Since Condoleezza Rice visited Israel for the first time during the first Bush administration and announced some US reservations about the security fence, the Americans have been virtually silent on the matter. The White House's automatic support, which stems both from its evangelical Christian, Israel-supporting electoral base and a rising animosity for the Palestinians, is understood hereto be obvious.
There is almost no American voice in the international and legal circles discussing the fence's route, and in Jerusalem, the American voice is just about the only one that counts for anything. Israel is not too worried what the "rich uncle" will say about the fence.
It is well known that Israeli governments treat US assertions with great respect; not only with regard to what we can do, but also with regard to whether or not we are right.
A different voice
Last week, another voice snuck into this ideal. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, sent a stinging letter to President Bush, criticizing Israel's fence policy, as well as Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem.
Hyde is one of the most senior Republicans in Congress and a staunch supporter of the president. His main concern is certainly not the Palestinians: The main thrust behind his effort is to protect Christian residents. It is worthwhile paying close attention to his words, especially considering the fact that he has a lot of influence in the establishment.
Hyde writes that Israel's actions "go beyond the realm of legitimate security concerns and have negative consequences on communities and lands under their occupation," places such as Bethlehem and Beit Jala. He writes of the difficulties Christian residents have reaching holy sites such as a result of the security fence.
"We fail to understand," he writes, "how the route of the security fence in Jerusalem, which creates an impassible barrier between two regions fundamental to the Christian faith ? the birth of Jesus (Bethlehem) and his resurrection (Jerusalem) and imprisons 200,000 Palestinians on the Israeli side will improve Israel's security."
Fundamentalist East Jerusalem
Nor does Hyde limit himself to the security fence. He also talks about accelerated purchases of homes in East Jerusalem by "fundamentalist settlers in East Jerusalem who "intend to establish their own brand of Jewish exclusivity" and have "Messianic aspirations on the Temple Mount."
"The settlements in the barrier completely encircle the Christian triangle of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour (Shepherds' Field)," he writes.
Hyde's letter is based on reports issued by several American-Catholic groups who have visited Israel in recent years. He is not alone. His letter found its way to influential conservative columnist Robert Novak, who quoted it extensively in his column in the Chicago Sun Tribune over the weekend.
Like Hyde, Novak is a staunch supporter of President Bush. But neither he nor the politicians who made sure he had a copy of Hyde's letter are buying Israel's explanation, as if the justified need for security justifies any and all Israeli crimes.
Bush, whose political standing is at an all-time low, needs his electoral base more now than he ever has. Hyde is Catholic, not evangelical, but he is an inseparable part of this base. He is close to people like him, and his eyes have been opened to the suffering of Christian Arabs. But don't be surprised if his voice changes something about the automatic US support for anything Israel decides with regard to the security fence.
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