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EARL FOOTE'S LETTER TO BISHOP SHAW

The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE
Diocese of Massachusetts
138 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02111

Dear Bishop Shaw:

As an Episcopalian who has long observed and prayed about the tragedy in the Middle East, I wish to express my concerns about your recent statements and actions, especially your views on the actions of the Israeli government. I have also written to my own bishop to initiate a dialogue about the proper Christian response to the crisis. Normally, I would not write to the bishop of another diocese, but I want to show my solidarity with the newly formed Episcopal-Jewish Alliance for Israel, a Boston-based organization founded in response to your ill-advised picketing of the Israeli consulate.

Please know that I respect your sincere and heartfelt desire to do your part in seeking a peaceful resolution of this conflict. All of us, except a few extremists, agree that the conflict has brought great suffering to both Israelis and Palestinians. I support the quest for peace.

At the same time, I recognize that a search for peace has been, so far, elusive. There are no magic solutions, and it will take actions from both sides to change the atmosphere to a more peaceful one. With this in mind, I am disappointed and upset that you have chosen, at least in your public comments and actions, to place the majority of blame on Israel. While I am aware that you have condemned "suicide" bombing, the bottom line of your statements seems to emphasize Israeli culpability, both for "provoking" the bombings through the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and for "using excessive force" in retaliation.

It is important to place the suffering of the Palestinian people into the broader picture of conflict in the Middle East. No one is happy that the Palestinians are oppressed, and I look forward to the day when the last Israeli troops leave the occupied territories. If we are sincerely interested in peace, however, we need to ask what form of government will take the place of the Israeli occupiers, and what the newly formed Palestinian state will mean for Israel's existence.

Our own Episcopal Church has highlighted two important goals: an independent Palestinian state, and secure and peaceful borders for Israel. I am afraid that many Church leaders, including you, have neglected the issue of peace and security for Israel.

Thus, the luster of support for a Palestinian state gets a bit tarnished when we look at the actions of Israel's neighbors. There was an opportunity, in 1947, for the establishment of two Palestinian states, one Jewish and the other Arab. This was proposed by the United Nations and accepted by the Jewish Palestinians, but the Arabs, both in Palestine and in neighboring countries, rejected the idea. Apparently, Arab leaders hated the Jewish residents of Palestine more than they loved the Arab residents. A coalition of states attacked the new State of Israel in an attempt to wipe it out. Fortunately, this attempt was unsuccessful, but instead of reaching a peace agreement, the Arab governments continued in their efforts to destroy Israel. It should be noted that Jordan controlled the West Bank, and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip, from 1948 to 1967. At no point in those 19 years was there any effort to establish a Palestinian state; indeed, Arab leaders have been consistent in caring for their "Palestinian brothers" only when they can be used as a weapon against Israel.

Likewise, especially when we hear glib talk about returning to 1967 borders, it is useful to remember what happened in 1967. There was a renewed effort to destroy Israel - which, once again, thank God, the Arabs lost. Israel, which is a tiny country, acquired some buffer territory to defend itself against neighbors who have been crystal clear in their determination to destroy the Jewish State. Since 1967, the goal has been for Israel to give back the conquered territory in exchange for a permanent Arab renunciation of warfare. This is known as "land for peace," and in 1979 Egypt took the unprecedented step of recognizing Israel. In exchange, Israel gave the Sinai Desert back to Egypt.

This forms the model for what can be the peace process in the remaining occupied area. Israel has expressed willingness to give the Palestinians their own state-in fact, Israel offered essentially the whole territory in the peace talks of 2000-but only if there is first a demonstration of Palestinian willingness to consider the new state as part of a final peace agreement, and not as just one step toward the destruction of Israel.

The primary obstacle to peace is not the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It is the refusal of Arabs, including Palestinians, to recognize Israel's right to exist. Readjusting the borders won't solve the problem. After all, the Israelis reasonably argue, if the 1967 borders are the answer for averting another war, why was there a war in 1967? While some-not all-Arab governments have signed onto the Saudi Arabian proposal to recognize Israel after it withdraws to the 1967 borders, this proposal, while a step in the right direction (at least Saudi Arabia is openly considering recognizing Israel), isn't good enough. In following the model of Camp David, the Arab recognition needs to come first. Otherwise, once Israel has withdrawn to 1967 borders, what will stop the Arabs from invading what's left of Israel?

It is in this light that we must view recent Israeli actions. While I do not defend everything Israel does, it is still fighting for its life, despite its great military strength and victory in four wars. It is far from clear that most Palestinians have accepted the idea of living in a state that coexists peacefully with Israel. In fact, the Palestinian Authority, despite its promises in the Oslo agreements, did everything in its power to incite hatred and violence against Israel. This includes, but is not limited to, Palestinian maps that show no Israel of any borders, textbooks that indoctrinate children in hatred of both Israel and Jews in general, constant inflammatory and libelous remarks against Israel in the Palestinian-controlled press, and a wide array of support-logistical, financial, and psychological-for "suicide" bombers and other terrorists.

While it is tragic for anyone to die in the violence, Israel has no choice but to defend itself against those whose primary targets seem to be innocent civilians. No sovereign nation would put up with the kind of violence Israel has to face. Given the atmosphere of hatred and level of violence, an Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders at this point would merely give the terrorists more incentive to violence, not less.

Israel has made incursions into Palestinian territory, including Bethlehem, because its goal has been to capture or kill the leaders responsible for terrorist acts. While Israeli hands are not exactly clean, Israel does make a good-faith effort to target military leaders and not civilians. If the Israelis truly cared nothing for Palestinian lives, they could have used their air force to bomb the whole area.

Indeed, the siege of the chapel in Bethlehem illustrates perfectly the difference between Israeli and Palestinian attitudes toward innocent civilians. The Palestinians claim, and most of the world agrees, that they were "offered" sanctuary by the clergy in the chapel, but clearly they obtained it at gunpoint (the fact that there were glass fragments outside the building instead of inside means that the bullets were fired by the Palestinians within the chapel). The Israelis, out of respect for the lives of those inside the building and for the historic value of the building itself, refrained from attacking the building and instead conducted negotiations to release the Palestinians and their "hosts." This is typical of the Palestinian practice of hiding behind innocent civilians and creating for themselves a win-win situation. If the Israelis refrain from violence, the Palestinians get away. If, instead, the Israelis attack, they can be condemned by world opinion for endangering civilian lives.

If peace is to be achieved in this region, there must be good faith on both sides. Honest people can disagree about perspective, but I feel that the Israelis have established their good faith (including the agreement successfully concluded with Egypt), and the Palestinians haven't (they used the autonomy granted under Oslo not to start to build up their own state but to try to undermine Israel). For all of the reasons stated above, I urge you to take a more balanced view of the conflict.

Yours in Christ,

Earl H. Foote

 


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