the problems Israel creates for itself through its own wrong-headed actions, and not wave them away or give blank checks for retaliatory actions.

    Of course there’s a qualifier coming.

    But we need to look at the wider picture here. Israel is perfectly capable of giving back land and establishing modus vivendi with neighbors who are rational actors. Egypt, Jordan, and even Syria (although the last is shaky, but still workable) are all nations with whom the Israelis have managed to establish functioning relationships despite multiple bitter shooting wars and Israeli occupation of portions of each of their land. All three have one thing in common–resolutely secular, if unpleasant governments.

    What’s different with the Palestinians? Increasingly radically Islamicized leadership which will not agree to the existence of Israel. Less so in Fatah, obviously, but when you have an auxilliary called the “Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade,” the writing’s on the wall.

    Look, I think much of Soren’s analysis deserves thoughtful consideration, but shrugging off the religious element of the problem does it no credit.

  • Dale,

    good point. I concede that Israel has not always been as innocent as a lamb (not sure there’s many nations out there that could claim such), but as you have done, there has to be a clear distinction made between those who seek peace and those who seek the destruction of others.

  • Thanks Joe and Dale for your analysis- just so you know Dale- SorenAugust is just my user name- my real name is at the bottom of the piece- I don’t like anonymous comments, I like to stand by my own words so I will see if I can change my user name to reflect that.

    Dale- I know that the situation has deteriorated since I was in the Holy Land- the religious factor has become a much bigger player- just like the jihadist-type movement in general- this larger problem has come into the Palestinian problem- and this is something we Americans must also take a lot of responsibility for- I’ve been reading Steve Coll’s book on our involvement in Afganistan and the short-sightedness in our policy elites who played games with pakistani and saudi intelligence agencies to promote the heck out of the jihadist movement because at the time it was being directed primarily at the Soviets- our policy wizards thought they could control these elements just to make the Soviets “bleed”- they didn’t really think they could defeat the Soviets, and when they did they naively thought they could just waltz in and control the Taliban with some Unocol pipeline opportunities! And Israel has a little history of promoting jihadist elements as well- Hamas was initially supported by Israel’s policy makers in order to drive a wedge in the Palestinian community- the dominant PLO was secular- and like the PA today they have major difference with radical Islamists- Dreyfuss wrote a book everyone should read- Devil’s Game- which traces a lot of this.

    I notice that no one who is attacking my positions here is calling Archbishop Elias Chacour or former Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah liars or jihadist sympathizers- so I have to ask my critics- if my line of thinking on this correlates to the local Catholic Hierarchy in the Holy Land- how is it I am accused of not offering a “Catholic” narrative? What are your Catholic sources in the Holy Land? Wouldn’t these be the best sources of information for the worldwide Catholic community to draw upon? Are American Catholics more sympathetic and interested in Israeli Jewish community sources than in Palestinian Catholic community sources? If so why? Is this the new anti-Semitism, to take the side of Jews over Christians in the Holy Land because the Christians happen to be Arab??

  • Oh, shoot–sorry, Tim. I’ll note that for next time.

    An actual substantive response later–am a bit pinched for time.

  • soren,

    no one who is attacking my positions here is calling Archbishop Elias Chacour or former Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah liars or jihadist sympathizers

    because there is no need for anybody to engage in ad hominem.

    Wouldn’t these be the best sources of information for the worldwide Catholic community to draw upon

    not necessarily. People embroiled in a situation do not always have the most accurate perspective.

    Were you going to answer the question on where you would prefer to live if you were a Palestinian Christian, under Israeli control or Hamas/Fatah?

    BY the way, do your sources in Gaza have an accurate count of the number of Christian Churches burned down by Hamas since they took over control? How many Israeli soldiers are currently occupying Gaza?

    ps. the answer to the last question….exactly 1 he is held hostage and denied access to the Red Cross to see to his needs.

  • Matt,

    I ask you again, what is your problem? Accusing me of “spreading lies”, as if the Palestinian people don’t live in overcrowded ghettos that are blocked off on all sides by the Israeli military?

    Let’s say I was wrong about that – why would you assume I was lying, and that perhaps I myself have not been lied to? You have a real attitude problem.

    “Israel has been under almost constant terrorist attack since before 1967 from those “peace loving Palestinians”. Do you want them to just give in?”

    The European Jews that settled in Israel committed dozens of acts of terrorism against the British to establish their power there. One good turn deserves another, doesn’t it? Israeli settlers have been violently expropriating native Palestinians since the beginning, and you wonder why they are reacting with terrorist violence?

    Why do the Palestinian people get denied valid human emotions and reactions? Why does their history get entirely erased, wiped out of the books? As if the European Jews just started showing up and declaring, “we wish to leave peacefully, side by side with you”, and the Palestinians said “no, never!” That’s the lie here.

