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Middle East: Refugees need a reason to hope
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
April 18, 2002

We commend an April 12 editorial for taking Palestinian claims seriously ("Israeli settlements critical to Mideast peace prospect," @issue). The piece, however, gave short shrift to the central issue of Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinian refugee crisis began as nearly 800,000 civilians fled their homes in fear of or at direct orders from Zionist forces. Refused the right of return by Israel, and not especially welcome in neighboring Arab states, these refugees have spent the past half century largely ignored and living in squalor. It is no small wonder that refugees, fueled by anger and hopelessness, turn so frequently to radicalism to the point of suicide bombings.

Until their legitimate grievances are addressed and they are given a reason to hope, there can be no effective cease fire and no Middle East peace.


The Rev. Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders are ministering on behalf of the Atlanta Presbytery in the Middle East.
Israeli settlements critical to Mideast peace prospect
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff
April 12, 2002

The wave of Palestinian suicide bombers, culminating in the attack that killed 22 Israelis celebrating Passover, has deeply shaken the Israeli people. It has made many of them fearful for the first time in decades about the very existence of their nation.

That fear is understandable. So is their anger. Suicide bombers are a brutal and dehumanizing tactic, and when directed against civilian targets they are difficult to stop. But in the blind fury of their reaction, the Israelis have succeeded only in making their situation worse.

Yes, they have wreaked vengeance; yes, they have demonstrated once again their refusal to become victims. When you feel that your very existence has been threatened, striking back with overwhelming power can help restore your self-confidence.

But in real terms, what have they accomplished?

Their nation is now less secure, its enemies more determined. Peace -- the only true security -- has become even more difficult. Terrorism will not stop, and in fact may accelerate. And Israel -- a child of the United Nations, created by international agreement -- is now more isolated internationally than at any point in its history.

In the long run, the decision by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to ignore President Bush's request to halt the invasion could prove particularly harmful.

"They [the Americans] have problems in the region, that's true, but I informed them that our activity will continue -- and it will continue," Sharon said Thursday.

By such statements, and by his actions, Sharon has in effect conceded that Israeli and U.S. interests no longer coincide. If the American people ever come to that same conclusion, their longtime support for Israel may fade, with ominous consequences.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is now in the region attempting to make peace of sorts, but it's an almost impossible task. Two parties already deeply distrustful of each other are now seething in mutual hatred . . . it is not an environment conducive to peacemaking.

But if peace talks do resume, some things must be a given.

Israel as a nation must remain a fact. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled Israel in 1948 -- and their many descendants -- can never return, because their presence would mean the end of Israel. That, too, is a fact.

But Palestine as a nation must be a fact, as well, and that can occur only with the abandonment of most Israeli settlements within the West Bank and Gaza. Their continued presence says to the Palestinians -- and to any reasonable onlooker -- that Israel is attempting to colonize the territories, with the eventual aim of evicting the Palestinians.

That has long been the expressed goal of some Israeli extremists, and the unspoken goal of others. Eight new settlements have been planted in just the last year, bringing the total to more than 325, with a combined population of about 375,000.

Some Israelis defend the settlements as necessary for security. Those settlements nearest the pre-'67 border do have a security function, and would have to become part of Israel in any negotiation. But a look at the map also shows settlements deep in Palestinian territory, where they represent a security nightmare for the Israelis.

Their presence suggests a more dangerous motive. It's important to note that in a recent poll, 46 percent of Israelis said they would support the expulsion of all 3 million Palestinians from the West Bank.

To some degree, that sentiment may be a temporary reaction to recent violence. We better hope so, because even Israel's closest and oldest friends would find such a step intolerable.