Perhaps because offices are closed during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, the mainline churches have not responded to the ongoing events in the Gaza Strip. The World Council of Churches, through its general secretary the Rev. Samuel Kobia, has:

The first word to say to the violence against Gaza is ‘Stop’. Over 300 lives lost, more than 1,000 people wounded, uncounted thousands traumatized, bombardment of one of the most densely populated places on earth… this must stop immediately.

For over 18 months–since Israel withdrew from Gaza–Hamas has been shelling southern Israeli towns. Even during the so-called “truce” that was agreed to in June, that shelling continued sporadically. Kobia has, as he does in this statement, put out perfunctory calls for Hamas to stop. Yet he never rouses himself to issue this call unless Israel has retaliated, never issues it as a stand-alone, never indicates that he understands that Israel attacks Gaza, not just for the fun of it, but because it gets tired of the daily terrorizing of its citizenry. In this particular instance, he also doesn’t mention that the evidence is that most of those killed have been Hamas terrorists–in other words, legitimate targets. There have been civilian casualties as well, and that’s tragic. But as careful as Israel is to minimize civilian casualties, it must be said that if Hamas didn’t use it’s own people as human shields, most if not all of those wouldn’t have happened. Oh, and I can’t help but notice what Hamas’ first reaction to the attacks on its security installations was–a threat to return to suicide bombing specifically directed against civilians.

Governments in the region and abroad, the Arab League, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations must use their good offices to see that all those who are at risk are protected, on both sides of the border, and must ensure access for emergency and medical aid. The deaths and suffering of the last three days are dreadful and shameful and will achieve nothing but more deaths and suffering.

Actually, if in fact most of the casualties of the last three days have been Hamas gunmen, I’d say they are anything but dreadful and shameful. It is sad and unfortunate that they have been necessary, but Israel still has a right to self-defense from a terrorist organization that continues to vow that nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish state will satisfy it.

People around the world are looking for change that brings peace closer in the Middle East. A terrible period of deadlock and deprivation has now erupted into greater violence. Policies that rely on cutting off shipments of food, medicine and fuel for 1.5 million Gazans and on sending rockets across borders at random or ‘surgically’ only confirm how far from the path of peace the current authorities have strayed. To use ground forces would deepen the current disaster. Collective punishment against one’s neighbors is illegal and has no place in building peace.

I agree with him about ground forces–Israel’s air force has apparently been very effective, so there’s no reason to to invade at this point. But a word must be said here about “collective punishment.” That’s the current phrase of choice on both the religious and secular left to describe Israel’s treatment of Gaza. Several things need to be said: 1) Israel has not isolated Gaza by itself–Egypt has been fully cooperative, which is not surprising since the Egyptians see the thugocracy of Gaza as a threat to their own security. 2) Israel has consistently allowed various necessary supplies into the country, though at times they have squeezed the free flow of necessary goods using the same logic as UN sanctions against Iraq (whether rightly or wrongly is another question). 3) Most importantly, it must be remembered that Hamas is the government of Gaza. The people there voted for them, and when Hamas kicked out Fatah last year, the population was with them. To the extent that Gazans support Hamas in its continued military assault on Israel, they and their Western supporters should expect consequences.

At the beginning of 2008, the World Council of Churches central committee condemned attacks on civilians in and around Gaza, called for all who exercise authority over Gaza including the government of Israel and Hamas to respect international humanitarian and human rights law, and urged member churches to pray and work for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

There’s a false moral equivalence here that characterizes everything that the WCC says about the Middle East. Hamas targets civilians; Israel tries to avoid military action against them. Hamas wants Israel destroyed; Israel wants only to be left alone. Hamas has attacked Israel daily; Israel attacks only when its patience runs out. Israel has done what the world demanded and pulled out of Gaza; Hamas isn’t satisfied and continues to attack Israel using the now-unoccupied Gaza as a base. I’m glad the WCC has “condemned attacks on civilians in and around Gaza.” Now, if they want to be taken seriously, they ought to do something they’ve never once done–condemn Hamas for its genocidal ambitions, and make clear that negotiation with such an entity is impossible unless it changes its goals as well as its tactics.

UPDATE: The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church weighs in:

Yesterday afternoon in New York, outside the Episcopal Church Center, a demonstration took place in front of the Israeli consulate.  The demonstrators included orthodox Jews.  All were calling for an immediate end to the attacks in Gaza.  I join my voice to theirs and those of many others around the world, challenging the Israeli government to call a halt to this wholly disproportionate escalation of violence.

In other words, Israel is not allowed to do anything that would actually end the threat to its civilian population. It may kill as many terrorists as the terrorists kill civilians, and may only use Qassam rockets and mortars to do so. At least that’s what I’m guessing, since she doesn’t bother to say what constitutes the disproportionality in Israel’s response.

I challenge the Palestinian forces to end their rocket attacks on Israelis.