    And don’t talk to me about Christians living in the Holy Land. I still have family in in Northern Lebanon, Maronite Catholics who may well be targeted by jihadists for ethno-religious cleansing in the future. But none of that excuses the obscene violations of human rights that the Palestinian people suffer at the hands of the US-backed Israeli war machine.

    And no amount of shrill accusations of “liar!” or whatever else from you is ever going to change my mind. The facts are what they are. You can’t sanitize this or justify it. The European Zionists made their bed when they came to Israel and decided to expropriate the Palestinians by force.

    In the same way I don’t blame Native Americans for fighting American troops, or for that matter, Polish and Russian partisans for fighting Nazi invaders, I’m not going to say that the Palestinian people have no right to be angry about the invasion of their homeland. To expect anything less is to expect these people not to be human. Its insane.

  • Well, this is certainly a Catholic perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I would hesitate very much to say that it is the Catholic perspective on it.

    The big problem here (and the reason we’re unlikely to see peace there any time soon) is that the conflict is deeply rooted in nationalism, both Zionism (Jewish nationalism) and Palestinian nationalism.

    While I’m hesitant to lay out “the Catholic position” on things, it seems to me that nationalism (in the sense of holding that a particular people have by virtue of their ethnic and historical background a God-given right to rule a particular region) is not a Catholic point of view. In this sense, it is not necessary from a Catholic point of view that Palestine be either an explicitly Jewish or a an explicitly Palestinian/Arab state. Whatever state is in that region should provide due representation and human dignity to all residents.

    However, with the dissolution of Turkey and the brief colonial period in which the Brits ran things, the powers that be unhelpfully promised sovereignty to both Jewish and Palestinian leaders. And the borders that were originally set up by the UN in 1947 took two nationalist states and created such a patchwork of them as to make the situation naturally unstable.

    The borders at the end of the 1949 war were arguably pretty reasonable, but this made the “occupied territories” part of Jordan (arguably the most stable solution) and for Palestinian nationalists this was not acceptable as they wanted to explicitly be Palestinians not Jordanians. (And the West Bank territories have been either occupied or semi-autonomous since Jordan, along with Israel’s other Arab neighbors, attacked Israel and lost in 1967.)

    While, as Dale says, I certainly would not defend everything that Israeli leaders have said or done, I find myself sympathetic to Israel these days since they seem quite willing to be peaceful so long as they are not attacked. And I think it would be a mistake to endorse the actions and desires of Palestinian nationalists simply because they are Christians. The fact is, nationalism is always a false and dangerous ideology.

    I recently had the chance to pick up A Peace to End All Peace by the always interesting David Fromkin, which I’m very much looking forward to reading. It centers on the origins of this whole mess: the breakup of the Ottoman empire, the British and French colonial period, and the various nationalistic groups that were played off each other in the process.

  • The Jews accepted the Partition Plan of the UN. The Arabs were sure that they could drive the Jews into the sea and rejected it. Considering the subsequent invasion of Palestine by the armies of every neighboring Arab state, I can understand why they were confident. Unfortunately for them, the Jews decided that one Holocaust in a century was more than enough for them. Here is a link to a map of the partition plan.
    http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/3cbe4ee1ef30169085256b98006f540d!OpenDocument

    A good chunk of the land allocated to the Jews was desert in the Negev. The Arabs should have taken the deal.

  • I ask you again, what is your problem? Accusing me of “spreading lies”, as if the Palestinian people don’t live in overcrowded ghettos that are blocked off on all sides by the Israeli military?

    That’s not the lie you spread, while I disagree with this characterization as well, they are blocked on the west by the sea, and the south by Egypt (such as it is).

    Let’s say I was wrong about that – why would you assume I was lying, and that perhaps I myself have not been lied to? You have a real attitude problem.

    I said “Stop spreading lies”, there is no judgment as to whether you are aware they are lies… YOU have a real attitude problem.

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Peace/aidgaza.html
    On December 29 alone, Israel sent 63 trucks (1,545 tons) of humanitarian aid goods into the Gaza Strip including rice, yeast, flour, sugar and 64 tons of medical supplies. On December 31, 98 trucks and 2,366 tons of food and supplies were delivered in Gaza. On January 5, 80 trucks delivered goods to the area. On January 6, 49 trucks were sent into Gaza by means of the humanitarian unit of the IDF. 100 trucks and 500,000 liters of diesel fuel were sent in through the Kerem Shalom crossing on January 7.

    This data from the recent Israeli anti-terror action so it is obviously limited due to the logistical difficulty in bringing aid into a combat zone.

    “Israel has been under almost constant terrorist attack since before 1967 from those “peace loving Palestinians”. Do you want them to just give in?”

    The European Jews that settled in Israel committed dozens of acts of terrorism against the British to establish their power there. One good turn deserves another, doesn’t it? Israeli settlers have been violently expropriating native Palestinians since the beginning, and you wonder why they are reacting with terrorist violence?

