"Current Topics" pages offer primary source materials, commentary, and links on subjects of concern in Jewish and Christian relations.
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The Conflict between the State of Israel and Hezbollah

On July 12, 2006 Hezbollah operatives sent a barrage of rockets into Northern Israel , something that they had been doing periodically for several years. At the same time, they entered Israeli territory and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, killing three others. Another five Israeli soldiers were killed in pursuit of their kidnapped comrades. Since the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah had been supplied by Iran and Syria with reportedly as many as 10,000-12,000 missiles and rockets, some carrying large warheads and with capacity to reach major Israeli cities. Hezbollah began shooting such armaments at Israel, almost entirely at civilian targets. Israel began numerous bombing strikes at bridges, roads and Hezbollah installations in Lebanon and sealing Lebanon?s borders, both to try to prevent the hostages from being taken out of the country and to prevent new armaments from reaching Hezbollah. Hezbollah responded with hundreds of rocket attacks, targeting northern Israeli cities, including Haifa , Israel ?s largest port. Loss of life has been much greater in Lebanon for several reasons. These include Hezbollah?s location of military targets in the midst of civilian populations as well as the superiority of Israeli military technology. In addition, Israeli construction codes require the provision of bomb shelters or fortified rooms, providing accessible shelter for civilians.

This page offers links to information and statements that may be useful discussion resources for Christian-Jewish dialogue groups. The opinions contained in these items represent the views of their specific authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning or of the Board of Trustees of Boston College.





From CNN: Timeline: Decades of Conflict in Lebanon, Israel

From National Public Radio:Analysis by Daniel Schorr, "Seeing Iran's Hand in Israel-Lebanon Violence"

From BeliefNet: Mark LeVine: "Hamas and Hezbollah: The Religion Fallacy"

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: Dore Gold, "The Opening Round of Iran's War Against the West"

From the American Jewish Committee: "Hezbollah: The Face of Global Terror"



Roman Catholic Statements
July 14, 2006 Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano

Statement on Vatican Radio:

The news we are receiving from the Middle East is certainly worrying. The Holy Father Benedict XVI and all his collaborators are following with great attention the latest dramatic episodes, which risk degenerating into a conflict with international repercussions. As in the past, the Holy See also condemns both the terrorist attacks on the one side and the military reprisals on the other. Indeed, a State's right to self-defense does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations. In particular, the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation, and gives assurances of its closeness to those people who have suffered so much in the defense of their own independence. Once again, it appears obvious that the only path worthy of our civilization is that of sincere dialogue between the contending parties.

July 16, 2006 Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus prayer In recent days the news from the Holy Land is a reason for new and grave concern for all, in particular because of the spread of warlike actions also in Lebanon, and because of the numerous victims among the civilian population. At the origin of these cruel oppositions there are, sadly, objective situations of violation of law and justice. But neither terrorist acts nor reprisals, especially when they entail tragic consequences for the civilian population, can be justified. By such paths, as bitter experiences shows, positive results are not achieved. This day is dedicated to the Virgin of Carmel, Mount of the Holy Land that, a few kilometers from Lebanon, dominates the Israeli city of Haifa, the latter also recently hit. Let us pray to Mary, Queen of Peace, to implore from God the fundamental gift of concord, bringing political leaders back to the path of reason, and opening new possibilities of dialogue and agreement. In this perspective I invite the local Churches to raise special prayers for peace in the Holy Land and in the whole of the Middle East. (Zenit trans.)
July 17, 2006 Reaction from the Anti-Defamation League to the above two statements

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:

The Vatican continues to be mired in a false paradigm that equates, on the one side, terrorist actions by Islamist extremists who view both Jews and Christians as infidels and seek Israel's destruction with, on the other side, Israel's right to defend itself and eliminate the ongoing and growing  threats to its citizens. Given Pope Benedict's recognition of the growing global threat posed by Islamist terrorists, we are saddened that the Vatican would issue such counterproductive statements that seek to lend moral equivalency to the unprovoked terrorist actions of Hezbollah and Hamas with Israel's defensive actions to protect its civilian population. The Vatican's positions are terribly one-sided and short-sighted, given that the goal of Islamist terrorists is to wage war against all non-believers, including Christians. We call on the Holy See to reconsider its position in this time of crisis and stand up for Israel which is being forced to fight a war for survival on two borders.

