Children’s Peace Project offers American churches and schools the means to work for greater understanding and solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land.

The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s (HCEF) Children’s Peace Project (CPP) offers American churches and schools the means to work for greater understanding and solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land by inviting a small group of Arab Christian students and a teacher to reside in their homes and community for six straight weeks. The Thaxton Family participated as a host family in 2003, when the project began, developing a relationship that will last forever.

Michael Thaxton and his family live in Milford, Ohio and are members of St. Andrew Parish. They hosted Issa from Annunciation Parish in Beit Jala in 2003, when both Parishes were celebrating their Sesquicentennial.

The relationship between these two young men did not end with the celebration of both parishes, but continued to grow. Issa visited Michael in the U.S.and in May of this year, Michael and his mother traveled to Beit Jala to attend Issa's graduation from High School. These two young men have become more like brothers than friends. The Thaxton family considers Issa their son and Issa refers to Mrs. Thaxton as "Mum."

The exchange of ideas between these two young men has spread to Michael's college classrooms. Awareness of the Palestinian conflict has become a real issue for Michael's classmates, because he is a passionate defender of peace and justice for the Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land.

Michael is a Freshman at the University of Cincinnati, where he is double majoring in Secondary Education and German. He is also planning on studying the Arabic language in the future and in 2007 achieved the honor of Eagle Scout.

Mr. Sharon’s Giant Step Backward
By: Michael Thaxton

How many times have you picked up a story, started reading it, and found that half way through the writing just stopped. Although this may seem absurd, this is very much the case with our country’s media today. This is especially true in matters concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are two huge problems going on in Palestine that are being masked both by the Israeli government as well as the global media. First, the Israeli withdrawal of troops and settlers from the Gaza strip, while this may sound like a good idea it is, in actuality, crippling the territory because of the way that the withdrawal was handled. Second is the existence and continued construction of a wall around the city of Jerusalem which, even though it is said to be for security purposes, may have other underlying reasons for the continued development. Steven Erlanger, the author of “Mr. Sharon’s Giant Step”, does a decent job of bringing these aforementioned issues to the forefront, but fails miserably in reporting objectively and analyzing the impact on the Palestinians in regards to the withdrawal from Gaza and the construction of the security wall around Jerusalem.

Steven Erlanger does a good job of establishing ethos in his argument. The author presents many pieces of information that support his credibility. He establishes ethos in the very first sentence by stating, “This page has long been very wary of any moves by the Israeli government” (Erlanger). From this sentence it is assumed that the author has done extensive research on the subject and is therefore an expert. The word “long” especially, suggests that the author has been writing on the subject for a significant amount of time and therefore has a plethora of knowledge pertaining to the Israeli government and its dealings. The last part of the author’s ethos is the fact that this article is printed in the New York Times. The Times is a very respected newspaper and its readers believe it to be filled with accurate information. The article, while clearly pro-Israeli, also mentions some of the things that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is doing to the Palestinians which makes the article slightly less biased. The display of facts in this article is incredibly helpful in understanding what is happening on a broad scale. For example, the article cites a court order that states that the wall “imposed too many hardships on Palestinian civilians” (Erlanger). Unfortunately, Erlanger fails to delve into the hardships when he could evoke sympathy from his readers. Reporting on the these hardships would help this paper appear more objective and by so doing add to the author’s and the paper’s credibility.

One problem that I have with this article is its profound support of Ariel Sharon. Before ascending to the position of Prime Minister, Sharon rose through the ranks of the Israeli military to eventually become a general. As a general he allegedly “Planned numerous killings of civilians” was “exceptionally eager to annihilate the enemy, military or civilian” and was even “criticized for blatant disregard for the lives of his own men” (Cypel p. 292-293). If Sharon did not even care about the lives of his own soldiers, how can we believe that he has any sympathy for the Palestinians, largely considered his enemy? How can we accept that this man is acting in a manner that promotes peace when he is not afraid of resorting to violence? Along with the wall, Sharon introduced other forms of oppression to the Palestinian people. For example, “checkpoints; blockades; extended curfews; collective punishments; destruction of homes and other industrial or agricultural property; and deliberate shooting of civilian protesters” are just a few of the tactics that Sharon implemented during his tenure to break the Palestinian’s will (Cypel p. 291). The security wall has had by far, the greatest impact of any of these measures. Sharon’s wall is a testimony to his desire to oppress the Palestinian people.
In the eyes of Erlanger, Sharon is little less than a patriotic saint, willing to forego the advice of the rest of his party in order to achieve a lasting peace. On top of this, Erlanger seems to be cautious about this belief and attempts to cover up his bias. The article quotes an outside source that suggests that Sharon is not a dove but a hawk. Erlanger responds with, “Whatever bird Mr. Sharon has chosen to emulate, it would be churlish to greet his historic decision with anything other than enthusiasm”. It seems that, in the author’s opinion, Mr. Sharon is much closer to being a dove than a hawk. Ariel Sharon is no dove. He is instead a hawk in a dove’s skin. According to Rachelle Marshall, “If Gaza sinks into anarchy no one would be happier than Ariel Sharon” who she believes is using Gaza as a “test case”. The Israeli government is setting Gaza up to fail as they attempt to govern themselves. Once their failure is seen by the world, Sharon can “Justify [his] refusal to withdraw from the West Bank” (Marshall). Sharon is doing all he can to undermine the Palestinian government. Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, has been given a mandate by Sharon to control the terrorist group Hamas which has a substantial majority in the Gaza Strip. Abbas does not have the manpower to take on this group physically so he must attempt to involve them politically. However Sharon is, “Carrying out actions that strengthen the militants and undermine Abbas’ efforts to keep them in line” (Marshall). Perhaps even a hawk is too noble a bird for the hidden treachery behind Sharon’s moves.

The Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was an immense undertaking; however Erlanger misinterpreted the reasons behind this pullout. Erlanger compares the withdrawal as a move that Sharon made in a big game of chess. He seems to be, “sacrificing Gaza in return for the world's acceptance of Israel's de facto annexation of 7 percent of West Bank” (Erlanger). How does Sharon have the authority to make this move? He should not and does not have the ability to claim that he can make a trade, or, more inappropriately named, a sacrifice to get what he wants. If he were to continue to use this practice, he could effectively take over Jerusalem and separate the Palestinian people into small ungovernable sects similar to the one seen in Gaza today. This continual land emaciation would eventually lead to the, “Skeleton of the Palestinian ‘state’ which Sharon has always envisioned” (“Sharon’s Plan: A Shift from Occupation to Siege”). How can this action be praised? Furthermore, while it is true that all of the Israelis have retreated out of Gaza, the Israeli presence is far from gone. Gaza is under siege. Sharon now resembles a vulture circling above Gaza as his army of tanks encloses the border, ready to invade at the slightest sign of trouble. At the present time, Israel is in control of, “the airspace, coastline, border with Egypt and every point of interaction between Gaza and the outer world” (“Sharon’s Plan: A Shift from Occupation to Siege”). In essence Israel still controls Gaza through its economic stranglehold of the strip. Israel has made off like a bandit while convincing the rest of the world that its intentions are saintly. But even this view is tainted due to the fact that Sharon is adamant about refusing “the Palestinians the right to host an international peacekeeping force in their territory” (“Sharon’s Plan”). No area should have the right to seek peace denied and even more so, no country should have the right to restrict an area from reaching peace. The withdrawal from Gaza is not benefitting the Palestinians at all. It is merely a cover for Israeli expansion and should not be praised.

The Israeli expansion can be attributed in large part to the immense security wall that is being constructed in between the two peoples. This wall is a hot topic of debate that has many people outraged. The Israeli government claims that the wall is to protect its citizens from future terrorist attacks. However, this is a difficult story to believe. It is logical to protect yourself from possible harm. What is illogical is to create a wall entirely on the Palestinian side of the border to protect Israelis. This practice suggests that there is more to this story than merely an attempt to protect one’s country; it suggests an attempt to take land. The Times’ article does a good job of bringing this issue to light but it merely scratches the surface of the atrocities that are being felt by the Palestinians. The article states that the original route of the wall must be revised because of a court order that ruled that the wall was too great of a burden on the Palestinian people. Erlanger goes on to praise this decision, granted it is but a small step in the right direction. How is it that a writer can support a leader as much as Erlanger supports Sharon and yet find fault with the one program that Sharon is most famous for? Arguably one of the goals of the wall is to create a sizeable Jewish majority around the city of Jerusalem. The wall divides Palestinian neighborhoods much the same way that gerrymandering affected the Southern blacks in America. The wall divides two Palestinian neighborhoods which are home to, “Approximately one quarter of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population” (Bitara-Rayan) placing them outside of the new municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. This excises a significant portion of the Palestinian presence from the capital city. Another intent of the wall is to cut the West Bank into smaller pieces so that it is easier for the Israeli government to manage. Coincidentally this has another effect, the division “destroys the territorial contiguity between the north and south West Bank, thereby undermining the viability of a future West Bank” (Bitara-Rayan). With the future of Palestine in jeopardy, the way is set for Israel to continue its oppression of the Palestinian people.

While this article does an excellent job in the creation of ethos, the good things about it stop there. There is significant bias towards Sharon and the Israeli government which in turn corrupts the objectiveness of the article. Also, there are major problems with the level of depth of all of the issues that the article raises. While it is a good thing that the issues are raised, the public has the right to know just how much the Israeli government’s actions affect the Palestinian people. Everyone should have the right to live in relative peace and security; and should be able to go where they want when they want. Unfortunately this is not so in Palestine.