Israel’s worsening relationship with the Vatican took another hit earlier this week with the release of a church report that in large measure blames the perilous situation of Christians in the Middle East on Israel and the Middle East conflict.
The report, issued two days after the pope’s visit to a Rome synagogue, which sought to better relations between Catholics and Jews, was prepared in advance of a planned church conference of Middle East Christians to take place later this year. It claims that the Iraq war and Israel’s presence in the West Bank have worsened conditions for minority Christians in the Muslim-dominated region. Written by Arab bishops, the document takes the point of view that Israel’s occupation fuels Islamic radicalism, which in turn makes it hard for Christians to live.
Even worse than that, the report states: “The solution to conflicts rests in the hands of the stronger country in its occupying and inflicting wars on another country.” Thus, it apparently takes the point of view that the solution to the conflict lies principally with Israel, not its Arab antagonists. It goes on to claim that “violence is in the hands of the strong and weak alike, the latter resorting to whatever violence is within reach in order to be free,” which seems to justify anti-Israel terrorism by groups such as Hamas, Fatah, and Hezbollah.
The fallacious nature of this document is more than apparent to anyone who has been paying attention to the actual situation on the ground for Christians in Arab lands. The pressure on Christians to leave their traditional homes has nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with the spirit of Islamist jihadism, which views all non-Muslim minorities as threats to their hegemony. The plight of Christians in Bethlehem since it came under the rule of the Palestinian Authority illustrates this process. Once the town was in the hands of Yasser Arafat and Fatah, the once large Christian community there dwindled as a result of the coercion practiced by the ruling Muslims. But rather than blame the Muslims, Christian Arabs have spent the last century trying to prove their loyalty to the Arab world by blaming their troubles on the Jews and Israel, in effect becoming some of the most strident advocates of Arab nationalist causes.
The church’s role in this sorry syndrome is compounded by the Vatican’s worry that any statements on its part that would properly place the blame for discrimination and violence against Christians by Muslim populations would only make the situation worse. Thus, for decades the church has acquiesced in this effort to deflect the blame for Christian suffering in Arab countries away from the true culprits and on to the always convenient scapegoat of the Jews. There can be little doubt that this document and the conference that will follow will help fuel anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda. Unmentioned in the document is the fact that the one country in the Middle East where true religious freedom is enjoyed by all faiths is the State of Israel.