    No, one good turn does not deserve another. Those terrorist acts you’re referring to (from the 40′s) are condemnable (while generally designed to avoid civilian deaths), but they do not justify THOUSANDS of terrorist attacks SPECIFICALLY targeting civilians. Surely you recognize the difference?

    Why do the Palestinian people get denied valid human emotions and reactions? Why does their history get entirely erased, wiped out of the books?

    I don’t see anyone here suggesting that.

    As if the European Jews just started showing up and declaring, “we wish to leave peacefully, side by side with you”, and the Palestinians said “no, never!” That’s the lie here.

    Well the former is true mostly and the latter is false mostly, but the situation changed when the Palestinians allied with the Arab states in an invasion of Israel (the Israeli Arabs who did NOT ally with the Arab States are referred to not as Palestinians but as Israeli citizens).

    And don’t talk to me about Christians living in the Holy Land. I still have family in in Northern Lebanon, Maronite Catholics who may well be targeted by jihadists for ethno-religious cleansing in the future.

    Where not the Maronite’s supported and aided by Israel? I’d advise to not personalize this discussion.

    But none of that excuses the obscene violations of human rights that the Palestinian people suffer at the hands of the US-backed Israeli war machine.

    Where human rights have been violated it is condemnable, but that occurs wherever there is conflict, in this case one side uses human rights violation as it’s principle action, the other side does not.

    And no amount of shrill accusations of “liar!” or whatever else from you is ever going to change my mind.

    Didn’t make such accusations… you’re the one sounding a little shrill.

    The facts are what they are. You can’t sanitize this or justify it. The European Zionists made their bed when they came to Israel and decided to expropriate the Palestinians by force.

    That’s just not so, the “Zionists” took unoccupied underutilized land which they settled legally and made it prosper, they did not expropriate it by force.

    In the same way I don’t blame Native Americans for fighting American troops, or for that matter, Polish and Russian partisans for fighting Nazi invaders, I’m not going to say that the Palestinian people have no right to be angry about the invasion of their homeland. To expect anything less is to expect these people not to be human. Its insane.

    What’s insane is to call it human to strap dynamite to a teenage girl and sending her to blowup other children.

  • Yes- definitely A Peace to End All Peace is a fantastic read- there is a great section on the Christian Zionism of some very powerful British leaders- Lloyd George and Winston Churchill- the influence of religion cuts in many directions all at once- and the HOly Land is awash in all kinds of conflicting religious motives and theological interpretations. I have found the Vatican and Palestinian Catholic Hierarchies to be very convincing indeed on the large questions pertaining to what needs to happen for a secure and lasting peace in the Holy Land. The Vatican-PLO Accord of 2000 shows that there was a general line of agreement between the Palestinian establishment and the highest reaches of the Church- what happened? The view that I subscribe to is that the Israeli settlement expansion into the West Bank, which doubled the number of settlers AFTER the Oslo Treaty- this broke the back of the Palestinian peace makers like Hana Ashrawi- they lost credibility, the level of Palestinian resistance/violence/terrorism after Oslo was incredibly low- the wide majority of Palestinians were willing to give peace another chance- hope was sky high- but the Israelis used the peace to advance more “facts on the ground”, they gave the palestinians a police force, a flag and post offices, but they didn’t give up the occupation and the aggressive territory expansion, along with resource control and all the rest that came with expanding the settlements. The awareness of this cruel hoax is what I believe led to the explosive 2nd intifada- and let’s not forget that the first Intifada was hardly a hard-core jihadist terrorist movement- it was kids and young men throwing rocks at Israeli tanks and soldiers and getting slaughtered or imprisoned and tortured- it was this generation that became the hardcore leaders of the next generation ‘no holds barred’ terrorists. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that this is some kind of war between equals- Israelis live like Europeans, they have an internationally respected military funded to the hilt by the U.S.,they have MOSSAD intelligence service that is a global force, they have nuclear weapons without any inspection demands from the Western powers- and the Palestinians? Come on. It doesn’t matter that the population of the Israelis is something like 5 million to 500 million Arabs in the Middle EAst, the U.S. has only 6% of the world’s population but has the military might of the next 20 some nations, and has the economic clout to match. Israel is a regional superpower, the Palestinians are treated like dirt by the Arab leaders who are allied with U.S. interests- which of course leads them to find common cause with those opposed to U.S. interests- see Iraq, see Iran, see Osama Bin Laden. Hamas found favor with most Palestinians in Gaza because they found ways to provide real material support and charity to the poor- this is the reality from the Palestinian perspective.

    I lived with Palestinians living in Galilee in Israel proper, and the village was one-third muslim, one-third Catholic, and one-third Orthodox, the people there saw the Israelis as their oppressor, and yet the claims of the jihadists have become increasingly popular because the Christians and the Americans have not brought anything positive to the Palestinians- everyone who isn’t radically connected to Christian or Jewish Zionism knows that both of America’s major political parties is extremely pro-Israel- by that I mean they go out of their way to please the AIPAC lobby- there is no competition between the lobby strength of Palestinians vs. Israaelis here in America. I believe that American Catholics have the potential to break this monopoly, but it may indeed be too late- the Christian Palestinians are now beginning to get it from all sides- from muslim Palestinians as well- but this is a self-fulfilling prophesy of those who have pushed the Palestinian people right up to the wall- literally- the Separation Wall, the check-points, the land grabs by racist settlers, with American Christian Zionists cheerleading every stolen acre and home- wow- what a mess.

