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Local Editorials

Israel's critics: When church politics goes haywire

There are always plenty of religious organizations that have special interests to promote. Among them are a number of organizations which are extremely critical of Israel. These groups, in my opinion, seem to glorify the Palestinians while demonizing the Israelis. For the life of me, I can't understand how they can be so unsympathetic to a nation who is surrounded by enemies who want to "drive them into the sea." Now I'm not unsympathetic toward the Palestinians. The Palestinians are a displaced people who have become permanent refugees and have many hardships to face. But I have a hard time offering them sympathy and support after they voted the "Hamas" party into office. Hamas is an organization that has openly declared as one of their main goals to eliminate the nation of Israel. As a result, it has resulted in a severe reduction of humanitarian and economic aid to Palestinians causing them even more hardships for their people.

Now we have the latest chapter coming from the critics of Israel. It seems that the Israel Antiquities Authority has begun salvage excavations in the Jerusalem Archeological Park, with the intention of building a permanent Mugrabi Gate ramp to replace a temporary wooden structure that had been declared hazardous. In response to the excavation, some Palestinians have begun rioting and have thrown rocks at a tour bus and some Israeli soldiers.

In reality, the work does not interfere in any way with the sacred mosque or the Dome of the Rock which are both sacred to Muslims. All they are doing is replacing a wooden ramp so it doesn't collapse when pilgrims go to the temple mount. They have even coordinated it with and received permission from Islamic leaders in the city. Just to play it safe, they have even contacted a neighboring nation to get their approval.

So why are some Muslims so upset about this work project? One factor I know of is the fact that the ramp is reported to be the only access non-Muslims have to be able to visit the temple mount. No ramp could mean no access. Could it be that what is wanted is to prevent non-Muslims from visiting the sacred site which is sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike?

Now here is where church politics goes haywire. There's a group called Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) which is a self-described "coalition of 21 public policy offices of national churches and agencies." They claim doing this little repair job violates the sanctity of the holy site and are calling on our U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs to pressure Israel to halt excavations at the site. They claim that otherwise violent protests would break out in Israel. The question I have is this: Doesn't their stand, in fact, encourage those violent protests? In addition, Rev. Dr. Peter Pettit, director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding, has accused them of "spreading disinformation on the excavation" and "neglecting to call upon the Palestinians to cease rioting."

CMEP also seems to stress only the importance of the site to Muslims by specifying the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque (Islam's third holiest sites), but failing to mention that it is also the site of Solomon's Temple, Judaism's holiest site, referring instead merely to "two biblical temples."

Dr. Pettit goes on to say: "Shouldn't our role as Christian peacemakers be to restore calm to the situation by explaining the facts and encouraging a peaceful return to a project intended only to provide safety to visitors to a site holy to all three religions?" Those are my sentiments exactly.

The Rev. Kent Svendsen is from Forreston and is an ordained United Methodist minister and an Army Reserve chaplain. He served for 10 months (May 2004 to March 2005) as the sole chaplain to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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