Christian Aid News No. 21 (Summer 2003)
Today I turn to the earliest issue in my Christian Aid News collection. It is two and a half years old, but on a day when a suicide bombing in Netanya has claimed at least five lives, it has lost none of its relevance.
In this issue we find one of the opening salvoes in the ecclesiastical campaign against the Israeli security fence, a campaign which is still going strong – see my letter to the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. It starts like this:-
‘Bishops blast new “Berlin Wall”
‘The new “security fence” being built by Israel to ward off suicide bombers from the West Bank is shocking and deeply divisive, said the Bishop of Exeter after a recent visit to the area.’
‘”The Berlin Wall is nothing to this,” commented the Rt Rev Michael Langrish who visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories with the Bishop of Brechin, the Rt Rev Neville Chamberlain (sic!). “I am deeply, deeply shocked that a world that fought and argued for the demolition of a wall around a city is now standing by as this greater wall is being built around a whole people”’.
I can assure the Bishop that he can scarcely have been more deeply shocked than I was, and still am, by the crassness of his analogy. Admittedly being married to someone who grew up in that walled city (fortunately for her on the West side) gives me some extra awareness here, but surely a moment’s thought should have told the Bishop he was talking through his mitre. As I have already commented:-
Christian Aid takes a bishop to view Israel’s security fence, and he tells them it’s like the Berlin Wall only worse. Hmmm, run that past me again - one built to keep in people who wanted to be free, the other to keep out people who want to commit murder. Did the Right Rev forget to pack his brain?
Lest the note of levity should suggest there is anything trivial about this, let us be clear: the Berlin Wall was built to defend a failed ideology, and nothing else. Over two hundred people with no violent intent whatsoever died trying to escape the prison it enclosed – most of them shot by border guards under orders to shoot to kill. The Bishop’s comparison is an insult to their memory.
And why has Israel built a security fence? The Netanya bombing brings to 18 the number of people who have died in suicide bombings in Israel this year. Without the fence the number would almost certainly be in three figures. In other words, the fence has saved something in the order of a hundred lives this year alone. Is the Bishop of Exeter still ‘deeply, deeply shocked’ by it? If so he is a disgrace to his Church and mine.
Also featured in this issue is an article about responses to terrorism by yet another bishop, Tom Wright of Durham. The Bishop is, I am told, a fine New Testament scholar. When it comes to politics, though, his views are standard-issue Guardianista anti-Americanism. He advocates a UN-based ‘global police force’ as an alternative to American unilateralism. I agree in principle, but if one is going to argue, as Wright does, from the self-serving agendas driving US policy, one needs to acknowledge, as he does not, that such agendas are just as likely to inform the elites of other countries. To overlook this is bad theology, apart from anything else. To take an obvious example, a majority of permanent Security Council members – China, Russia, France – opposed the invasion of Iraq. Doubtless some of their reasons were good ones, but guess which three countries supplied Saddam Hussein with 90+ % of his arms? And don’t the resolutions which the UN regularly passes against Israel have more than a little to do with the ability of oil-rich Middle Eastern states to win fair-weather friends in the international community?
The Bishop relates the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to American ‘popular mythology’ fed by ‘the powerful Christian right and its blindly ideological commitment to Zionism’. Osama bin Laden would no doubt appreciate the confirmation that Zionist influences lurk behind US policy. Again as a matter of basic Christian theology, I would expect the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England to be aware that ideological blindness can afflict people in more than one segment of the political spectrum. Christian Aid News offers plentiful evidence of that.