    Please everyone read Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace- the Great Game must end- the Middle East is not a video game, not a chess match- it is full of actual people, mothers, fathers, and children- if you want to hate muslims and arabs that is your sin- not mine. I want what the Church has long proclaimed- a Two-State Israel and Palestine, with Israel going back to the 67 borders, and all international law and UN resolutions dealt with fairly- the right to return of palestinians must be respected in some way- perhaps with generous compensation and with trade-offs in terms of territory and the like- and Jerusalem should be either an International City as the Church long suggested, or a capital for Israel in West Jerusalem and a capital for Palestine in East Jerusalem. It remains to be seen if President Obama will throw the Palestinians under the same bus he has thrown the unborn- he and Hillary made their deep bows to AIPAC on the campaign trail- so I’m not too optimistic, but at least he doesn’t seem infected with the ethnic-cleansing religious beliefs of the Christian Zionists who surrounded George W. (who may be one himself).

  • soren,

    if you want to hate muslims and arabs that is your sin- not mine

    If YOU want to hate Jews and Israelis that is your sin, not ours. What’s so ridiculous is that you acknowledge the same people which you accuse of “ethnic-cleansing religious beliefs” are supporters of Arabs and Muslims in many other countries who are not part of the death cult.

  • Matt,

    I don’t have to approve of the particular tactics of the Palestinian resistance to understand the reason that the resistance exists at all.

    If the Palestinian militants were fighting a “conventional” guerrilla campaign, would that legitimize their cause in your eyes? Somehow I doubt it.

    The Muslims understand the meaning of “total war” and many would rather die than live under Israeli rule. As a Christian I think suicide in general is a mortal sin, and I would choose to live under occupation before blowing myself to bits – but Muslims believe different things, and hence no one should be surprised by their tactics.

    I’m not surprised when a vicious attack dog bites some kid who teases it, and I’m not surprised when Muslims living in utterly hopeless conditions, humiliated and impoverished, blow themselves up in the hopes of getting to Paradise. You can’t oppress people and expect them to smile about it. It’s never happened in history and it isn’t going to happen now. The European Zionist Jews did not want to be partners with the Palestinian people, but overlords. European nations went along with it because they wanted an outpost in the Middle East.

    In the final instance Zionism is colonialism, there is no justification for it, and there are orthodox Jews who agree. And as for attacking civilians, there are hundreds of documented incidents of the Israeli military deliberately targeting civilians. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Red Cross, the UN, all of them have extensively documented these war crimes. But thats all a part of the global liberal conspiracy agenda, I suppose.

  • Bryan Caplan recently posed four hypothetical questions that he would like to ask Palestinians. I’ll leave out the first (which I suspect would only promote needless controversy), but I find the other three to be pretty apt:

    2. The Israelis could easily have killed or exiled every Palestinian. Why didn’t they? What does that say about their objective function – and/or the objection functions of other Western countries that put pressure on Israel?

    3. Suppose all the Jews left Israel tomorrow. What would greater Palestine’s GDP per capita be ten years from now? Want to bet on that?

    4. Suppose all the Jews left Israel tomorrow. How many Palestinians would still die violent deaths during the next ten years? How many political prisoners will there be in ten years? Want to bet on that?

  • Tim,

    I think you’re missing a bit of perspective there, though:

    1) You say “the population of the Israelis is something like 5 million to 500 million Arabs in the Middle East”, but within Israel itself the breakdown is 5.4M Jews to 1.6M others. Plus 2.3M in the West Bank and 1.5M in Gaza, if you want to include those.

    2) Israel isn’t just made up of European Jews who have moved in during the last 120 years — not only are there Jews native to Palestine but the surrounding Arab countries expelled (through hard or soft methods) roughly 800,000 Middle Eastern Jews who ended up in Israel between 1948 and 1970. They and their descendants now make up, by some estimates, around 40% of Israeli Jews. And like the Arabs pushed out of Israeli territories in the 1940s, their land and possessions were left behind in the countries they came from. (They’re not agitating for a “right of return” because going back to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, etc. is not exactly a fun plan for Jews these days and they’ve made new lives for themselves in Israel.)

    3) While it’s true that now the money and military might are all on the Israeli side, it’s important to understand this was not the case prior to 1970. Indeed, up until the 1967 war (in which Israel’s Arab neighbors tried to wipe them out) it was pretty widely expected that the Arab nations could (and indeed would) crush Israel. Coincidentally it was after 1970 that opinion turned much more heavily against Israel in Europe, leading some cynics to remark that everyone was fine with Israel so long as it was doomed.