July 18, 2006 Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, Bishop of Orlando, Chair, U.S. Bishops' Committee on International Policy

Break the Cycle of Violence in the Holy Land

Once again the land that is holy to Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers is wracked by violence and fear. The tragic and terrifying cycle of provocation and response, of occupation and resistance, has erupted in another spasm of deadly violence. The cycle must be broken, especially before it continues to expand into a broader and deadlier conflict. The violence must stop and a ceasefire must be secured.

The conflicts in the Holy Land and Lebanon are distinct, but they bear some fearful similarities. In both cases there were violent and provocative cross-border attacks on Israeli military personnel. The extreme armed factions of Hamas and Hezbollah, and their supporters, including Syria and Iran , bear grave responsibilities. It seems clear that these acts were intended to damage prospects for negotiation and to provoke strong responses that further weaken the chances for dialogue, agreement and progress. These attacks provoked Israeli military responses that are understandable in terms of the right to defense, but are disproportionate and indiscriminate in some instances.

As committed friends of the Palestinian people, we understand the harsh realities of occupation and the yearning for a viable state of their own, but we cannot support rocket barrages and suicide bombings against innocent Israeli civilians and cross-border attacks and abductions. Such actions violate the principle of civilian immunity and undermine the possibility of a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As strong friends of the people of Israel, we share their frustration and anger at the provocative attacks. It is long past time for all Palestinian leaders, including Hamas, to reject violence and terror and to act in ways that will lead to the establishment of a viable state for the Palestinian people living side-by-side in peace with a secure Israel. It is also long past time for all state and non-state actors in the region, including Hezbollah, to renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect its security.

Israel has a right to defend itself, but we cannot support its sweeping counterattacks on civilian areas, civilian infrastructure, blockades and other acts of war in Gaza and Lebanon. Punishment of an entire population for the indefensible acts of extreme armed factions is wrong and causes unjustified harm to noncombatants. Such actions are also counterproductive because they deepen hostilities and widen the circle of violence. Israel must act with restraint. Otherwise we fear that Israel could isolate itself, undermine its long-term security interests and play into the hands of extremists who seek a wider confrontation and an unending battle with Israel.

As steadfast friends of the Lebanese people, we believe that Lebanon, as the late Pope John Paul II said, should be ?a model? for people of different faiths living together in peace. The current conflict puts at risk the progress that has been made to free Lebanon from outside domination and from being used as a pawn in a larger struggle. Our Conference is deeply disturbed by the provocative acts of Hezbollah against Israel that precipitated the current crisis and provoked the disproportionate Israeli military responses. Both the initial act and the resulting reactions endanger the Lebanese people and their vulnerable democracy. As our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, recently said: ?Neither terrorist acts nor reprisals, especially when they entail tragic consequences for the civilian population, can be justified.?

Our Conference calls upon the United States to exert greater leadership with all parties to the conflicts and to work more intensively and multilaterally to end the provocations and violence, to secure a ceasefire, to restrain Israel, to move toward negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to bring about security for Israel and a viable state for the Palestinians, and to ensure the independence of Lebanon.

The recurrent cycles of deadly violence endanger the stability of Lebanon and undermine those brave people on both sides who seek a just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The sadly recurring and predictable cycles of violent provocation by extremist elements and some disproportionate responses not only take human lives, but they damage the hopes of Israelis for security, of Palestinians for a viable and free state, and of Lebanese for a future of peace, true independence and prosperity.

Our Conference appeals to all leaders in the region and to the leaders of our nation to make it clear that violence, from whatever side, for whatever purpose, cannot bring a lasting or just peace in the Land we call Holy. We join our prayers with those of our Holy Father who said about the current crisis: ?Let us pray to Mary, Queen of Peace, to implore from God the fundamental gift of concord, bringing political leaders back to the path of reason, and opening new possibilities of dialogue and agreement.?

