Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C., is taking an increased interest in the desperate plight of Christians in the Holy Land -- to the point of politely and privately asking for help from George W. Bush. Immediately at stake is the West Bank village of Aboud, whose Christian roots go back two millennia, and which now is threatened by Israel's security barrier.

Aboud is the current object of Israeli policy that has contributed to heavy migration of Christian Arabs, promising further reduction in their present 1.7 percent share of Israel's population. Following previous security barrier construction that effectively expelled villagers from olive groves, Israel in October 2005 ordered new land confiscation to extend the barrier. Aboud's 2,300 residents, about half Christian and half Muslim, are being deprived of their water supply by the new construction.

"I am afraid that what is happening in the Holy Land is that we're losing the presence of the Christian community," Cardinal McCarrick told me. As leader of his faith in the nation's capital, he seeks friends on both sides of any political divide. Accordingly, the Cardinal told me the West Bank's Christians are endangered by Palestinians (particularly since Hamas's election victory). But there is no question for the Holy Land Christian Society, seeking to save their co-religionists, that water-hungry Jewish settlers benefit from the security wall.

Catholic sources divulged to me that McCarrick, who recently had been called into the White House to discuss foreign trade, brought up the condition of the West Bank Christians with President Bush. Acting as though he had heard this for the first time, the president turned to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and asked him to look into the problem.

Jordan's Muslim King Abdullah earlier this month met with members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to discuss the plight of the Christians. The Vatican has indicated intensified interest. But so far, there is no sign that Hadley or anybody else in the Bush administration has engaged this problem. A Catholic contact with the White House talked to Elliott Abrams, the presidential aide handling the Middle East. Abrams responded that the barrier is required for Israeli security. Abrams gave the impression that he is not concerned with Christian Arabs.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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