    Again, I don’t hold truck with Jewish nationalism, though I can certainly sympathize with the desire for a Jewish state after the way that the Jewish people were treated in the first half of the 20th century. But I don’t see Palestinian nationalism (or Arab nationalism more generally) as being any more valid. There is no right for a specifically Arab state to control the region of Palestine.

    It’s all very well to point out that it’s only natural and human for Palestinians to resist what they see as Israeli domination. (Though again, I think it’s important to recall that we cannot accept ethnic nationalist ideas of what constitutes “domination”.) But at the same time, it’s also only natural and human for the Israelis to take serious security measures when militants are constantly trying to attack them. When Israel has existed for 60 years and has had its current borders for roughly 40 years, one eventually has to accept it as a reality and work within it as an accomplished fact. Otherwise, nationalist strife will never end.

  • Man, I gotta stop, but a couple points for Joe:

    The Muslims understand the meaning of “total war” and many would rather die than live under Israeli rule.

    As I see it, though, this is precisely the problem. Being a member of a country which is predominantly of another ethnic or religious group should not result in total war. That’s nationalism of the worst sort.

    Catholics only make up 20% of the US, should we fight to get out own country?

    Hispanics used to dominate the South West and are demographically close to doing so again: should they fight a war to get their own country?

    That way lies madness.

    You can’t oppress people and expect them to smile about it. It’s never happened in history and it isn’t going to happen now. The European Zionist Jews did not want to be partners with the Palestinian people, but overlords. European nations went along with it because they wanted an outpost in the Middle East.

    I think this is an overly simplistic and negative reading. The early Zionist leaders were actually very optimistic about how they would live with and work with the Palestinian Arabs, albeit in a somewhat patronizing fashion. If I may quote the post I linked to above:

    Thus, while encouraging both piecemeal Jewish immigration into Palestine and diplomatic attempts to secure sponsorship of a Jewish homeland in Palestine from one of the great powers, the early Zionists mostly attempted to assure themselves that the sparse Arab population in the area would be glad to see them. Herzl published a speculative novel entitled The Old New Land in 1903 charting out the way in which the founding of a Jewish state might go, and in it presented a local Arab character who said of the new state, “The Jews have made us prosperous, why should we be angry with them? They live with us as brothers, why should we not love them?” In the novel, political rights of Jews and non-Jews were the same, and local Arabs gladly adopted the hybrid Jewish-European culture of the new country.

    By the 1940s things were obviously on a much more violent footing, but even so a major part of the problem is that both Jews and Arabs had undergone a nationalist awakening, and so Arabs saw the mere existence of Israel as oppressive regardless of how it treated them.

    Needless to say, so long as both groups consider it oppression for the other group to even exist, there will never be peace. (And the Jews in Palestine exist as surely as the Hispanics in California do.) At this vantage point in history, it seems to be the Israeli’s who are willing to play the liberal democracy game and give rights to everyone who isn’t intent of killing them. The Palestinians show no such promise at this time.

  • I would recommend a couple of Israeli historians who present the case that the threats from the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab states historically was way overblown- check out Benny Morris and Tom Segev’s books- funny thing about Benny Morris is that he readily acknowledges that the Zionist forces basically went about ethnic cleansing operations, using a few massacres and massive propaganda to good effect, but he apparently is arguing that they probably should have just gone all the way with the ethnic cleansing- now it would seem that many American Catholics would agree- even though the Church clearly teaches that you cannot even do something good by use of evil means- and I don’t think one could really argue that any ethnic cleansing is ever a good idea for starters.

    Now another must read is John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy- they make a very solid academic case for the facts I have stated earlier- this is really about lobby power here in the U.S.- the fact that every mainstream candidate for President and even Congress makes ridiculous efforts to come across as being absolutely in adoration of the State Of Israel, pretty much completely connecting the fate and state of Israel to America’s- well that says quite a lot. And there isn’t even a difference between Republican candidates and Democratic ones in this regard- why is this? It’s not a conspiracy that is hidden, it is a very open ‘secret’- if you read – They Dare to Speak Out- you will get even more specifics from actual former Congressmen and others. Now the whole point here is that the truth is that the current state of affairs does not serve anyone- not majority Jews in Israel or America, certainly not Arabs/Palestinians, and not majority Americans – if we look at long-term interests in security and economics.

