Disproportionate and Counterproductive
The Middle East is ablaze again. Following provocations by Hamas in Israel and Hezbollah along the Israeli-Lebanese border, Israel has sent its forces first into Gaza and then into Lebanon. While the immediate provocations seemed to be the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, the strategic considerations were larger. In Palestine, Hamas had ended its 16-month cease-firea move, it must be noted, Israel never reciprocatedand in Lebanon, the new government has failed to demilitarize Hezbollah, fearing civil war might ensue. In the last year, Palestinian guerrillas fired more than 700 rockets from Gaza into neighboring Israeli towns, most recently into the coastal city of Ashod. In the new fighting, Hezbollah missiles from south Lebanon have reached Safed in Upper Galilee; Haifa, Israel’s third largest city; and Tiberias, the ancient Roman resort town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The initial Israeli reprisals seem to us to be both disproportionate and counterproductive. Hamas’s capture of one soldier in a daring move did not justify a wholesale assault on Gaza. The fighting threatens Gaza with a humanitarian disaster. The escalation also took place at a time when the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was near to gathering agreement from Hamas and other factions for a peace initiative with Israel. In the case of Lebanon, the Lebanese government should have made moves to control Hezbollah’s guerrilla activity, despite the movement’s political strength and backing from Syria. Israel’s widespread destruction of infrastructure, however, is not calculated to give responsible Lebanese politicians the leverage to demobilize or at least restrict Hezbollah in the way Israel would wish. Bombardment of air, sea and land routes out of the country has in effect placed the whole population under siege.
All sides are at fault, but the disproportion of the Israeli responses has reduced the opportunities both for damping down the conflict and for exploring new paths to peace. Like the U.S. war in Iraq, Israel’s violence has increased support for militant Islamists across the region and greatly reduced the power of political moderates in the Arab world. Of course, that is just what the Hamas and Hezbollah militants as well as their backers in Iran and Syria were hoping for in the first place.
If it were not for dismay over the carnage from the railway bombings in Mumbai and the rising toll of civilian dead in Iraq, one might have heard a collective sigh of relief from Bush administration critics around the world as the Defense Department announced on July 11 the reversal of their five-year-old policy on the legal rights of suspected terrorists. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the Geneva Conventions apply to all detainees held by the military, the administration has been under pressure to end the exceptions it has granted itself from the obligation to respect the rights of suspects in the war on terror. Suspects, it seems, would enjoy normal rights to trial or court-martial, and they would be immune to torture and inhumane treatment while under interrogation. The whole country owes a debt of gratitude to the military and human rights attorneys who pressed the rights of the suspects in the face of extraordinary legal obstacles. In time, they will have redeemed the good name of our nation, sullied for too long by our elected and appointed leaders.
Back to the Future
Interested in having the altar turned away from the congregation at Mass? In an interview on June 25 with the French Catholic daily newspaper La Croix, the new secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Albert Patabendige Don, commented on the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Nowhere, in the conciliar decree, he said, is it laid down that the priest must henceforth face the congregation, nor that the use of Latin is forbidden. He added that the reforms of Vatican II were carried out without roots or depth, thus seriously diminishing the ability of the faithful to experience the mystery of the Mass.
True, the documents of Vatican II do not forbid the saying of the Mass in Latin, nor do they require that the altar face the people. But Sacrosanctum Concilium did indeed call for significant reform. The council fathers declared that the use of the vernacular may frequently be of great advantage to the people to help them reach full, conscious and active participation. Later, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969, clearly stated that every church must have a freestanding altar to allow Mass to be celebrated facing the people.
Many critics of liturgical reforms argue that we have lost some of the mystery in the Mass. But while the church should not jetttison tradition, far less should it set aside practices and reforms that were carefully considered by the council fathers and that have worked well for the people of God.