July 20, 2006 Vatican Information Service on Pope Benedict's Call for Day of Prayer for Peace

The Holy Father is following with great concern the destinies of all the peoples involved and has proclaimed this Sunday, July 23, as a special day of prayer and penance, inviting the pastors and faithful of all the particular Churches, and all believers of the world, to implore from God the precious gift of peace.

In particular, the Supreme Pontiff hopes that prayers will be raised to the Lord for an immediate cease-fire between the sides, for humanitarian corridors to be opened in order to bring help to the suffering peoples, and for reasonable and responsible negotiations to begin to put an end to objective situations of injustice that exist in that region; as already indicated by Pope Benedict XVI at the Angelus last Sunday, July 16.

In reality, the Lebanese have the right to see the integrity and sovereignty of their country respected, the Israelis the right to live in peace in their State, and the Palestinians have the right to have their own free and sovereign homeland.

At this sorrowful moment, His Holiness also makes an appeal to charitable organizations to help all the people struck by this pitiless conflict.

July 30, 2006 Pope Benedict, Angelus Prayer

At these moments I cannot fail to think of the ever more serious and tragic situation of the Middle East: hundreds of dead, many injured, a vast mass of homeless and displaced people, cities and infrastructures destroyed, while hatred and thirst for revenge seem to be growing in the hearts of many.

These facts clearly demonstrate that it is not possible to re-establish justice, create a new order and build real peace when there is recourse to the instrument of violence. More than ever, we see how much the Church's voice is at once prophetic and realistic when, in the face of war and conflicts of all kinds, she indicates the path of truth, justice, love and freedom as in the immortal encyclical Pacem in Terris of Blessed Pope John XXIII. This is the path that humanity today must also follow in order to achieve the desired good of real peace.

In the name of God, I address all those responsible for this spiral of violence, that all sides immediately lay down their arms! To political leaders and international institutions I ask that no efforts be spared in order to obtain the necessary cessation of hostilities and thus to begin to build, through dialogue, a lasting and stable coexistence of all the people of the Middle East. I ask men and women of good will to continue and to intensify the sending of humanitarian aid to those needy and much tried peoples. But above all, may faithful prayers to the good and merciful God continue to be raised from all hearts, that He may concede His peace to that region and to the whole world. I entrust this heartfelt appeal to the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Prince of Peace and Queen of Peace, who is so venerated in the countries of the Middle East, where we soon hope to see the reign of that reconciliation for which the Lord Jesus offered His precious Blood.



International Council of Christians and Jews
July 17, 2006 Statement from ICCJ's Three Faiths Forum The Three Faiths Forum, with years of commitment to open and respectful dialogue between the faiths which share the legacy of Abraham, the man  of peace, urges the combatants in the Middle East to pull back from the edge of total conflagration while there is still a chance. There is no future to be found in bullet, bomb or rocket, only blood and devastation. There is no peace which can be built on the blasted homes and mangled remains of innocents. Decades of conflict have already more than made that point. How many more must die before this dreadful lesson strikes home?  We welcome the call of the G8 nations for an end to the violence and their commendation of those Middle East nations which have sought to restore peace to an area which so desperately needs it.

Sir Sigmund Sternberg ? Mrs. Mavis Badawi ? Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke 
Anthony Bailey, KCFO  ? Dr. Khalid Hameed, CBE ? Rabbi Tony Bayfield



American Jewish Committee

July 2006 Op-Ed: The Lebanon Crisis
July 17, 2006 AJC Welcomes G8 Statement on Middle East Crisis
July 24, 2006 Rabbi David Rosen, "Statement on the Sanctity of Human Life and the Root Cause of the Conflict in the Middle East"



United Church of Christ
July 2006 Rev. John H. Thomas General Minister and President United Church of Christ (USA), "A Pastoral Letter to Palestinian Friends and Partners"




Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
July 17, 2006 Pastoral letter from Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson regarding the escalating situation in Lebanon
August 8, 2006 A joint appeal by the leaders of the World Council of Churches, Lutheran World Federation, and World Alliance of Reformed Churches
August 9, 2006 Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, "An Open Letter to Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Leaders"



Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox Rabbis)
July 20, 2006 A Statement Regarding Israel and the War on Terror against Hezbollah, Hamas, and their State Sponsors in Iran and Syria
August 17, 2006

RCA Solidarity Mission to Israel Expresses View of Tohar Haneshek ("Purity of Arms") in light of the Unprecedented Realities of Recent War with Hezbollah

In light of all that we have seen and heard while here, and considering the reports that have emerged over the course of the past month, the moral impact of the changed nature of this war weighs heavily on our minds, as it does for many Israelis. Like Jews everywhere, we have always admired the unparalleled moral standards of Israel?s armed forces in their military engagements, including a sensitivity to the suffering of civilians and other innocents who find themselves caught up in the entanglements of war. Today, however, there is at the very least, a need to discuss the response to an enemy such as Hizbollah. Such an enemy, in contravention of all military rules of war and universally agreed upon rules of engagement, puts Israeli men and women at extraordinary risk of life and limb through unconscionably using their own civilians, hospitals, ambulances, mosques, and the like, as human shields, cannon fodder, and weapons of asymetric warfare. We are appalled that any human being, let alone religious leaders claiming to act in the name of an honorable monotheistic faith such as Islam, would thus abuse and destroy the image of God that is within every human being. But speaking from within our own Judaic faith and legal legacy, we believe that Judaism would neither require nor permit a Jewish soldier to sacrifice himelf in order to save deliberately endangered enemy civilians. This is especially true when confronting a barbaric enemy who would by such illicit, consistent, and systematic means seek to destroy not only the Jewish soldier, but defeat and destroy the Jewish homeland.

New realities do indeed require new responses. Especially when it comes to such matters involving life and death, self-sacrifice and the fundamental right to life and limb.


United Methodist Church
July 14, 2006 Statement by the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns' General Secretary on Middle East Violence



World Council of Churches
July 21, 2006 General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, "Pastoral letter on the violence in the Middle East"
August 8, 2006 A joint appeal by the leaders of the World Council of Churches, Lutheran World Federation, and World Alliance of Reformed Churches



Religions for Peace
July 24, 2006

Statement by the Secretary General of the World Conference of Religions for Peace on the Escalation of Conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Israel and Hamas in Palestine.

Acts of violence are pushing the peoples of Israel, Lebanon, Palestine and neighboring states toward an abyss of destruction. Innocent people are being killed, civilian infrastructure is being destroyed and the fires of hatreds are being fanned. Today ?s acts of violence must stop. Violence kills the innocent, inflicts profound suffering and causes vast damage. It strengthens extremists and weakens moderates. Violence will neither provide real security nor lead to a sustainable peace.  

Serious alternatives to violence need to be advanced on all sides to stop the slide into a widening war and to create conditions to return to a comprehensive peace process. Key immediate steps should include:

  • An end to the bombing of Lebanon and the rocket attacks on Israel;
  • The return of the Israeli soldiers in Gaza and Lebanon unharmed;
  • The release of the arrested Palestinian ministers and parliamentarians; and
  • An end to Israeli military operations and withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and Lebanon.

The United Nations needs to take action to assist the conflicting parties to take these steps. So does the United States, a global superpower that has largely disengaged from the Middle East peace process. The United States needs to re-engage and work constructively with the United Nations, other states and all of the relevant parties in the region.

Religious leaders also need to take action. Religious leaders need to stand together to reject the grotesque misuse of religion whenever it is hijacked in support of violence. They need to work together to find new ways to stop the violence and suffering. They need to continue to encourage their faithful ? millions of sincere Jews, Muslims and Christians ? to not lose heart, but remain steadfast in prayer. 

Religions for Peace will convene senior religious leaders from the region at its Eighth World Assembly in Kyoto, Japan (26- 29 August) and will support religious leaders in the region to work together to stop violence and build peace.?     

Dr. William F. Vendley
Secretary General
Religions for Peace



Union for Reform Judaism

August 1, 2006

An Evening of Solidarity with Israel
Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey 

Remarks by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President
Union for Reform Judaism

We are grateful for the analysis that we will hear tonight. It is important for us to understand as best we can the terrible conflict that rages on Israel?s northern border.