    I also spent time living with an American married to a Russian Jewish emigre in West Jerusalem- and it is not the majority view, but there are more Israelis who seem to hold very different views on the status quo policies of Israeli-American establishments than we are led to believe. It is certainly not anti-Jewish to choose the viewpoints as represented at Jewishvoiceforpeace.org and American Jewish scholars like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein is it? I am very critical of many establishment American policies regarding other countries- particularly poor and third world countries- am I to be thrown in with anti-American zealots? Are Jewish critics of Israeli establishment policies re: the Palestinians all self-loathing Jews? I will answer to the above- certainly not. I am one who served in the National Guard for 6 years, I am patriotic, but I am Catholic first, I belong to Jesus Christ and I will stand on principle always- I may be missing some things, but my motives are clear as best I can declare them- I hate no one, but if the truth leads me to take unpopular positions, then so be it. I have offered my personal eyewitness testimony and I have given an extensive paper trail of books, authors, and web sites- I will have to leave it at that- I will leave all the bloggers here with some goodwill- I will assume that everyone here is not motivated by racism towards Arabs any more than I am motivated by hatred of Jews- if you know more of my background which is quite personal, you would have even more reassurance on that score! So this is a Catholic blog with a Catholic disagreement of the facts of history and ongoing facts on the ground. We should be having this argument, we should be challenged with the various claims- that is all to the good- I only wish this argument was taking place all over the mainstream media- I do think I have made some pretty serious claims with substantive backing- that doesn’t win the day outright, but it should offer a case that the mainstream Catholic and secular media isn’t presenting much of this for the public to receive a proper education as to the real choices available to us- and this is something we all should know from our pro-life work! God Bless – let’s recall Christ’s command to love our enemies even as we try to perfect them through correction, and let us be open to charges of sounding as clanging gongs at times with our righteous truth-telling. This may come down to a democratic exercise just as the lobby wars go on- each of us should take our civic responsibility serious enough to engage the media with our case for or against the standard Israel or Palestinian narrative. I once wrote an open letter asking Pope John Paul II to go and take up residence in the Holy Land during the second Intifada as a sign of the ultimate peacemaker in action- I may ask Pope Benedict to please make this an even greater priority for his papacy to restore trust among Christians, Jews and Muslims, and offer more public commentary on the path to peace.

  • So Darwin,

    Are books such as Ralph Schoenman’s “The Hidden History of Zionism” just totally wrong?

    This is another one of those cases where we can cite historical texts to one another and still disagree. Were there European Jewish settlers who wanted to live in peace and solidarity with their Palestinian Arab neighbors? Undoubtedly. But was this the impetus behind the project as it was presented to the leading governments of Europe, particularly the British Empire? Certainly not!

    Zionism was a colonialist, imperialist venture right from the beginning. To say that the Zionist leaders was “patronizing” is to say the least – of course they weren’t going to admit outright the violent nature of their endeavor. But you don’t move in and occupy a country without bloodshed. You don’t expropriate thousands of people from their homes, their farms, their orchards and villages without massive resistance.

    Early in the Zionist project it may have been possible for the settler Jews and Palestinian natives to co-exist because the migration hadn’t occurred in great numbers. But after WWII there was an explosion of immigrants and once the British were driven out the Zionists turned against their Arab neighbors. Starting in 1948 hundreds of villages were razed to the ground as thousands fled before the Israeli military.

    So I repeat – you can’t uproot a people and oppress them and expect them not to fight back. I hate the tone this debate takes, as if the Palestinians have zero justification for taking up arms against Israel and even resorting to terrorist methods, lacking as they do the “civilized” methods of massive aerial bombardment – as if some people can’t even fathom it. I’m not accusing you of this, Darwin, but there are some people who do go that far and its infuriating.

  • Now another must read is John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy- they make a very solid academic case for the facts I have stated earlier

    Haven’t read the book, but did read the original paper which became the basis for the book. As I recall, Noam Chomsky found the Walt / Mearsheimer’s thesis not sufficiently anti-American (and, on its own terms, unconvincing); and Benny Morris took offense at their abuse and misuse of his historical research.

    http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/4134 [Chomsky]
    http://americanfuture.net/?p=2159 [Benny Morris]

    I do think I have made some pretty serious claims with substantive backing- that doesn’t win the day outright, but it should offer a case that the mainstream Catholic and secular media isn’t presenting much of this for the public to receive a proper education as to the real choices available to us

    You mean like the BBC or CNN?

  • I mean, if quotes like this are accurate, who can blame the Palestinians?

    “We came here to a country that was populated by Arabs, and we are building here a Hebrew, Jewish state. Instead of Arab villages, Jewish villages were established. You do not even know the names of these villages and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist. Not only the books, but also the villages do not exist.”

    –Moshe Dayan, former Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense

  • Joe,

    Starting in 1948 hundreds of villages were razed to the ground as thousands fled before the Israeli military.

    you’re suggesting that the Arabs are innocent of attacking the Jewish villages? You are aware that there remain many Arab villages in Israel, and that the inhabitants are full citizens with voting rights and even a number of members of the Knesset? This story of yours doesn’t ring true.

    as if the Palestinians have zero justification for taking up arms against Israel and even resorting to terrorist methods, lacking as they do the “civilized” methods of massive aerial bombardment – as if some people can’t even fathom it.

    There is no justification for resorting to terrorist methods:

    2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.
    Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.

