It’s a photograph that appeared in many newspapers and seemed to capture the turmoil in the Middle East: Palestinians were destroying a Jewish holy site, the tomb of Joseph. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen was so upset that he devoted a whole column to the incident. While he said that the tomb probably wasn’t a top-priority religious site, its destruction was still “a momentous event.”
Cohen said it showed why the Israelis were so reluctant to give control over holy sites in Jerusalem to the Palestinians or the Arabs. He said that when the Arabs had control of East Jerusalem, 58 Jewish synagogues were destroyed and many Jewish cemeteries were desecrated, with some of the headstones being used to build roads. The New York Times was quick to publish a letter to the editor from a Muslim who said he shared sorrow and horror at the destruction of Joseph’s tomb. He said he hoped for a day when people of different religions could defend and respect the rights of all people.
Those are nice sentiments; it’s too bad they are not being publicized in connection with the wholesale destruction of Christian holy sites in Kosovo. One estimate is that, since NATO and the U.N. took control, 100 Christian churches and religious buildings have been destroyed. Robert Fisk of the British newspaper, the Independent, confirmed that many churches and buildings had been leveled to the ground through explosives. He said NATO forces appeared indifferent to the destruction, and some NATO troops wanted their pictures taken in front of damaged or destroyed churches. Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times has told a similar story.
A Boston Globe story went so far as to say that Kosovo’s Christian heritage was in peril. However, in this case, the Globe reporter and photographer wereat the scene of some of this destruction, taking pictures, when their film was confiscated by ethnic Albanian Muslim men.
Reporters want us to believe that the bombing of Kosovo and its occupation have been a great success. In fact, in a recent cover story, Time magazine used just that term – “success.” Even some conservatives have accepted this line. Writing in the Washington Times, Gregory Fossedal said that the U.S. policy in Kosovo helped bring an end to the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic, and that the UN/NATO peacekeeping operation in Kosovo was part of this. In truth, Milosevic, who had been elected president of Yugoslavia, stepped down voluntarily after it was apparent that he had lost the election. Most importantly, this “dictator” did not order his security forces to fire on peaceful demonstrators. The new president is opposed to the international occupation of Kosovo, just like his predecessor, Milosevic.
Kosovo is perhaps the most blatant example of destruction of sacred and religious sites. But it doesn’t get as much attention as the holy sites in the Middle East. Another is Sudan, where an Islamic regime armed by China regularly destroys churches and church-run hospitals. Almost two million people, mostly Christians, have died there in the last ten years. But they don’t have a powerful lobby in Washington.