There is no excuse or justification for the flotilla incident in which Israeli commandos boarded six ships bearing humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people in Gaza, sparking a violent confrontation that resulted in the deaths of nine people. More details about the incident are bound to come out and ultimate responsibility for it will be fiercely debated.
The National Council of Churches, its key mainline members and other church organizations are calling for Israel to alter its policies on the Gaza Strip after an Israeli action against an international flotilla on the high seas resulted in nine deaths, many wounded and damaged diplomatic relations.
Former president Jimmy Carter is calling Israel’s two-year-old blockade of Gaza an “atrocity” and saying that people there are being treated like animals. “Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are being treated more like animals than human beings,” said Carter in a June 16 speech.
For 23 days in December and January, Israel struck targets throughout the Gaza Strip while Hamas sent a barrage of unguided rockets and missiles to towns in southern Israel. In the end, 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were dead, with 4,000 Palestinians and dozens of Israelis wounded. Media coverage was intense, but American and Arab media covered the war in significantly different ways.
The heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem have denounced the devastating hostilities in the Gaza Strip as well as “all forms of violence and killings from all parties”—an appeal in the closing days of 2008 heard from government officials and religious leaders alike.
In early December the security situation had improved enough in Bethlehem for busloads of tourists to come back to visit the birthplace of Jesus and other holy sights in Israel and the West Bank. That was about the only the good news from the Middle East. In the Gaza Strip, the standoff continued between the Israeli government and the Palestinians.
On the morning of January 25, 2006, I was with a group of American churchpeople at a Palestinian Authority polling place in Bethlehem. Having observed many elections over the years, I have learned to detect the difference between enthusiastic reformers hungry for change and members of an old guard, complacent after too many years in power.