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What are your bishops saying about the Middle East?
Do you wonder if they have it right?

Bishop Shaw with Mr. Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee and President of the Palestinian National Authority.
Bishop Thomas Shaw with Mr. Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee and President of the Palestinian National Authority.


Celebrate Israel's 54th Year of Independence!
Sunday, June 9, 2002
1:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Boston Common
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This thing is also happening!
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Send a message to the Bishop
Put up our flyers at your church (print the statement of principles, or ask us for more copies)
Schedule a speaker for one of your church's adult forum sessions
Contact your local synagogue with information about the Alliance -- let them know that not all Episcopalians agree with the Bishop

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What the Bishops Have Done and Said

For the past two decades, at least, there has been a notable tendency for the so-called mainline Protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church of the United States (and its Anglican counterpart in England), the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, and others to identify the Palestinians as the victims of the Mideast conflict, and Israel as the aggressor. This tendency is not always overt; in fact, it is seldom stated as bluntly as this. But the tendency of the mainstream denominations to blame the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as the fundamental cause of the plight of the Palestinians and sometimes of the entire conflict in the Middle East has very nearly acquired the status of an orthodox tenet.

It has also become orthodoxy among secular liberals, who frequently denounce Israel's expansion into Palestinian territories, its oppression and humiliation of the Palestinians, its excessive use of military force against terrorist outposts in West Bank and Gaza communities, and who argue that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is as culpable in the current tragic violence as is PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. A recent PBS Frontline special on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sometimes made the entire phenomenon seem like nothing more than a grudge match between Sharon and Arafat: two old men who had outlived their time.

Acting on the basis of a similar understanding, the three Episcopal bishops Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE; Suffragan Bishop Barbara Harris; and Bishop Roy F. Cederholm, Jr. staged a demonstration outside of the Israeli consulate in Boston on October 30, 2001, holding signs proclaiming a Muslim-Christian Alliance and denouncing Destruction in Bethlehem. (The Israeli Defense Force had recently entered Bethlehem in search of the assassins of an Israeli cabinet minister the week before.) At the time, Bishop Shaw explained his understanding of what has been going on in the Middle East: "Today and every day we stand with our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are suffering violence in West Bank towns occupied by Israeli forces. There can be no peace without justice, and the Palestinian people are victims of an injustice that cannot be allowed to continue." (Boston Globe, 31 October 2001, B1)

In May of 2002, Bishop Shaw led a delegation of pilgrims to Israel and the West Bank, where they met with private citizens and public officials, including Yasser Arafat (but apparently no Israeli official). On his return he held a press conference (reported on the Diocesan web site), in which he acknowledged the fear that Israeli citizens experience as a result of the suicide bombings. But he also had this to say about the Palestinians, and about the conflict in general:

The Palestinians have suffered enormously from the occupation and the military actions of the Israeli government against the infrastructure of the Palestinian governmental authority. The physical destruction is severe and extensive, but even that is not what most impressed me. The Palestinian people I met seem to have lost hope. And they are angry at what the Israelis have done. On both sides it seems to me that there is a sense of hopelessness and little idea of how to move forward...[T]he mistrust between the Palestinians and Israelis is so deep that I do not see a way for them to live together without our support. The Israelis I spoke with do not trust the Europeans to help. Therefore, we...need to bring pressure on our elected leaders to insist that President Bush become engaged in the peace process...Certainly, one of my primary goals now is to work toward changing our government's stance toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I hope to meet with our elected leadership in the near future about what can be done to bring peace to the region.

Bishop Shaw could easily have been echoing the words of the Palestinian Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, H. B. Michael Sabbah in his most recent Pentecost message: "On this day of global Pentecost prayers, in a spirit of solidarity and peace, we call for the establishment of a Palestinian State, alongside the State of Israel, already existing 54 years. We call for an end to the occupation of one peoples' lives and lands by another people, that is, Palestinians under the control of Israelis." (emphasis added)

Why We Think The Bishops Are Wrong

The Bishop's historical memory is alarmingly short. It is certain that the Palestinian people are suffering, but it is not because of the so-called occupation. They are suffering because they are living in a combat zone. And they are living in a combat zone because there is a war going on which their own leaders started (or rather resumed, since it has been going on with only rare pauses since the establishment of Israel in 1948), and which the Palestinian people appear to support wholeheartedly. This war is known as the second intifada, and it began in September, 2000, while peace negotiations, under the rubric of the Oslo Accords, were still underway between the Israeli government and the PLO.

