Having traveled to Israel recently and many times over the past 35 years or so, I take profound exception to the accusations leveled at Israel by my old friend and syndicated columnist Robert Novak, particularly his most recent column titled "Walled Off Christians."
It's not fun taking on Bob Novak, as he's been a family friend since I first went to Congress in 1971. In fact, I was one of his guests at the celebration of his 75th birthday, delivering a toast to his years of high profile and often fearless journalism. He has supported me over the years not only on the supply-side, Kemp Roth tax rate cuts, but my free trade, sound money and other progressive conservative positions I've taken over the years. I started debating Bob in the early '70s when I was one of the few Republicans to co-sponsor Henry Scoop Jackson's, D-Wash., bill to prevent the old Soviet Union from favorable trade treaties until they allowed Soviet Jews to emigrate.
Bob's claim that Israel seeks to deprive Palestinian Christians of their water sources is a canard. In the specific case he mentioned, the reservoir serving the village of Aboud, was in fact built by Israel and will remain outside the boundary of the security barrier, thereby ensuring free access of the villagers to the area's water source.
Indeed, I personally took up these issues with both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Shimon Peres on my most recent trip in February on behalf of the American Israeli Friendship League. I understand that Israel has done and is doing everything possible to minimize the impact of the fence on the residents of Aboud and their ability to travel and to cultivate the olive groves, vineyards and fields in the area.
Contrary to the thrust of the Novak column, Israel's Christian population has in fact prospered and quadrupled in size over the last half century, in sharp contrast to the dwindling Christian communities in other countries in the Middle East. The continued dwindling of Christian communities in the Palestinian areas can be directly traced to the constant harassment to which they have been subjected by Islamic extremists. As a Christian, I am extremely troubled, as every American should be, by the implications of the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian elections for the continued thriving of the Christian heritage in the Holy Land.
In contrast, never in history have residents in Jerusalem enjoyed more freedom of access to the holy places as under Israel's sovereignty. Israel's founding ethos, anchored in its declaration of independence, guarantees freedom of religion and conscience while safeguarding the holy places of all religions. Such is the case with every church, monastery and holy site in the country, many of which have been rebuilt and refurbished in recent years by the state of Israel.
I personally traveled into the West Bank in February to get a first hand look at the "security wall" and have come to the conclusion it's absolutely necessary for the physical protection of everyone. Bob is just silent on these issues and focused his attack on the impact of Israel's security barrier mainly in the area of the village of Aboud. Yet, he neglected to mention that the barrier was a last-ditch effort to halt the march of Palestinian suicide bombers on Israel's cities that resulted in the killing and maiming of thousands. The fact that the barrier has contributed to a remarkable decline in terrorist attacks - approximately 90 percent - is evidence of its effectiveness. Never mind that without it, thousands more would have lost their lives.
Confronted with dilemmas faced by no other western democracy, Israel had to strike a delicate balance between overriding security needs and pressing humanitarian concerns in constructing the barrier. Under the guidance of Israel's High Court, the government immediately implemented changes at the cost of rerouting large sections of the barrier, a process of self-scrutiny that continues today. Israelis are the first to acknowledge the implications of the barrier for communities on both sides of the fence, yet its necessity is beyond dispute.
In planning the route of the barrier, particularly in the vicinity of Jerusalem, where population density, religious and international interests intersect, Israel has demonstrated particular sensitivity to Christian concerns. The route was determined and in several cases altered, after a comprehensive dialogue with representatives of the various Church denominations. The ongoing consultations and effort to accommodate denominational interests put the lie to the notion that Israel supposedly seeks to "destroy" or "shatter" these communities.
The Holy Land is the cornerstone of the three great Abrahamic religions of the world, each of which shares, as its highest value, the sanctity of human life. The fence, with all its implications, I believe, is an absolute necessity, it's saving lives and can help bring about the peace that all well meaning people hope and pray for.