If we are to believe the voice on those Osama bin Laden tapes, the elusive al-Qaeda leader cares deeply about Palestine. Yet the actions of the terrorist network he supposedly still directs all too often belie its statements of concern for their “brothers” under Israeli occupation.
The massacre of Iraqi Christians at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad also makes one wonder about claims that the group has “a great sense of timing.” The slaughter of Catholic Mass-goers occurred just one week after church leaders from across the Middle East had forcefully condemned Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
More than 200 members of 14 different churches had gathered in Rome for a papal synod to address concerns about Christian emigration from the region. However, as one commentator observed, “Time and again, they turned the discussions … towards the Palestinian question.”
In their final communiqué, the bishops urged the international community to apply UN Security Council resolutions and take “the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories.” Significantly, they charged the Israeli occupation with causing tensions that have led to the exodus of Christians from the Middle East.
In a follow-up news conference, the archbishop in charge of the committee that drafted the communiqué, Cyrille Salim Bustros, rejected any biblical justification for the Zionist project. “The concept of the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians,” he said. “Sacred scripture should not be used to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestine.”
Not surprisingly, Tel Aviv was none too pleased with this serious challenge to the legitimacy of the self-described Jewish state. The following day, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon issued a statement condemning the bishops. The synod, he said, had been “hijacked by an anti-Israel majority,” turning it into “a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda.” In particular, his government was “appalled” by Archbishop Bustros’ “outrageous comments,” describing them as “a libel against the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”
One week later, the Anti-Defamation League sought to enlist Pope Benedict XVI to Israel’s side. Expressing condolences over the Baghdad killings, ADL leaders asked the pope to “join together to eliminate all terrorism in the name of religion” and “to use the Church’s moral authority to prevent Israel from being made a pariah by its enemies.”
But with the Israeli occupation under such censure from Rome, it was a rather odd time for avowed supporters of the Palestinian cause to slaughter Catholics in the Middle East. Indeed, many Iraqi Muslims harbour “suspicions” about the shadowy al-Qaeda front’s targeting of “essentially non-players” in the country’s post-invasion sectarian strife.
Indeed, if anyone benefited from the church massacre it was Israel. Reminiscent of the Zionist underground’s attacks on Iraqi Jews in the 1950s, this assault on the Christian minority was clearly designed to encourage them to flee the country where they had lived in relative peace and prosperity for two millennia. The removal of a Christian presence from the Muslim-dominated region would eliminate the model of coexistence as a viable alternative to the “clash of civilisations” view of the world. “By focusing attention on a direct and eternal conflict between the West and Islam,” M. Shahid Alam argues in his new book, the clash thesis aims “to acquit Israel of serving as the chief source and conduit of this conflict.”
Moreover, the massacre lent plausibility to the Israeli narrative on why Christians are leaving the Middle East. In a 2006 report by the hawkishly pro-Israel Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, titled “The Christian Exodus from the Middle East,” senior fellows Jonathan Adelman and Agota Kuperman concluded: “The single greatest cause of this emigration is radical Islam.”
Ironically, it was a representative from Baghdad at the synod who had suggested a way to encourage Middle East emigrants to return to Palestine. Armenian Archbishop Emmanuel Dabbaghian proposed that every bishop should make an annual visit to the Holy Land. “The influx of pilgrims to the Holy Land,” he said, “would convince the inhabitants who have emigrated to return to their homeland.” Given the apprehension about “the Arab demographic threat,” such a development would be viewed with trepidation in Tel Aviv.
“Israel, the Jewish State, is predicated on a decisive and stable Jewish majority of at least 70 percent,” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, wrote in a 2009 article in Commentary magazine. “Any lower than that and Israel will have to decide between being a Jewish state and a democratic state.” Still, it’s an improvement on the “at least 80 percent Jews” that David Ben-Gurion said would be necessary for “a viable and stable state” on the eve of the premeditated ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
In contrast to al-Qaeda’s efforts to drive a wedge between Islam and Christianity, the solidarity between the world’s two largest religions in Palestine poses a real threat to the Israeli occupation.
Sabeel, an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians, in its “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism,” affirms “that Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian” and rejects “all attempts to subvert and fragment their unity.”
Couldn’t the Baghdad church massacre also be seen as an attempt to “subvert and fragment” Palestinian unity? With “brothers” like al-Qaeda, who needs enemies?