Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Church is Burning

A total of seven Churches were firebombed or riddled by gunfire in the West Bank and Gaza over the weekend. The fire-bombings came in apparent response to the Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks. The stone church in Tul Karem, built over 170 years ago was gutted by fire, according to Church officials. In nearby Tubas a small church was also burned.

According to the daily Haaretz Newspaper, Tul Karem’s Greek Orthodox Church was under guard until midnight. Later in the night the entire inside of the sanctuary was burned, including furniture and an ornate wooden door. There are only a few Christian families left in Tul Karem.

A total of five firebombs were reportedly hurled at Nablus' Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches,

What the attackers apparently overlooked was that the neither the Greek Orthodox nor the Anglican Church accepts the papacy of Rome. Apparently any Christian edifice was enough for the Moslem rage.

The Pope last week, in a talk rejecting any religious motivation for violence, cited the words of a 14th Century Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The second in command of Islamic Jihad's political branch in Israel said that the Pope’s statements were incendiary. He also said that the Pope, with the Church’s history of the Crusades and the Inquisition, was in no position to criticize Islam.

The northern Israel assistant Islamic Jihad leader said that the Moslems had only become violent over the last thirty years, because of Palestine. He said that Moslems had always been accepting of Christians and Jews before that. However he did not deny that there was no long-term hope for either Jews or Christians in the Middle East. All non-Moslems, he said, had to ultimately convert to Islam.

However the religious leader, interviewed by Razi Barkai on Israel Army Radio, also said that the Church had no place in the Middle East. He went on to say that ultimately the entire Middle East would be a Caliphate, according to the prophecy of Mohamed. He made no distinction between any country, including Israel.

Razi Barkai asked him, “So there’s nothing to talk about. No way to reach any negotiations over recognition of Israel?”

“No,” the religious leader said.

According to Haaretz, Christians number approximately 50,000 in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Up until the Pope’s comments their relationships had been good.

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Shlomo Ben Ami, said that the religious statements made by men like the Islamic Jihad leader and the politicical realities on the ground were much different. Religious leaders must make the grand statements that support the doctrines of their faith; politicians find ways to implement rules inside those doctrines. Ben Ami didn’t take the Jihadists statements too seriously.

Other commentators on Israel Radio said that it came as no surprise that the Pope said what he did, since he too is a doctrinaire Catholic, worried about the position of the Church in modern society, especially in Christian Europe threatened by an explosion of Moslem population. Nearly three percent of Europe is now Moslem. One professor said that the Pope didn’t attack Islam out of hatred, but merely espoused the long-time Church doctrine as a way to encourage non-practicing Christians to become active in the Church.

Another professor claimed that the Pope was unaccustomed to speaking to a wide audience and may have made a mistake. Some Israeli analysts think that the Pope realized that 85 per cent of all the conflicts in the world today involved Moslems, and meant what he said about Islam believing violence the only way to reach its goals.

Most analysts point to the outbreak of Moslem violence around the world as proof that what the Pope said about Islam as a violent religion was true. Spokesmen for the Pope in Rome issued statements that the Pope’s words had been misconstrued. The Pope later apologized for the remarks claiming his words were taken out of context.

The “protest” movement in Israel against the government’s handling of the war may be gathering momentum. On Friday a group of ex-Generals met with Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and were harshly critical of his conduct. One said that he should resign. Another said that no Air Force General would ever again be Chief of Staff. Halutz struck back at them, telling the ex-Generals they’d gone too far.

One political analysts said that the triumvirate of PM Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz and Chief of Staff Halutz were the three Ss: scheming, stupid and supercilious
The Winograd committee commissioned to investigate the war has reportedly been given full governmental powers.

One mother was quoted as saying that the three leaders have to go. Her son, a Major in the Army reserves, was on the Syrian border for five weeks during the war. His stories about the government’s management prompted his mother to join the protest movement.

On Thursday a two-hour special aired on Israel TV’s Channel 10 investigating the war. A panel of interviewers spoke to generals and ex-generals, as well as officers who had served in the war. The program also ran video clips taken by reserve soldiers who had brought their own video cameras into battle.

The footage was damning. Soldiers were seen lying around apartments for two days, their water gone, with no food. The soldiers complained that they were being wasted, lying in the apartments, rather than out on foot fighting the enemy. This complaint was heard time and again.

Surprisingly the Army Spokesman’s office allowed the footage to air. For all the complaints the soldiers may have, there was little or no censorship of the footage. A TV crew was also posted to the central command headquarters, filming the commanding officers as they managed the war. Some of them could hardly suppress their frustration at the decisions being taken.

In an article that appeared on Thursday in Haaretz, ex-Chief of Staff Boogie Ya’alon said his battle plans called for “no tanks and no apartments.” Ya’alon said that by 2002 the Intifada had so drained Israel’s economic resources that the expense of the Nautilus laser anti-missile system was too high for the return on the investment. At best the system would only have partially protected one city.

Ya’alon also said that he didn’t approve the purchase of extra protection for tanks since in his battle plans tanks were not going to be used. Nor were soldiers going to be put into apartments, sitting ducks for anti-tank missiles.

According to Ya’alon the army was mistaken in its attack on the major towns in S. Lebanon. He said they should have been left alone, since everyone knew Hezbollah had long been planning ambushes in the towns, and were ready and waiting for the Israelis. He claimed that the battle plan called for air attacks followed by commando forces fighting a guerilla war up until they reached the Litani River. It was expected, said Ya’alon that the US and Europe would then step in to stop the Israeli advance long before massive ground troops were sent in.

According to Ya'alon PM Olmert decided to ask for more time from the Americans, thinking mistakenly that he could make significant gains. Olmert made serious errors according to Ya’alon. Others have said Olmert was impetuous and reckless. Some have hinted he was like a little kid behind the wheel of a car.

Ya’alon also said that the massive ground attack at the end of the war was just to put a political spin on the battles, to give the impression Israel had won. This cost over thirty lives, says Ya’alon, wasted lives, just “for spin.”

As his term of Chief of Staff was ending Ya’alon expected that his term would be extended but he was passed over in favor of Dan Halutz. According to critics this has influenced his harsh view of the way the war was run.

None of the three soldiers captured at the outbreak of the war have yet been released. There is talk of the imminent release of Gilad Shalit, but so far nothing substantive has been done.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are still negotiating a joint government. PA Prime Minister Mohammed Abas is heading to the USA for talks with US President Bush. Analysts believe that the release of Shalit will be the Hamas payment for the meeting. However, the US has demanded that the PA not go into partnership with Hamas, at least until Hamas recognizes the right of Israel to exist.