Still, as much as we appreciate analysis and commentary, it seems to me that the distinguishing feature of this conflict is the utter clarity of the issues and of the moral choices that it presents.

This is a war in which the rights and wrongs are beyond all doubt.

Southern Lebanon is taken over by Hezbollah after Israel?s withdrawal. Supported by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah amasses an arsenal of 13,000 missiles and rockets. Over a period of 6 years, it launches dozens of unprovoked attacks into Israeli territory? striking at military installations or launching rockets at civilian targets. All the while, Hezbollah?s leaders proclaim their genocidal intentions: Israel is to be wiped off the map.

And then, after it attacks again, kidnapping and killing Israeli soldiers, Israel finally strikes back. After 6 long years, it has had enough. But without hesitation, Hezbollah unleashes a barrage of 2500 rockets against Israel?s northern cities, each and every rocket aimed at civilians, each and every rocket intended to kill, or to maim, or to terrorize.

And terrorize they have. A half million Israelis have been driven from their homes; nearly a million pass most of their days in bomb shelters. Life in the northern half of the country has come to a standstill. And not only that. Hezbollah intentionally operates from civilian areas, knowing that this will increase civilian deaths, no matter how precise Israel?s weaponry. And these deaths in turn will be used to ratchet up the violence and the hate.

Could the rights and wrongs of this conflict be any clearer? If Israel?s cause is not just in this war, then no cause can ever be just.

But, of course, there are those in Europe, and here too, far from Hezbollah?s rockets and terror, smug in the physical safety of their own homes, who accuse Israel of overreacting and of failing to exercise ?proportionality.?

To my fellow Americans who speak in this way, here is my question: if you were living in Houston, and if a terrorist body that the Mexican government refused to disarm were firing deadly rockets into your neighborhood night after night, endangering your life and terrorizing your children, would you be talking of restraint and proportionality? Or would you be demanding an immediate response from your government to assure that not a single additional missile threatened your family?s well-being?

This is not an abstract question. We know what President Roosevelt did when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. We know what President Kennedy did when the Russians put missiles in Cuba. And we know what President Bush did in Afghanistan, when it gave refuge to those who attacked us on September 11. Americans then did not talk of proportionality; they talked about providing security for their country and stopping those who wished to do us harm.

But let us not think for a moment, God forbid, that we can be indifferent to the death of innocents. The death of any child, Israeli or Arab, Muslim or Jew, is an unspeakable tragedy that rends the heart.

When Abraham argued with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, his plea was: ?Ha-af tispeh tsaddik im rasha? Will you indeed sweep away the innocent with the guilty?? (Gen 18:23). And Abraham knew the answer, of course. Because you cannot turn your back on the innocent and still be God.

And so, what do we say about the children who died in Jana? We say that it was terrible beyond words.

But then we look at what happened afterward, and we see once again where justice resides in this terrible war.

Because immediately after the tragedy, Israel?s government said: this was an awful mistake and we are deeply sorry. And the next day, Israel?s papers and airwaves were filled with anguished debates about the moral implications of Israel?s actions. In Yediot Aharonot, Israel?s largest daily, the lead editorial proclaimed: ?In a national sense, we are all guilty, because small nations are nations of collective responsibility. This killing is on the head of all of us.? And it went on to say that what Israel must do is take responsibility and ask forgiveness.

Do not misunderstand me. No one was arguing that the war was wrong. Overwhelmingly, Israelis believe that this is a just war, that it must be fought, and that Hezbollah is a threat to their very existence. They know that morality begins with security, and that the first responsibility of any government is to protect its citizens. But Israelis also want to know that everything that can be done to avoid civilian casualties is being done. And they were sending that message to their leaders, loud and clear.

And now let?s ask ourselves: Can we imagine this conversation taking place in the ranks of Hezbollah? As Jewish children continue to die, can we imagine Hezbollah taking responsibility and apologizing? Can we imagine them pledging to do everything in their power to put an end to civilian deaths? No, we cannot. Because Hezbollah is fascist in its politics and fanatic in its religious zeal; and it dreams not of peace but of death?death to Israel, death to Jews, and death to America. Once again, even amidst the tragedy of innocent lives lost, we see with utter clarity who shares our values and who is worthy of our support.

