Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Truce? No truce? -- Boy, that was quick.

  • Previous cease-fires with Palestinians paint a bleak picture by Abe Selig. Jerusalem Post June 18, 2008:
    Aiming to end months of bitter clashes between the IDF and Hamas terrorists in Gaza, a fragile truce has been formally recognized between both Israel and the Hamas-led government there, in which rocket attacks on Israel will stop and Israel will ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

    But a look at previous tahadiyehs (the Arabic term meaning "period of calm" that Hamas uses for its informal cease-fires) casts doubt on the possibility of a cessation of violence and the likelihood of this latest truce holding at all.

  • According to Senior Defense Ministry Official Amos Gilad, one of the conditions of the truce was a cessation to weapons smuggling by Hamas (Ynet News June 19, 2008):
    Gilad described the conditions according to which the terror organizations were to be judged during the ceasefire. "We need a total ceasefire – all included. If tomorrow morning one single rocket is fired, it will be a violation of the agreement. There is no room for interpretation, and no mediating body is needed. We will not accept the firing of even one Qassam.

    "Egypt, on its side, is committed to preventing the smuggling activity from Gaza. It's simple; Egypt has a border with Gaza, through which weapons and terrorists are smuggled. Smuggling is a serious violation of the terms. Any such infraction will lead to a change in Israel's stance from the way in which it was presented to the Egyptians," he said.

    they've already broken it.

  • Rockets hit Israel, breaking Hamas truce International Herald Tribune June 25, 2008:
    JERUSALEM: Three Qassam rockets fired from Gaza on Tuesday struck the Israeli border town of Sderot and its environs, causing no serious injuries but constituting the first serious breach of a five-day-old truce between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Latin patriarch Fouad Twal: "it’s time to put an end to the Wall"

According to Vatican Radio, the newly appointed Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal cited "freedom of movement for priests and religious between these regions is a primary pastoral concern":
“We receive a lot of help and we are grateful but at the same time we say we need more. What we need is peace. We don’t only [want] to be a begging Church, we don’t want to be beggars with a licence. I don’t like this. We need a political horizon, it’s time to put an end to the Wall, the Checkpoints, it’s time for a Palestinian State, it’s time for an end to our problems with visa’s. The majority of our priests, nuns, schools, families are in Jordan. We need a link to Jordan we need to be able to move with freedom and liberty for our pastoral work. I am not speaking about politics, let’s leave politics to the politicians, I am a bishop, we want to move for our pastoral work and we are handicapped”.

"Time to put an end to the Wall"? -- Granted that freedom for clergy and religious is a legitimate concern in the administration of their pastoral duties, it is unfortunate that the Archbishop gives little thought to the welfare of those for whom "The Wall" and the "Checkpoints" were established:

Before the construction of the fence, and in many places where it has not yet been completed, a terrorist need only walk across an invisible line to cross from the West Bank into Israel. No barriers of any kind exist, so it is easy to see how a barrier, no matter how imperfect, won't at least make the terrorists' job more difficult. Approximately 75 percent ofthe suicide bombers who attacked targets inside Israel came from across the border where the first phase of the fence was built.

During the 34 months from the beginning of the violence in September 2000 until the construction of the first continuous segment of the security fence at the end of July 2003, Samaria-based terrorists carried out 73 attacks in which 293 Israelis were killed and 1950 wounded. In the 11 months between the erection of the first segment at the beginning of August 2003 and the end of June 2004, only three attacks were successful, and all three occurred in the first half of 2003.

Since construction of the fence began, the number of attacks has declined by more than 90%. The number of Israelis murdered and wounded has decreased by more than 70% and 85%, respectively, after erection of the fence.

Even the Palestinian terrorists have admitted the fence is a deterrent. On November 11, 2006, Islamic Jihad leader Abdallah Ramadan Shalah said on Al-Manar TV the terrorist organizations had every intention of continuing suicide bombing attacks, but that their timing and the possibility of implementing them from the West Bank depended on other factors. “For example,” he said, “there is the separation fence, which is an obstacle to the resistance, and if it were not there the situation would be entirely different.”

Source: Israel’s Security Fence by Mitchell Bard.

