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Pa. minister sees some progress for Peace in Israel

February 09, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - There were no terrorist attacks during the Rev. William Harter's most recent trip to Israel last month, but one followed shortly thereafter when a Palestinian woman blew herself up along with four other people at a border checkpoint in Gaza.

According to the Sunday Times of London, the woman was driven to the checkpoint by her husband and the bombing was an act of atonement for betraying him.

"That's the kind of people we're dealing with," said Harter, who was on his 36th trip to the Israel, this one with a fact-finding group from the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel. "Suicide is forbidden in traditional orthodox Islam," he said, but the bombing was seen by radicalsm as an act of martyrdom.

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Despite such acts of terror, Harter, the pastor of the Falling Spring Presbyterian Church does not view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as intractable and sees signs of progress in the Middle East linked to the U.S. war in Iraq.

"Tourism is on the increase again in Israel," said Harter, who was there from Dec. 30 to Jan. 11. "Over the last three years, with the intifada, tourism was down to 40 percent of what it had been, which was a blow to the Israeli economy and devastating to the Palestinian economy.

"Israel has a diverse industrial, technological and agricultural economy," better able to weather the loss of tourist dollars and Euros, he said. Palestinian merchants in Jerusalem and Palestinian-controlled areas such as Bethlehem are more dependent on tourism, particularly Christians visiting the Holy Land.

American tourism is still down, but travel from the fast-growing Christian populations of Africa and Asia is strong, said Harter, who traveled with a group of 14 people that met with representatives of the Israeli government and religious leaders, including the papal nuncio.

Outside the borders of that conflict, Harter said the war against Saddam Hussein has created "undercurrents of change that have been catalyzed in the region."

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi opened his country to international nuclear weapons inspectors; the Muslims of northern Sudan and the Christians and Animists of the south have engaged in peace talks; and Mauritania and Israel have quietly moved toward normalized relationships, Harter said.

"It strengthened the moderate forces in Saudi Arabia," he said.

While American resolve after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is responsible for some progress, he said leaders in those countries recognize the threat posed to their own regimes by radical Islamic forces.

A resolution of the Irsaeli-Palestinian conflict will not happen while Yasser Arafat remains in power, Harter said.

"Arafat's government is basically on the Islamo-fascist model," not much different from that of Quaddafi or Hussein, he said.

Any peace settlement, he said, has to recognize the displacement of Jewish settlers on the West Bank and Palestinians who formerly lived within Israel's borders. A reparations package to achieve that will mean financial participation by the United States, Europe and Japan, he said.

"Reparations are cheaper than war," he said.

Harter said Israel is not an armed camp, despite the constant threat of terrorism, and he considers traveling there safer than driving Interstate 81, visiting most major American cities or going out on the first day of hunting season.

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