Those attacks have been going on for a while now. I couldn’t find any prior call from Bishop Schori on the ECUSA Web site for Hamas to stop those attacks.

I further urge the United States government to use its influence to get these parties back to the negotiating table and end this senseless killing.

What does she mean, “back to the negotiating table”? Since when has Hamas ever “negotiated” with Israel. Yeah, they agreed to a truce back in June–the technical term is hudna, and it means “time to reload.” Hamas then broke it by trying to build a tunnel into Israel for the purpose of kidnapping soldiers. When Israel took action to destroy that tunnel, Hamas started shelling again in earnest. Throughout these events, Schori had nothing to say. Only when Israel takes serious action does it become necessary to raise her voice in protest.

President-elect Obama needs to be part of this initiative, which demands his attention now and is likely to do so through his early months in office.

Last time I checked, “president-elect” was not an official government position. Barack Obama has quite rightly said that the United States only has one president at a time, yet George Bush’s name doesn’t appear in this statement.

I urge a comprehensive response to these attacks.  Innocent lives are being lost throughout the land we all call Holy, and as Christians remember the coming of the Prince of Peace, we ache for the absence of peace in the land of his birth.

Jesus was born in the Gaza Strip? Who knew?

I ask all people of faith to join with the Episcopalians in Jerusalem

There are “Episcopalians” in Jerusalem? Really?

who this Sunday dispensed with their usual worship services and spent their time in prayer for those who are the objects of this violence.

By all means–pray for the terrorists who are the objects of the Israeli action. Pray that they will repent of their evil, and their genocidal bloodlust, and come to a desire to make peace with their neighbors.

UPDATE: The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation counts among its steering committee representatives of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and the American Friends Service Committee. It had this to say:

As of this writing, Israeli Air Force attacks today on the occupied Gaza Strip killed an estimated 200 or more people and injured hundreds more. These Israeli attacks come on top of a brutal siege of the Gaza Strip, which has created a humanitarian catastrophe of dire proportions for Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinian residents by restricting the provision of food, fuel, medicine, electricity, and other necessities of life.

While the scope of civilian casualties in today’s attacks is not yet clear, it is unmistakable that Israel carried out these attacks with F16 fighter jets and missiles provided by the taxpayers of this country. From 2001-2006, the United States transferred to Israel more than $200 million worth of spare parts to fly its fleet of F16’s. In July 2008, the United States gave Israel 186 million gallons of JP-8 aviation jet fuel. Last year, the United States signed a $1.3 billion contract with Raytheon to transfer to Israel thousands of TOW, Hellfire, and “bunker buster” missiles. [Emphasis in original.]

In short, Israel’s lethal attack today on the Gaza Strip could not have happened without the active military and political support of the United States. Therefore, we need to take action to protest this attack and demand an immediate cease-fire.

You’ll notice what’s missing from that, I’m sure. That’s not surprising, of course, since the U.S. Campaign recently sent a letter to the president-elect calling for  him to:

*Insist that Israel ends its siege of the Gaza Strip.
*Demand a freeze in the construction of settlements and Israel’s Wall in the West Bank.
*Hold Israel accountable for its misuse of U.S. weapons.
*End the U.S. veto protecting Israel at the United Nations.
*Base a just peace on human rights, international law, and equality. Such a policy is the only way to ensure the legitimate security needs of all peoples and can only be achieved by engaging in dialog with all interested parties. A just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace includes the complete end of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip; a resolution to the Palestinian refugee issue consistent with international law and UN resolutions, including the right of return and/or compensation; and full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel. A policy denying Palestinians these internationally-guaranteed rights will only lead to yet another failed “peace process”.

Why they don’t just call on Israel to hand over its government to Hamas I’m not sure, since it’s obvious that they have no more concern for Israel’s security than the terrorist group. This letter, by the way, was signed by, among others, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Interfaith Peace Builders (a subsidiary of Fellowship for Reconciliation), and various chapters of Pax Christi, as well as secular far-left organizations such as the National Lawyers Guild and United for Peace and Justice.

UPDATE: Archbishop Desmond Tutu continues to embarrass himself every time he speaks about Middle East issues. According to the Independent Online of South Africa:

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza “bears all the hallmarks of war crimes”, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said in a statement on Sunday.

“In the context of total aerial supremacy, in which one side in a conflict deploys lethal aircraft against opponents with no means of defending themselves, the bombardment bears all the hallmarks of war crimes.”

Presumably Tutu won’t be happy until either Israel gives Hamas their own F-16s, or anti-aircraft batteries, or pledge to use nothing but pikes and lances in their response to mortar and rocket fire. By the way, he should tell the people Hamas has killed in Israel over the last three days that they can’t be dead, because Hamas can’t defend itself.

The attacks, in retaliation for rockets fired by the Palestinians, would not contribute to the security of Israel, he said.

“It is a blight not only on the Middle East, but on the entire world – and particularly world leaders who have consistently failed the people of Palestine and Israel over the past 60 years.”