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From the President of Bethlehem University

I read with great interest your editorial Saying No to Israel (3/5). It is not clear that such enormous amounts of aid to Israel benefit the security of anyone in the areaPalestinians or Israelis. A just and honorable peace is the only real security. I find myself thinking that the investment of the $5.5 billion referred to in your editorial in the Palestinian Territories for infrastructure development, economic development, social services and education would be a remarkable step toward peace, stability and safety for all. When there is real hope that one can live free of occupation, with a decent job and a reasonable life for one’s family, there is a strong basis for peace.

I have read polls demonstrating that the vast majority of Palestinians and Israelis support a peace with justice. The situation here cries out for an honorable solution. The energy for peace is here. I see it every day in the faculty, staff and students of Bethlehem University. But I also see the extreme frustration that results from endless peace talks while the economy declines, freedom of movement is restricted, and unemployment and underemployment increase. The status quo continues the suffering of Palestinians, whose standard of living is about one-tenth that of Israelis. No one denies that Palestinian society faces problems as it struggles toward statehood. Some of the problems are caused by the restrictions the years of occupation placed on the freedom of Palestinians to organize themselves and their lives.

Our 2,000 students, with faculty and staff, make tremendous sacrifices to participate in the excellent educational programs of Bethlehem University. Newly barricaded roads, new check points, closures and severe economic hardships present great challenges. Some students travel two hours in each direction every day at a transportation cost that, because of road closures, is higher than the tuition itself. Members of the university community have had their houses destroyed, and their children live in fear of the Israeli tank, rocket and high-caliber machine gun fire on Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.

On March 2, 2001, Cardinal Francis Arinze, the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, spoke at Bethlehem University, encouraging our efforts to live together and to engage in dialogue between Muslims and Christians. He noted that politicians at times attempt, for their own purposes, to promote tensions or disharmony between the two religious groups. Sadly, this negative dimension can also be found in the work of some journalists.

Come and see for yourselves, if you can. Read accounts in the English language Palestinian weekly Jerusalem Times and the English edition of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. (The latter is available on the Internet.) Don’t stereotype us. Don’t accept facile slogans blaming the Palestinians for being under occupation. I hope you and your readers will stay informed about our situation and support us as much as possible in the quest for peace and normal life.

Vincent Malham, F.S.C.
Bethlehem

A Very Dangerous Area

The most alarming statement in the March 5 editorial tirade against U.S. aid to Israel is that The first lesson of the failed Oslo process should be, Just say no’ to the pleas of Israel and her friends for more and more aid. How can this possibly be the first lesson to learn from the failure of Oslo? One might wish to analyze what led to the breakdown, so that negotiations, when they finally begin again, can be conducted in a more productive way. One would have to be sobered by the thought that, in response to the most generous (and risk-taking) offer any Israeli government could make, the Palestinian leadership walked away and then unleashed a violent uprising. The failure of the Oslo process should not lead any serious analyst of the situation to the immediate conclusion (the first lesson) that aid to Israel must be cut.

Indeed, the editorial itself makes the point, in its penultimate paragraph, that peace is a regional question. Unfortunately, the Middle East remains a very dangerous area. Other problems of the region do certainly need to be addressed, including those mentioned in the editorial: growing populations, stagnant economies, authoritarian regimes. With increasing saber-rattling in Iraq and elsewhere, this hardly seems like the moment to slash aid to the single democratic ally in the region. On the contrary, a reduction in aid at this moment is most likely to be interpreted by Israel’s enemies as a signal to attack.

Bruce M. Ramer
President, American Jewish Committee
New York, N.Y.

In the Land

My experience facilitating interfaith relations at Georgetown University over the past two years has reinforced for me the truth that each faith bears some responsibility for the barriers that exist between us. Recognizing our own mistakes and prejudices is the first step in constructing a healthy dialogue with other traditions. Knowledge of our self-reflection about issues of importance to the other breeds confidence and trust in the hearts of the other.

In Christians, Christmas and the Intifada, by Drew Christiansen, S.J. (2/12), I hear Dr. Christiansen’s indignation at recent policies of the Israeli government toward Israel’s Christian communities. Yet I do not hear sufficient criticism of Palestinian Muslims for cramping the lives of Christians in the land. This was quite evident to me in my interfaith pilgrimage last summer along with 30 students and chaplains from Georgetown. Like their co-religionists in Lebanon, Christians in the land face an increasingly Muslim Arab society that is overwhelming its Christian brethren.

What I, a Jew with Israel deeply ingrained in my soul and identity, need to hear from Dr. Christiansen and other Christian authorities is a balanced view of the political problems of the land. Israel certainly bears some responsibility for the precarious position of Christians in the land, but certainly not all of it.

(Rabbi) Mark Robbins
Washington, D.C.

Mexican Insight

Thank you for the excellent article Foxfire Across the Border, by James S. Torrens, S.J. (1/8). The article gives us an insight into Mexico’s new president that I have not found as yet in the media.

Please God, President Fox will be able to fulfill his oath for the poor and marginal people in this country. Their condition clearly preoccupies him. Father Torrens has clearly presented the strengths with which President Fox will meet his challenges.

Patricia Haid
Santa Clara, Calif.

Prophets

Thank you for Bishop Robert Morneau’s concise piece on our national sins (2/26). The bishop did well by naming the sins of muddledness, numbness and drifting. This is the bad news. Our nation now really needs to hear the prophetic voice if we are to surface from this morass. How about identifying some of God’s mouthpieces for our time? For starters may I suggest Joan Chittister, O.S.B., with her depth of spirituality; Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, with his passion for nonviolence; Helen Prejean, C.S.J., who steers us away from our nation’s vengeful murders on death row; the Rev. Jim Wallis with his embrace of the poor, and Ralph Nader for his David-like challenge against the corporate giants? We need to be attentive to these prophets in our midst.

(Rev.) Joseph Mattern
Omro, Wis.

Comments

Larry N. Lorenzoni, S.D.B. | 1/24/2007 - 1:37pm
The recent thoughtful and frank exchange of letters (3/19) by Brother Malham from Bethlehem, American Jewish Committee president Ramer from Washington and Rabbi Robbins from New York, each triggered by your March 5 editorial, convinces me more than ever that we are not likely to see peace in the Middle East until Palestine expresses some genuine concern for the rights and security of Israel and until Israel expresses some genuine concern for the rights and security of Palestine.

“Opus justitiae pax,” Pope John Paul II keeps reminding the world. “Peace is the fruit of justice.” Justice for all, not justice only for some.

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