William Bennett & James Dobson: U.S. Administration Must Take Israel’s Side

Op-Ed,   Dallas Morning News   Aug. 18, 2002

Since the outbreak of the second intifada in Israel, and in the wake of Sept. 11, many leaders of faith have weighed in on the proper disposition of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Last month, various news agencies reported that a “group of prominent evangelical Christians” wrote to President Bush challenging his policy in the Middle East. We read the actual letter in the Saudi Arabian Arab News. And although we doubt the signatories to the letter knew their words would be used as propaganda in a newspaper hosted and sponsored by a country where Christians can’t even be citizens, we think there is much in the letter that deserves a response.

Among other things, the letter urges the president “to employ an evenhanded policy toward Israeli and Palestinian leadership” and states that “an evenhanded U.S. policy toward Israelis and Palestinians doesn’t give a blank check to either side, nor does it bless violence by either side.”

We don’t believe anyone in the White House or in the Knesset, to this point, has blessed violence. But we do know that certain members of the Palestinian leadership and the Arab world have blessed homicide bombings. They have blessed violence by making martyrs of the bombers, by guaranteeing a subsidy to the bombers’ families and by allowing the murderers’ pictures to be posted with heroic imagery in the streets.

While neither of us – and certainly not most Christians and Jews – approves of violence and war for the sake of violence and war, it is important to understand that war is terrible but that wars sometimes have to be fought and that sides sometimes have to be taken.

No trouble

Franklin Roosevelt had no trouble taking sides to support Great Britain with the lend-lease program when Adolf Hitler was on the march. Mr. Roosevelt made the analogy that when your neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t quibble over costs, you lend him your hose. Great Britain was on fire then. Israel is on fire today.

Why do we take Israel’s side? Israel is a democracy and a long-standing U.S. ally. And while it is a “Jewish state,” it affords political and civil rights to Christians and Muslims as well. By contrast, the Palestinian leadership has been a long-standing supporter of U.S. enemies from Fidel Castro and Leonid Brezhnev to Moammar Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein.

Have we already forgotten the scenes of those Palestinians dancing in the streets on Sept. 11? Have we forgotten Israel’s response? Israel lowered its flags to half-staff. Benjamin Netanyahu stated, “Today, we are all Americans.”

When innocents are harmed on the Palestinian side, Israel grieves, investigates and rethinks the mission that led to the civilian casualties. Indeed, it isn’t uncommon for Israeli officers to be held to account for their actions. And when an Israeli bombing takes the lives of civilians when a terrorist hides within a civilian population, Israel mourns, investigates and apologizes. Nonetheless, the Palestinian terrorists who deliberately target civilians and then hide under civilian cover define the battlefield.

Ronald Reagan understood that when he bombed Libya and, regretfully, some of Moammar Gadhafi’s children were said to have been killed – unintentional casualties of a legitimate action. Mr. Reagan acknowledged that and expressed sorrow for the outcome. But he didn’t waver in his determination to target terrorists. He said, “If necessary, we shall do it again.”

The letter continues in its moral confusion by criticizing the “continued unlawful and degrading Israeli settlement movement” and by saying “the theft of Palestinian land and the destruction of Palestinian homes and fields is surely one of the major causes of the strife that has resulted in terrorism.” There is a great dispute over whether the Israeli settlements are illegal, and we would have hoped the signatories of the letter would have consulted the vast literature on that point.


Nevertheless, settlements didn’t begin until after the 1967 war – and the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1964, three years before Israel had any control over the disputed or “occupied” territories. Yasser Arafat founded his Fatah movement in the 1950s. Israel itself was the problem for the Palestinian leadership. History and language, where Yasser Arafat says one thing in English and another in Arabic, lead to the conclusion that an Israel of any size still is the problem, not the territories and not the settlements.

And it is an ongoing curiosity why so many condemn Jewish settlement in historically biblical land while no one asks why Arabs have a right to live in Tel Aviv. Arabs do have a right to live in Tel Aviv, just as Jews should have the right to live in Hebron. And the fundamental right to live anywhere one pleases isn’t a just cause for terrorism. Nothing is.

Mr. Bush is right to seek a democratic Palestine before taking seriously Palestinian statehood. To do otherwise would be to reward terror. Democracies rarely start wars with democracies – and freedom of religion rarely thrives in anything but a democracy (see how Coptic Christians are treated in Egypt, and note how neither Christians nor Jews are welcome as citizens in Saudi Arabia). That is why a democratic Palestine, when it comes, should it come, will be welcome by all of us. Until then, we should continue to support Israel as we should continue to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

William J. Bennett is a co-director of Empower America and the author of Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. James C. Dobson is president of Focus on the Family and the author of Bringing Up Boys.