In 2008, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdallah Shalah was interviewed in Damascus by the Qatari newspaper Al-Sharq, and likewise admitted to the effectiveness of the security fence in impeding terrorist attacks:

He said that the second intifada was currently characterized by rocket fire, which had replaced the previous stage of suicide bombing attacks. That, he said, was because the enemy [i.e., Israel ] had found ways and means to protect itself from such attacks: “… For example, they built a separation fence in the West Bank . We do not deny that it limits the ability of the resistance [i.e., the terrorist organizations] to arrive deep within [Israeli territory] to carry out suicide bombing attacks , but the resistance has not surrendered or become helpless, and is looking for other ways to cope with the requirements of every stage [of the intifada]…” (Al-Sharq, March 23, 2008 ).
Honestly, I expect the Wall will come down when Israel's enemies decide to abandon their suicide attacks.

Archbishop Fouad Twal appointed new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

Archbishop Fouad Twal is the new Latin patriarch of Jerusalem AsiaNews.it June 21, 2008:
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - As of today, Archbishop Fouad Twal is the new Latin patriarch of Jerusalem. Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation presented by His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, whose coadjutor Archbishop Twal has been since 2005.

The new patriarch was born in Madaba, in Jordan, on October 23, 1940. In October of 1959, he entered the major seminary of Beit-Jala, and was ordained a priest on June 29, 1966. In September of 1972, he began studies in canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University, and in October of 1974 he entered the ecclesiastical Pontifical Academy. In 1975, he received his degree in canon law.

From 1977 to 1992, he served as a diplomat at the apostolic nunciature of Honduras, the council for public affairs at the Vatican secretariat of state, the apostolic nunciature in Germany, and the apostolic nunciature in Peru.

On May 30, 1992, he was appointed bishop of Tunis, and was ordained on July 22 of the same year. On May 31, 1995, he was made archbishop. He has also been president of the Regional Episcopal Conference of North Africa (CERNA). On September 8, 2005, Benedict XVI appointed him coadjutor for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem of the Latins.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Holocaust Survivors meet with Benedict XVI, convey thanks to the Church for saving their lives

Survivors of the Holocaust met with Pope Benedict XVI to convey their gratitude to the Church for saving their lives. Four members of the Pave the Way Foundation met with the Pope this past week -- Zenit News Service reports (June 18, 2008):
Gary Krupp, president of that foundation, told ZENIT: "The Jewish survivors were all very grateful for the opportunity to greet the Pope in German and Italian and to thank him for the intervention of the Roman Catholic Church for saving their lives during World War II."

One of the survivors, Ursala Selig, was saved by Monsignor Beniamino Schivo, in those years rector of a seminary in Città di Castello, Italia, and now 97 years old. The monsignor saved Selig along with her mother and father, by shuttling them around to keep them safe, Krupp recounted.

"She spoke of her and her mother dressing like nuns and staying in a convent," Krupp said. "Her father was protected on a little farm eight hours away. She still speaks to Monsignor Schivo twice a week. He was supposed to come but is too frail."

Krupp also presented Benedict XVI with the symposium on the papacy of Pius XII the foundation is preparing for September.

The symposium, he said, aims to reveal "the true hidden story of the dark days of the Holocaust."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

New York Times on Christians for a Fair Witness on the Middle East

Lawyer-Turned-Nun Rises to Israel’s Defense - New York Times profiles the founder of Christians for a Fair Witness:
Sister Ruth Lautt works from a single room on the 19th floor of the God Box. Such is the nickname for the Interchurch Center, the office building on Riverside Drive in Manhattan that is the closest thing to a Vatican for America’s mainline Protestant denominations. Indeed, Sister Ruth’s fellow tenants include agencies of the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Wearing the tapered suits left over from an earlier career in law and the crucifix of her more recent life as a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Ruth cuts an inconspicuous figure at the elevator bank. And on many of the issues that animate the mainline churches — ecumenical outreach, social justice — she makes a perfectly companionable neighbor. On the subject of Israel, however, she qualifies as something more like the enemy within.

Through the organization she founded three years ago, Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, Sister Ruth has frequently and sharply clashed with the very denominations housed under the God Box’s roof. When they have proposed divestment from Israel or more generally condemned its actions against Palestinians, she has fought against those positions, vociferously speaking out for Israel’s right to self-defense and security.