    I’d like to ask a question. Do we all agree that if ethnic cleansing was attempted by Israel at any time since crushing the Arabs in the 67 war, they would have had it wrapped up before anyone could say or do anything to prevent it. Why wouldn’t they simply do this? One fell swoop and the whole Palestinian question is moot, a few years in the doghouse, and they would apologize, and go on with life, by now everyone would love them. Instead they repeatedly make attempts to return territory to the Palestinians and the troubles drag on. If the “Zionists” are so “evil” why wouldn’t they do this?

    By the way, who is the Zionist project to be considered colonial and imperial? That doesn’t seem to make any sense to me. If I was going for empire, I’d set my sights on something a little bigger a place the size of New Jersey, 2/3 of which is desert, the rest can only be cultivated with great effort due to minimal rainfall.

  • Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948 (UC California Press, February 2009)

    Inspired by stories he heard in the West Bank as a child, Hillel Cohen uncovers a hidden history in this extraordinary and beautifully written book—a history central to the narrative of the Israel-Palestine conflict but for the most part willfully ignored until now. In Army of Shadows, initially published in Israel to high acclaim and intense controversy, he tells the story of Arabs who, from the very beginning of the Arab-Israeli encounter, sided with the Zionists and aided them politically, economically, and in security matters. Based on newly declassified documents and research in Zionist, Arab, and British sources, Army of Shadows follows Bedouins who hosted Jewish neighbors, weapons dealers, pro-Zionist propagandists, and informers and local leaders who cooperated with the Zionists, and others to reveal an alternate history of the mandate period with repercussions extending to this day. The book illuminates the Palestinian nationalist movement, which branded these “collaborators” as traitors and persecuted them; the Zionist movement, which used them to undermine Palestinian society from within and betrayed them; and the collaborators themselves, who held an alternate view of Palestinian nationalism. Army of Shadows offers a crucial new view of history from below and raises profound questions about the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

    Sounds like another book one might read for an education into Israeli-Palestinian relations.

  • Matt,

    Are you trying to suggest, by invoking the Catechism in the way that you do, that Palestinian attacks on an occupying force constitutes attempted “genocide”? It’s a perversion of moral logic. If you came into my home with the intent of forcing me to live out in my back yard and I responded with force, would I be the criminal?

    The Zionist settlers – like every other colonial invading force in history (so it has nothing to do with their being Jews) – instigate bloodshed and destruction to carve out a place for themselves in a land that isn’t theirs, and to which the native inhabitants did not invite them.

    They and their European backers initiated the cycle of bloodshed. Suicide bombing is the fruit of colonialism in the Muslim world, just as the scalping of white settlers was the fruit of colonialism in the United States. The aggressor bears the moral burden.

    It has always been justified as “the white man’s burden”, the task of bringing “civilization” to the backward natives whether they want it or not. Do you think this is a valid theory? If you do, why? If you don’t, how do you defend Zionism?

    “If I was going for empire, I’d set my sights on something a little bigger a place the size of New Jersey, 2/3 of which is desert, the rest can only be cultivated with great effort due to minimal rainfall.”

    Do you really know absolutely nothing about the history of Zionism as a movement, or are you just trying to be cute?

  • They and their European backers initiated the cycle of bloodshed. Suicide bombing is the fruit of colonialism in the Muslim world, just as the scalping of white settlers was the fruit of colonialism in the United States. The aggressor bears the moral burden.

    Justifying Palestinian suicide bombing of civilians as a valid response, Joe? — are you serious? Some ‘Catholic’ moral narrative.

  • No, I don’t “justify” it. I think I stated pretty clearly before that I believe suicide is a mortal sin and contrary to any rational understanding of natural law.

    Here I am speaking of simple cause and effect. Don’t want suicide bombings? Don’t herd a bunch of Muslim fanatics into an impoverished ghetto.

    Was the “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities a “valid response” to some vaguely stated case for WMDs? Is a bomb dropped from 20,000 feet on a densely populated city somehow “more moral” than a suicide bombing in a cafe?

    Or is it just a case of, “when its for my cause, its right, and their cause, wrong”?

  • By the way, are the collective punishments inflicted on the Palestinian people by the Israeli military – incidents documented by major human rights organizations in clear violation of international law – a “valid” response?

  • Sigh. I hate this debate, because of what I just did – pointing out the evil others commit in response to the evils someone else already commented on. It’s no way to get at moral truth.

    It’s all disgusting to me – suicide bombings, civilian deaths, aerial bombardment, “shock and awe”. If I were completely wrong about the Palestinians being the victims and the Israelis being the aggressors, then I’d rethink my views.

    I don’t want to justify any atrocities, but the rational part of my brain says, “these Palestinians are desperate, they’ve been terrorized and humiliated and they are lashing out like madmen”. I see a method in the madness, and if I were Muslim, and not Christian, I’m not sure how I would respond to the situation.

  • By the way, are the collective punishments inflicted on the Palestinian people by the Israeli military – incidents documented by major human rights organizations in clear violation of international law – a “valid” response?

