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Middle East policy banks on destruction

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — The decision by the Bush campaign to enlist thousands of religious congregations in the United States to distribute information and register voters for the November presidential election shows how close the connection has become between politics and religion, a situation not anticipated by the founding fathers of the U.S. Constitution. Under this circumstance, government runs the risk of making political decisions based primarily on religious considerations, thus undermining the constitutional separation between church and state.

This issue is seen clearly in the arena of reproductive rights and in Bush administration policies regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, where Christian fundamentalists have been influencing the U.S. national and international agenda.

A measure of importance given to Christian fundamentalists by the Bush administration is that, since 2001, several dozen of them have been named in key positions in the Department of Health and Human Services and in the Federal Drug Administration.

These leading officials wage considerable influence on all matters pertaining to reproductive and sexual health. The words “reproductive health” were replaced by other terms such as “related preventive health services,” and scientific studies related to abortion and condom use were eliminated from the Centers of Disease Control and the National Institute of Health Web sites.

These and other similar actions provoked a strong rebuke from the Union of Concerned Scientists in a 2004 report: “There is significant evidence that the scope and scale of the manipulation, suppression and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration is unprecedented.”

Christian fundamentalists have been equally vocal in influencing the administration’s Middle East policy. In 2002, when President George W. Bush demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdraw from Jenin, the White House received more than 100,000 e-mail messages from Christian fundamentalists repudiating this position, and the issue was never mentioned again.

Support by Christian fundamentalists of the Israeli government’s policies is based on their belief that Jesus Christ will return to Earth when certain conditions have been met, the most critical one being the establishment of the State of Israel. Two additional conditions are Israel’s total occupation of its “biblical lands” and the rebuilding of the Third Temple. This new temple should be built in the place now occupied by the Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Seeds of further conflict are thus evident.

According to this worldview, war is inevitable and will happen before Christ appears, and that the Antichrist will become manifest. Under the guise of a peacemaker, he will wage war and Christians will be persecuted. A great battle will then take place between Christ and the Antichrist in Armageddon, outside Jerusalem. Those saved by Christ and those “born again” will be taken into heaven. Those Jews who “accept” Jesus as the Messiah will also be saved. Otherwise, they will burn in hell with the other “unsaved” — Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews — and will suffer eternally.

How do these beliefs translate into the present situation in the Middle East? Christian fundamentalists believe that God gave the citizens of Israel land that includes that inhabited by Palestinians. But what about the Palestinians presently living there? For the prophecy to be realized, they must be removed, no matter what the consequences.

Those beliefs constitute the basis for U.S. policy in the Middle East, and explain America’s unwavering support for the Israeli government’s policies. These policies are responsible for the expropriation of Palestinian lands, the widespread creation of new settlements, the wanton attacks on Palestinian civilians, and the resultant suicide bombings that are brutally killing and maiming innocent civilians.

If any word can describe this situation that word is waste: waste of peace, waste of human lives, waste of energies. Given the disproportionate difference in power, it is up to enlightened Israelis to initiate a drastic move for change and build on what has been done by Israeli and Palestinian women and men’s peace organizations. Nothing will happen without sacrifices on both sides. The alternative is further destruction and death.