The aim of the Palestinian war is not a separate Palestinian state on the West Bank (as Fr. Sabbah and Bishop Shaw assert), but a single Palestinian state from Jordan to the sea. There is some reason to believe that this was once the view only of the radical minority. But recent public opinion polls make it clear that a majority of Palestinians support the destruction of the State of Israel, and consider suicide bombings and other forms of murder to be acceptable means to this end. Is this radicalization the result of the Israeli occupation? Hardly. Under the terms of the Oslo Agreement, the Israeli Defense Forces withdrew from Arab villages and towns on the West Bank, which were turned over to the day-to-day governance of the Palestinian Authority, i.e., to the leadership of the PLO, with the full cooperation of Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Terrorists ran the schools, the official (and only) Palestinian television network, the police, and the courts. We know what use the PLO made of this unprecedented authority: they raised a new generation of haters, from whom the suicide bombers have been recruited. That is why the bombers have come almost entirely from the very villages, neighborhoods, and refugee camps that have been controlled by the Palestinian Authority since the mid-1990s.

Because Palestinian hatred of Israel came before the ocupation, the occupation cannot be the cause of that hatred. The occupation is clearly the result of the Arab hatred of Israel, and of Jews generally, which has taken the form of three wars (1947, 1967, and 1973) and a 50-year campaign of terrorist violence against Israeli civilians. This campaign has involved over 15,000 separate attacks since 1947, claiming the lives of XXX Israeli citizens and wounding nearly X times that many. (In comparative terms, this would be the equivalent of XX American lives.) During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights bordering Syria, and took Gaza and the entire Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. This was a military strategy meant to deny Arab armies easy access to Israeli population centers.

Israel immediately offered land for peace, and this offer was just as immediately rejected by all Arab the governments involved. In 1973 Arab armies invaded for a third time, and again Israel was victorious. That victory led ultimately to the peace agreeement with Egypt, and the return of the Sinai to Egyptian control. But no peace offers were forthcoming from the organizations responsible for the terror campaign against Israeli civilians and loosely organized under the leadership of Yasser Arafat and the PLO.

The Palestinians have lost hope, and have for this reason become desperate. In order for peace to come, they must see some sign of progress. This is an entirely plausible notion that is unfortunately contradicted by the experience of the Oslo peace accords. In 1993 the Palestinians got the hope they were presumably looking for: Israel agreed to let the PLO, its leaders and militamen, return to the West Bank and Gaza from their exile in Tunisia. Furthermore, the Oslo Accords committed the Israeli government to full cooperation with the new Palestinian Authority, which would receive financial subsidies from Israel. In return for the PLO?s agreement to a peaceful resolution of all issues between the two sides, Israel agreed to withdraw its military forces from Arab villages and towns. But the result of this hopeful peace process was a ratcheting up of the terror campaign to unprecedented levels, culminating in the full-scale warfare of the so-called Al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000.

It should by now be clear to everyone that the only hope for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in the Middle East is for the Arabs to give up their murderous and suicidal determination to destroy Israel and drive the Jews into the sea. This will require all who hope to make a constructive contribution to the peace process to be firm in their determination to reject the PLO and all that it stands for. Encouraging the Palestinians in their belief that Israel is the cause of their problems will only encourage more violence. Furthermore, such coddling of terrorist leaders such as Arafat postpones the time when a genuinely moderate leadership might emerge. To accept, as the Bishop has done, the terrorist version of Middle East history in which the Jews are the aggressors, and Palestinians the passive victims is to collude with Palestinian self-delusion. And as with alcoholics and drug addicts, collusion only empowers the underlying pathology and prevents healing.

We believe that the Bishop and all Christians eager to play a constructive role in this conflict should support the United States government?s call for reform of Palestinian institutions and the rejection of the terrorist leaders of the past. Israel has made clear its commitment to continuing negotiations, but has also made it clear that there is no hope in continuing to negotiate with Yasser Arafat and the PLO. Given the continuing campaign of terror waged by the PLO against Israel and its citizens, it is naive to expect the PLO to change. The Palestinians must, for their own good, see that there is no hope in terror, and that the world has run out of patience with the Arab refusal to accept the right of Jews to live in peace with their Arab neighbors.

My friend, I do not accuse you of deliberate anti-Semitism. I know you feel, as I do, a deep love of truth and justice and a revulsion for racism, prejudice, and discrimination. But I know you have been misled -- as others have been -- into thinking you can be 'anti-Zionist' and yet remain true to these heartfelt principles that you and I share. Let my words echo in the depths of your soul: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews -- make no mistake about it. - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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