WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Do you remember those horrifying stories several weeks back about the suffering in the Church of the Nativity? The locale was Bethlehem, West Bank. The church is one of the most sacred shrines in Christendom. Over 150 civilians and a goodly number of Palestinian "fighters" had sought sanctuary under the protection of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic clergy who run the church. A couple of weeks after the standoff began, Western reporters began reporting on the disgusting conditions, the intolerable suffering.
Wounded "fighters" were dying or dead. The stench was overwhelming from the dead, the dying and the unsanitary conditions suffered by the large number of people with insufficient access to toilets or to showers. There was not enough food and really not even enough air, at least fresh air.
Well, now we know why in the ancient stone Church of the Nativity things went -- so to speak -- to hell. The Palestinian "fighters," now freed from having to fight the Israeli soldiers outside, had declared "party time." They ate the food, terrorized the civilians and got into the priests' hooch. All this we now know from reports in The Washington Times, known by civilized Washingtonians as The Good Times.
The initial reports of suffering within the church were unforgettable. As the weeks dragged on, I wondered how the wretches in the church could survive. I wondered why the civilians stayed, and the "fighters," too, made me wonder. What were they doing in the church? These are the guardians of Yasser Arafat and the would-be conquerors of Israel. They were fully armed and at war. Why did they not fight?
Now we hear that they were members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. That should have made them all the more eager to fire on the Israelis surrounding the church complex, a complex that is an architectural puzzle of stone walls, covered passageways and winding paths. It is a perfect stage for undertaking suicidal missions against soldiers standing guard in vulnerable lookout points.
The members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade did not even have to find some credulous adolescent to swaddle in explosives. They could have charged at the Israelis themselves, a Palestinian version of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Yet the Martyrs Brigade did not leap to action. Why?
The Good Times provides an answer. The martyrs had become gently stewed on the Christian clergy's amplitudinous supplies of beer, wine (champagne!) and Johnny Walker scotch -- one of my favorites.
Frankly, after hearing so much about the burning Islamic piety of Arafat's legions, I would suspect the Christian priests of having had a hand in subverting the Martyrs. We know that by Islamic law they are barred from the fruit of the vine and juice of the barley, all properly aged. But the Martyrs were not just restrained by their boozy condition. They were also, according to witnesses, gourmandizing on the food stuffs kept by the clergy.
According to Milad, an attendant at the church, the gunmen consumed in 15 days food that was meant to last six months; and they did not give it to the Palestinian civilians or the priests, monks and nuns. Now I understand the source of the hunger in the church.
Americans live a long way from Palestine, but the vast majority of us understands what is going on there. That is why we support the Israelis' defense policies and our own president's war on terrorism. Arafat's warriors are thugs. They are bullies, and they are corrupt. The Islamic fundamentalists who resort to terror -- fighting unarmed civilians who have no hint they are targeted for destruction -- cannot be negotiated with or appeased. They must be eliminated.
An excellent book explaining the brutality of the Middle East has just been published, "Six Days of War," by Michael Oren. It is a brilliantly documented and engagingly written history of Israel's six-day war back in 1967 that set the stage for all that has followed, from the Palestinian's guerrilla campaigns against Israel to the advent of the suicide bombers -- which is to say, the return of human sacrifice as an element of war and religion.
Oren's history demonstrates that no moderate regime in the Middle East or anywhere else has any alternative but to crush the terrorists, and Arafat is a terrorist. His regime and all those who admire it are corrupt. What we now know about the thugs who partied in the Church of the Nativity is not new. The Nazis in Hitler's bunker acted similarly as their enemies closed in. The Nazis, however, were not given haven in what remained of peaceful Europe.