In the rancorous and relentless debate on the Middle East conflict, Sister Ruth stands as a sui generis player. She has little contact with Jewish advocacy groups, none with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby. She disassociates herself from Christian Zionists of the theological and political right. Even while defending Israel’s defensive measures, including the separation barrier, she openly criticizes its occupation of the West Bank and laments Palestinian suffering.


Little in Sister Ruth’s professional background anticipated her current cause. Before she joined the Dominican order in 1996, she had earned a law degree from New York University and worked at Skadden, Arps. Even after becoming a sister, she continued to litigate cases for a smaller firm on Long Island, close to the Dominican residence where she lived.

Sister Ruth did, however, earn a master’s degree in Jewish-Christian Studies from Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and participated in several ecumenical groups on Long Island.

While she said that she received a divine call to advocate for Israel, that call coincided with a rising tide of protests against Israel for sending its army back into the West Bank’s major cities after a rash of suicide bombings in early 2002. The criticism of Israel from liberal churches grew even greater with construction of the separation barrier, which for portions of its route crosses into Palestinian territory.

Sister Ruth made her first trip to Israel in 2003. (Since then she has returned five times, generally visiting the West Bank as well.) In December 2005, she incorporated Fair Witness and sent out its first news release.

Although the group has a board with Roman Catholic and Protestant members, the operation is essentially all Sister Ruth, all the time. She raises the money for its $120,000 annual budget. She assembled its database on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the positions of mainline Protestant groups. She leads Protestant delegations on study tours to the region — African-American clergy members will be going in August, Lutherans in November — and gives her historical analysis of Zionism and Israel to Christian audiences.

In a typical speech last November at Boston College, she commended the liberal churches for “a wholesome, Gospel-centered concern for Palestinian suffering, which is real,” and endorsed a two-state solution. But she also made the case for Israeli self-defense, even in the form of the separation barrier.

“I need to question how people feel they have the right in the name of peace and justice, to tell other people not to try to preserve their own lives,” she said at one point. “You’re not obligated to lay down and die.”

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Catholics in Israel: an Interview with David Mark Neuhaus, SJ

Zenit News Service interviews Jesuit Father David Mark Neuhaus, secretary-general of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic Vicariate in Israel, known also as the the Association of St. James -- on the history, mission and challenges facing the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Israel:
Q: You say on your Web site that being a Hebrew-speaking Catholic community within a predominantly Jewish society is a new experience in the history of the Church. What led to the establishment of the Association of St. James?

Father Neuhaus: The Association of St. James that became the Hebrew-speaking Catholic Vicariate was officially established as a part of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1955. This was shortly after the establishment of the state of Israel. It was founded in order to serve the myriads of Catholics who had immigrated to Israel, often within mixed Jewish-Catholic families, and they came predominantly from Europe.

It was also founded as a Catholic presence within Jewish society to nurture a new type of relationship between Catholics and Jews. The new reality of a Jewish state with Hebrew as the official language rendered important the existence of a Catholic milieu in which Hebrew was used and spoken.

Among the founders of the Association were Jews who had become Catholics -- mostly in Europe -- and Catholics -- mostly from Europe -- who had a vocation to live in solidarity with the Jewish people in the state of Israel. Our founding fathers and mothers had a vision of a Hebrew-speaking Catholic community at home within the Jewish people in Israel and living its life of faith in profound dialogue and solidarity with the Jewish people.

Q: What new perspective does a Hebrew-speaking Catholic in the Holy Land have to offer?

Father Neuhaus: A Hebrew-speaking Catholic lives within the only Jewish society that constitutes a majority, where the rhythm of day-to-day life is established by Jewish religion, history and culture. For us, the universal Catholic reflection on the Jewish identity of Jesus and the Jewish roots of our faith is not just one element in our renewal after the Second Vatican Council. It is also part of our daily existence.

Dialogue with Jews here is not with a marginal minority but with the dominant majority. As part of our attempts to inculturate, we are challenged to integrate into our Catholic identity, into our liturgy and into our thinking, this daily encounter with Judaism and the Jewish people.

All of this takes place within the very land that is at the center of the biblical narrative, the land in which biblical Israel, her prophets and Our Lord Jesus walked, taught and lived. ...

Read more


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why Do Palestinian Terrorist Groups Agree to Cease-Fires?

In the News Myth and Fact
“Palestinian terrorist groups agreed to a cease-fire to advance the peace process.”


