Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Bishops and the Suicide Bomber

"The Bishops and the Suicide Bomber" -- Originally published by | Wednesday, January 28, 2004.

Filmmakers tell us that the impact of a scene lies not in a single shot, but rather in the juxtaposition of two shots; the contrast of viewing each in succession provides an experience that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Life also has these moments, when the juxtaposition of events reveals more than any one experience ever could. Two recent events tell us much about how the Arab-Israeli conflict is viewed.

First, American and European Bishops began a four-day meeting in the Holy Land, presided over by Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah. The purpose of their visit was to express solidarity with the Church of the Holy Land, and to reiterate grave concerns over the security measures taken by Israel in the face of a prolonged terrorist war.

Second, a female suicide bomber (and mother of two) took advantage of Israel’s soft policy towards Palestinian females, feigning metal plates in her legs in order get inside the checkpoint between Israel and the Gaza Strip. When a female soldier went to help her, she blew herself up, killing four Israelis and wounding nine others.

The next day a statement from the Bishops denounced not only the anti-terrorism fence, but also checkpoints, visa restrictions, and other inconveniences. Did they blame these sometimes harsh but necessary constraints on those who use mass murder as a tool of diplomacy? No, they blamed the state of Israel.

In the Catholic faith, the State derives the right to use lethal force from Natural Law, and is required to wield it to protect her citizens. Failure to do so is a moral failure. But the Jewish State is criticized harshly by American and European Bishops even when it uses non-lethal means to protect citizens from a terrorist war. Given that both the Bishops and European governments (to say nothing of the U.S. State Department) have vociferously criticized Israel for targeted killings of terrorist leaders and risky house-to-house searches for terrorists, it isn’t clear what Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah and USCCB President Wilton Gregory would consider acceptable methods to prevent soldiers, women, children, and even Holocaust survivors from being blown to bits, shot in the head by snipers, or beaten to death with heavy rocks. Since such horrific violence predates the anti-terrorism fence (as well as the settlements), it is difficult to fathom why the Bishops see either of those issues as the difference between bodies strewn across a crowded market place and peace in our time.

Reasonable people can disagree over whether the anti-terrorism fence is an effective method to reduce terror aimed at civilians as well as soldiers. What is not reasonable is the insistence that Israel do nothing serious in the face of an enemy that has pledged to destroy the Jewish State and whose leaders still speak of liberating “occupied Tel Aviv.”

History provides the context whereby moral judgments are made about nations. But the statement released by the Bishops was written in a moral and historical vacuum. Rather than a small, besieged country that has faced four Arab wars aimed at its annihilation, Israel is that country which is building the dreaded fence, a humiliating barrier more soul-destroying than a bomb in a pizza parlor or grenades tossed into a Bar Mitzvah. Instead of a country that only ten years ago offered the Palestinians virtually all of the disputed territory acquired in 1967 from an invading Jordan (only to have the offer rebuffed in favor of a new and deadlier Intifada), Israel is the country that is building a “permanent structure” which is “dividing families” and isolating Palestinians “from their livelihood.” There is nothing in the Bishops’ statement about how Palestinian livelihood is affected by terrorism, the Palestinian Authority dictatorship, or virulent, institutionalized anti-Semitism.

The next paragraph is worth quoting in full:

“We have had an experience of the frustration and humiliation undergone everyday by Palestinians at checkpoints, which impede them from providing for their families, reaching hospital, getting to work, attending studies and visiting their relatives.”

In a sad and tragic act of irony that says more than any press release could, shortly before the Bishop’s statement was released a female Palestinian terrorist showed all with open eyes exactly what the checkpoints (and the fence) are designed to prevent.

The Bishops’ statement of solidarity ends with the rallying cry “You are not alone!” One might ask, alone in the face of whom? There aren’t many actors in the Bishops’ drama. Arab countries, terrorist groups, and this month’s Palestinian leader do not figure into the moral calculus. Hebrew Catholics (and their Bishop) were evidently not invited or else declined to attend. Are the Bishops really suggesting that the Church in the Holy Land become another group raising its fist in defiance of the “Zionist entity?”

Michel Sabbah and the Catholic Bishops have given us a simplistic and all-too-European scenario in which the Jewish State is stealing land and preventing decent folk from work and worship. In doing so they have eschewed the difficult moral issues of unfinished terrorist wars, resurgent world-wide anti-Semitism, Islamofascism, and the right of democracies to defend their people from all of the above. These are only the most important issues facing the world today. Catholics deserve better from their leadership.