Robert Novak

ABOUD, West Bank -- On Good Friday, I stood atop the remnant of the Santa Barbara shrine, destroyed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and observed a panorama of the picturesque village of Aboud. I could see properties confiscated to make room for the Israeli security wall, at the cost of centuries-old olive trees. Nearby are two enclosed, heavily guarded Israeli settlements, with four times Aboud's Palestinian population.
Defenders of Israeli policy claimed my facts were wrong Feb. 16 when I wrote that the wall threatens Israel's tiny Christian minority and particularly Aboud's Christian roots going back two millennia. Coming here for a firsthand look, I found the plight of the village's Christians worse than I had reported.

But this is no Christian problem. During Easter Week, I visited Palestinian territory in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Gaza as well as Aboud. Christians share the harsh fate of Palestinian Muslims in the wake of the disastrous Second Intifada. The blunt-spoken head of Roman Catholic Palestinians, Latin Patriarch Michael Sabbah, told me: "The world has abandoned the Palestinians."

If the world is uninterested in Palestinians generally, the plight of their co-religionists attracts the attention of Roman Catholics -- with Aboud a striking example. Of the village's 2,200 residents, 418 are Catholics and 375 Greek Orthodox. Thirty Catholic families have moved out, and more are expected to follow.

With transportation to Israel for Palestinians cut off, some 100 residents of Aboud who used to work in Tel Aviv have nothing to do here. Suhel Fawade, a 31-year-old Catholic, told me he has not had a job for seven years and consequently cannot marry to start his own family.

Foreign Ministry officials assert concern for their country's Christians. But Father Firas Aridah, the Catholic pastor here, worries that his flock is losing its young generation. "They are after our water," he told me, referring to Aboud supplying 20 percent of the West Bank's ground water. The bitterness is intense. Israel's 2001 destruction of 500 olive trees, in reaction to a settler's murder, left scars. So did the IDF bomb planted in Santa Barbara's shrine in 2002 because of suspicions that terrorists were meeting there.

Aboud is paradise compared to Gaza, where 1.2 million people crowd into one of the world's most densely populated areas. Milk, flour and sugar are in short supply, with unemployment becoming universal. Undisciplined Palestinian militants have ineffectively fired rockets into Israel, which has responded with deadly daily artillery barrages (oddly suspended for the day I was in Gaza).

Robert Novak

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

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