Friday, December 23, 2016


          Barack Obama is ending his eight years in office with a shameful stain on his historic presidency.  Because of Mr. Obama's personal animus toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the United States, for the first time since the founding of the United Nations, abstained in a vote of the Security Council that censored Israel for allowing the continued building of settlements which encroach on land claimed by the Palestinians.
          While the vote has no hope of being overturned, it will likely have little impact. Netanyahu vows to continue building settlements for Israel's expanding population.  And the UN vote may only prove a further impediment to peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
          Criticism of the vote has been blistering from both Democrats and Republicans and well it should. While Israel is not without fault in the continuing conflict with its Palestinian neighbors, it is our most reliable ally in the most dangerous area of the world. Some members of Congress are calling for an end to funding the UN.  Since we pay the biggest tab, if that threat becomes law, the UN will likely follow the League of Nations into historic oblivion.
          But the most important reason for supporting Israel is this: Israel has preserved the holy sites of the world's three great religions and allowed Jews, Christians and Muslims to freely visit these ancient and holy places in the old city of Jerusalem.  For those of the Jewish faith, there is the Western Wall (Wailing Wall), all that remains of the ancient temple on which invading Muslims built the magnificent Dome of the Rock (Al-Aqsa Mosque), the third holiest site in Islam.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the old city is considered the holiest site for most of the world's two-plus billion Christians. It is believed built on the site of Calvary, where Christ was crucified, and the tomb in which He was buried.
          Prior to the recapture of Jerusalem by Israel in 1967, Christians and Jews were barred from these holy sites. I have been blessed to visit Jerusalem six times and always have had access to all the Christian sites within the old walled city where Jesus Christ spent the last days of his life.
          Only once have I been able to visit Bethlehem where Christ was born.  That visit occurred during the same week Hamas, a group which remains on the U. S. terror list, took political control of Gaza.  Bethlehem is in the West Bank, some distance from the Gaza Strip, but only a few kilometers from the old City of Jerusalem.  Our Israeli guide was not permitted to accompany us to Bethlehem, so our small group of ten was welcomed by a Christian Arab.  He took us to the ancient Church built on the site where Mary is believed to have given birth to Jesus.  We then went to an enclave where about 40 artisans were hand carving Olive wood into beautiful works of art and we were just sitting down to lunch in a restaurant within that enclave when a spontaneous and dangerous demonstration erupted outside.  Hundreds of men and young boys flowed past in the wide street fronting the compound where we were eating, many waving Hamas and Palestinian flags, many others shooting rifles into the air.
          Fearing for our safety, our host brought his large van around to the back of the restaurant and while we huddled on the floor, he drove us along a bumpy dirt road that skirted the main area of Bethlehem back to the separation wall that divides Jerusalem from the West Bank. Israeli soldiers had been alerted and were waiting to pull us through a narrow gate to safety.
          I do not know what happened to that brave Christian Arab. I learned on my next visit to Jerusalem that his restaurant and artisan workshop had closed.
          Like most Christians, I pray for peace for the peoples of the Middle East, most particularly since seeing the barbarism of  ISIS and the genocide inflicted on the Syrian people by a ruthless regime supported by Russia and Iran.  Most of all I pray for the continued viability of Israel and thank God it is in charge of the religious sites that are sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  

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