In an effort to stop the nearly daily onslaught of rockets from Gaza, Israeli officials have discussed the possibility of a cease-fire with the Hamas terrorists bombarding the Israeli civilian population. Egypt and others have also tried to mediate a cessation of terror that would allow Israel to end its counterterror measures. Rather than agree to a simple cease-fire, however, Hamas, has engaged in verbal gymnastics to suggest it will adopt a policy that will, at best, offer a temporary respite while the organization continues to build up its arsenal to pursue its long-term goal of destroying Israel.

The latest example of this Hamas tactic is the proposal in May 2008 to accept a “tahdiyah,” or period of calm. Earlier, in June 2003, Islamic Jihad and Hamas agreed to a hudna in response to demands from then Palestinian Authority prime minister Mahmoud Abbas to stop their attacks on Israel so he could fulfill his obligations under the Middle East road map. The agreement was interpreted in the Western media as the declaration of a cease-fire, which was hailed as a step forward in the peace process. Violence continued after the supposed cease-fire, however, and Israeli intelligence found evidence the Palestinians exploited the situation to reorganize their forces. They recruited suicide bombers, increased the rate of production of Qassam rockets, and sought to extend their range. Over the last five years since the declaration of the hudna, attacks on Israel increased and Hamas succeeded in smuggling in more weapons with longer ranges.

While any cessation of violence against Israeli civilians is to be welcomed, it is important to understand the cease-fire the radical Islamic groups are contemplating in the Muslim context.

The media and some political leaders portray a hudna as a truce or a cease-fire designed to bring peace. Though the term hudna does refer to a temporary cession of hostilities, it has historically been used as a tactic aimed at allowing the party declaring the hudna to regroup while tricking an enemy into lowering its guard. When the hudna expires, the party that declared it is stronger and the enemy weaker. The term comes from the story of the Muslim conquest of Mecca. Instead of a rapid victory, Muhammad made a ten-year treaty with the Kuraysh tribe. In 628 AD, after only two years of the ten-year treaty, Muhammad and his forces concluded that the Kuraysh were too weak to resist. The Muslims broke the treaty and took over all of Mecca without opposition.212

A modern-day hudna is not a form of compromise, rather it is a tactical tool to gain a military advantage. Hamas has used it no fewer than 10 times in 10 years.


Source: Myths & Facts Online -- A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Mitchell G. Bard.

See also Mitchell Bard's blog: http://blogs.britannica.com/blog/main/author/mbard.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Christians for a Fair Witness on the Middle East

Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East was founded by Sr. Ruth Lautt, O.P., Esq., who serves as its National Director. She is a professed member of the Sisters of the Order of St. Dominic, Congregation of the Holy Cross, Amityville, New York.

Sr. Ruth received a law degree from NYU School of Law and was previously associated with the law firms of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Parcher & Hayes in New York. Prior to founding Fair Witness she was a litigation partner in the Law Firm of Vollmer & Tanck, P.C. in Jericho, New York.

Sr. Ruth has also served on the Ecumenical Commission of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn , Catholic-Jewish Dialogue, and the Executive Committee of the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel. She was previously the Co-Convener of the Five-Towns/Rockaway Interfaith Clergy Council. Sr. Ruth is currently finishing her Masters Degree in Biblical Studies in the Jewish Christian Studies Department at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Further Reading: The Church’s Witness on Issues in the Arab/Israeli Conflict, based on a speech given by Sr. Ruth Lautt, O.P., Esq. at Boston College, November 14, 2007.

Vatican, Israel report progress in talks

The plenary meeting of the Bilateral Holy See-Israel Commission to implement the Fundamental Agreement signed 15 years ago ended today in the Vatican after making “real progress", reports AsiaNews.it:
Reports indicate that all participants came out of the meeting with “cautious satisfaction”.

Although it is not known what was discussed, from the start the Church has called on Israeli authorities to recognise its historic tax exemptions as well as return Church properties lost over the years.

The Commission decided that its next meeting will take place in December. The recent round of negotiations comes after five years of deadlock. They began with a meeting on 21 May 2007, followed by another on 13 December 2007, and then today’s session.

With the next plenary meeting scheduled for December in Jerusalem, the Commission now seems set to meet on a regular basis, twice a year.

Background Reading: Israel-Vatican Relations & The Fundamental Agreement February 12, 2007.