No mention there of the ethnic cleansing of Bethlehem's Christians or that in years to come they might have to provide cardboard cut outs of the Christians in attendance so as to fill up manger square at Christmas mass. Still, we all should hope and pray for peace in the region as a result of the peace process that was put in place last month at Annapolis.
The tragic side of the story is that which has been clumsily appended to the article, namely a report on a statement made by nine Australian Christian leaders who visited Israel and Palestine earlier this month. The statement was issued exactly two weeks ago but unlike most newspapers which prefer to publish fresh news, the Age doesn't appear to care if a story is as stale as last week's bread when it can report on a group of clerics who say they feel "compelled" to speak out about the suffering of Palestinians under occupation; who say that their visit showed "there were signs of hope, but obstacles imposed by Israel stood in the way of a just peace."
These Christian leaders tell of what they say they saw and heard which they describe as "evidence of systematic harassment, physical and psychological oppression, widespread unemployment, poverty and economic deprivation, resulting directly or indirectly from Israeli military occupation of the West Bank." They do not say whether and what steps if any were taken to test the evidence or their conclusions (which to many observers are patently false and misleading), whether they considered the probity of their "evidence" or that it might have come from those who bear false witness either directly or by deliberate omission to assist them in reaching their conclusions. And it would not surprise if they were influenced by these Palestinian Christians from Sabeel who have a penchant for propagating anti-Israel sentiment and are considered by some as being serial liars who use antisemitic rhetoric.
The leaders add, almost by way of an afterthought (but rather significant in view of the reality of the situation in the region) that they "also heard of Israeli pain and grief resulting from terrorism, and assured both sides of their compassion and concern".
Thank the Lord for that insightful concession!
The fact that Israel is held to blame for taking security measures to protect its citizens from the terrorists is outrageous. The Age is constantly telling us that conditions for Palestinians in non occupied Gaza are much worse since Israel ended its military occupation of that territory in 2005 (and of almost half of the Palestinian population previously living under the dreadful occupation). When the occupation of Gaza came to an end there was one thing that remained constant - Palestinian terrorism and incitement against the Jews!
These leaders know full well the implications of bearing false witness against others. Yet, it seems that it did not even enter into their thoughts that perhaps the unemployment, poverty and economic deprivation which they saw might directly result from the efforts of Palestinian terrorism which seeks to prevent peace and would rather thwart all efforts to end the occupation. This is precisely because they are aware that there is no shortage of useful idiots to support such causes who know nothing of the consequences of accepting at face value those who bear false witness.
The President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Robert M Goot AM SC, issued the following statement in response to that of the Australian Church Leaders, following their recent visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank:
"The goodwill expressed by the Australian Church delegation to Israelis and Palestinians, and their prayers for a comprehensive peace, are appreciated and to be welcomed. We also welcome their condemnation of terrorism and acknowledge that people of goodwill strive for peace and justice and recognise that religion should be promoted as a force against extremism. However peace will not be achieved by directing criticisms essentially against one side only.
"In this respect it is regrettable that following their very brief visit to the region, the Church Leaders overlooked fundamental aspects of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and notably failed to mention Hamas let alone its refusal to disavow murderous attacks aimed specifically at Israeli civilians. Hamas’ Charter in calling for the violent destruction of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish majority from the entire Holy Land, is a program for genocide. It would have been helpful if the Church Leaders could have called upon the Hamas government in Gaza to recognise Israel, repudiate terrorism and honour existing agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians.
"Against that background, the Church Leaders’ criticisms of the measures taken by Israel to defend its citizens are one-sided and unfair. Those criticisms imply that other options are open to Israel, but the delegation has not attempted to spell out what they might be. Nor has the delegation acknowledged that Israel itself is mindful of the effect of its measures on the innocent, and has attempted to alleviate their severity.
"The restrictions on Palestinian movements which the Church Leaders criticise, have also successfully put an end to the wave of terrorist bombings that had killed and maimed thousands of Israeli civilians. If these restrictions were lifted in response to the Church Leaders’ criticisms, and the attacks on innocent Israeli civilians resumed, would the Church Leaders accept moral responsibility?
"Indeed in August 2005, when Israel withdrew all its forces and dismantled all the settlements in the Gaza Strip, within 24 hours Palestinian terror groups in Gaza began firing rockets and mortars directed at civilian population centres in Israel itself. Israel has had to take restrictive measures to protect its citizens from these armed cross-border attacks, the very measures that the delegation now appears to criticise.
"We look forward to our continuing dialogue with the Church Leaders and to learn from them precisely what viable alternatives they believe are available to Israel in the quest for a just and lasting peace for which we all hope and pray".
In other words, the message to the Church leaders in a nutshell was - "you guys are way out of your depth and demonstrating how gullible you are. Next time you go there, if someone offers you the title deeds to the Via Dellarosa, at least try to drive a hard bargain!"