    I’ve wrestled with this previously (see Thoughts on Israel’s war with Hamas American Catholic 12/30/2008), and I think it would depend on the specific action taken (I’m inclined not to issue a general condemnation of Israel’s actions until I know the facts).

    As I stated then, in ascertaining moral culpability, I think you’d have to address several pertinent questions:

    Did Israel adopt all other means at its disposal to prevent the attacks before resorting to armed force?

    In resorting to armed force, did Israel deliberately target Palestinian civilians, or target a site with the specific intention of killing civilians?

    Did Israel take necessary precautions to prevent harm to civilians?

    However, I cannot fathom any moral justification for bombing with the deliberate attempt to inflict mass casualties upon civilians, as is the intent and product of suicide bombing.

    Benny Morris’ books give accounts of terrorist acts of this nature by both Israelis and the Arabs. Both were gravely wrong in doing so.

  • Benny Morris is an interesting case. He began his career on the far left of Israeli historical thought and was one of the “New Historians” who took a highly critical, and I thought highly selective, view of Israel’s history. However, Morris has developed into perhaps the best Israeli historian of his generation. His 1948 is the most accurate history I have read about that conflict, and I think generally gives a good overview of the war, although on the military aspect his lack of military experience shows. His political views have largely become more conservative over time. This Wikipedia article gives a decent overview of him and his work.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benny_Morris

  • Zionism was a colonialist, imperialist venture right from the beginning. To say that the Zionist leaders was “patronizing” is to say the least – of course they weren’t going to admit outright the violent nature of their endeavor. But you don’t move in and occupy a country without bloodshed. You don’t expropriate thousands of people from their homes, their farms, their orchards and villages without massive resistance.

    Well, come to that, we could probably have a pretty extensive argument about colonialism and imperialism too — but that’s for another day. (Say, not in Holy Week.)

    I don’t have any interest in justifying the actions of the Stern Gang and other various Jewish militias back in the 30s and 40s. (Nor, I imagine, do you have any interest in doing so for the Arab militias.) Unquestionably things got very ugly and there is plenty of blame to go around on both sides.

    However, I think it’s problematic to denounce the whole project of Jews having moved into Palestine in the late 19th and throughout the 20th century, or to denounce their wanting to stay there and maintain a stable government at this time. Going back to the late Ottoman period when all this got started, there were sizeable Jewish and Arab and Christian populations in the area, and it was honestly pretty sparsely settled. I don’t think we can say that the Jews had no right to move there seeking to create a better life for themselves anymore than we can say that Jews had no right to move to the US in the 30s and 40s, or that Hispanics have no right to move to the US now.

    (As a half-Hispanic from California, this strikes me as particularly relevant. A lot of towns in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California are now almost entirely Hispanic, and major cities have very large Hispanic populations. However, thankfully, both nationalist Hispanics of the La Raza sort, who insist that the Southwest should become a Hispanic ethnic state, and anglo nationalists who insist that its a violation of their rights for so many Hispanics to move in, are distinct minorities in our country. Nationalism of this sort has never been much of an American phenomenon.)

    So unless we’re to accept nationalist assumptions about particular ethnic groups having a divine right to a specific piece of land, I don’t think we can say that Jews immigrating to Palestine was any kind of a problem. What did create strife was the fact that both the Jewish and Arab populations in the region became caught up in ethnic nationalism such that by 1947 both wanted to have a specifically ethnic state in the same place.

    What impresses me about Israel is that despite its occasional paranoia and excesses in self defense (and at a human level, who can blame them given their history over the last 60 years) it has moved beyond this ethnic nationalism to become a pluralistic democracy. And what I think would be by far the best thing for the Palestinians would be if they would do the same — either on their own or simply reconciling themselves to Israel and its existence.

    The comparison is telling: nearly a million Jews were expelled from surrounding Arab states, and they forgot about what they’d lost and absorbed into the Israeli population — making up roughly 40% of the current Jewish population in Israel. The Arabs who were expelled (or left thinking that the Jewish state would soon be wiped out and they could return) from Jewish territory have not been absorbed by Jordan, Syria and Egypt — those countries have been quite happy to keep them on Israel’s doorstop, in poverty, as a political and military tool against Israel.

    Hard as it may be to swallow, Israel is now a 60-year-old fact (as old as many countries in the world right now) and fighting against it now is not necessarily more reasonable from a just war perspective than if the descendants of the plains Indians were still fighting against the US in the 1930s and 40s.

  • If the Jews should leave Israel because of colonialism and imperialism, then I assume the same would apply to the Arabs who should return en masse to Saudi Arabia? If the same logic would apply to the US I’m not sure what would happen to me. Perhaps my Cherokee blood would allow me to stay?

  • With my Yaqui blood I have a choice of Northern Mexico or Arizona. I think I’d choose Arizona.

    Anyway, why didn’t the Palestinians welcome all those Jewish immigrants to Palestine. It is required per Catholic Social Teaching. ;)

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