What is our task? It is four-fold.

First, to support our government, which has been a voice of reason and good sense, and to thank our president, who has been a true friend of the Jewish state.

Second, to work for peace?real peace. And peace can come. If the attacks stop, and if Hezbollah is disarmed, peace can come tomorrow. So let us strengthen the hand of all who will join with us in making such a peace a reality.

Third, to make clear that we are not declaring war against another religion. Yes, we will oppose extremism with all our might. But remember: our adversaries are the angry and hating minority in the Moslem world who embrace radical Islam. Surely most Moslems want to live in peace, and with them we must engage in honest dialogue.

And finally, to embrace Israel in her hour of need. Because Israel is a cause for thanksgiving and rejoicing; a bastion of democracy in a very bad neighborhood; a friend of America and an enemy of terror; and an inspiration to Jews and to Christians everywhere. Israel is not a perfect country. It is a contentious country that is as complicated and as difficult as the Jewish people themselves. But it is also a country where most of the time, and certainly now, the best impulses of her leaders and her people determine her direction and give us hope.

And so where do we stand at this moment? We stand proudly with Israel.

And as always, we ask for God?s guidance. And we pray that evil will be overthrown and reason will prevail. And that peace and redemption will come to Israel?s border, and that harmony will hallow Jerusalem?s gates?bi?meheira u?viyameinu, speedily, and in our day.


Anglican Church

August 6, 2006

Dr. Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury

Sunday 6th August 2006

As I write, the UN continues its deliberations about what kind of resolution might be possible to support and effect a ceasefire in Lebanon. The optimistic gloss is that this could be achieved ?in a few days?, though the organisation of an international peacekeeping force is likely to take several weeks.

A few days is a long time in the Middle East at the moment. Not only because of the uninterrupted cycle of slaughter, but because of the mounting humanitarian crisis in the region ? in Gaza and the West Bank as well as in Lebanon. If an immediate ceasefire is going to take a few days to implement, that will still mean an unpredictable number of Israeli and Lebanese civilian deaths and further damage to the infrastructure of Israeli, Lebanese and Palestinian society. It makes any prospect of a sustainable peace settlement more remote. The longer we wait for a ceasefire, the harder a ceasefire becomes ? let alone a more comprehensive settlement.

That is why voices in the region, notably from some connected with the Middle East Council of Churches, are increasingly concentrating their efforts on some short-term goals. There have been detailed proposals for a very brief ceasefire (seventy two hours, for example) designed to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to areas that are currently unreachable. World Food Programme convoys are stopped and other vital supplies are being held back by blockade or bureaucracy. Hospitals are struggling to cope with uncontrollable levels of civilian casualties. Even if a complete formal ceasefire proved impossible, even for a short and defined period, a gesture like the lifting of the naval blockade for the delivery of humanitarian supplies would be a target worth working for.

There have also been appeals to Hezbollah to give assurances about the welfare of the captured Israeli soldiers to their families. There is a clear perception that even the remotest possibility of an exchange of prisoners would depend on some initiative that would break a deadlock of absolute mutual mistrust. Assurances from Hezbollah, no less than the suspension of the naval blockade, could, it is argued have this effect.

A good deal more in similar vein is coming from the churches in the Middle East (who, it?s worth remembering, have their own concerns about a Hezbollah ?victory?). It is time we listened harder to them. And what is important here is the motivation of these voices. They are saying with the greatest of clarity that every hour that passes is making the post-conflict prospect more and more unbearable ? to the point where even the briefest and most nominal interruption of the mutual carnage becomes disproportionately significant.

And the underlying problem, identified by one or two commentators in the USA, is that both sides in the Lebanese conflict are playing for very high stakes ? on one side, decisive victory over what is seen as an engine of terror, on the other, a decisive humiliation for Israel, with regional repercussions in the balance of power and a dramatic strengthening of certain elements in the Islamic world. In that sort of climate, the question of who blinks first becomes very fraught indeed ? so that the gestures of goodwill suggested by the Christian leadership of the region do not at first glance look all that probable.

But this means that, on both sides, the comprehensive ravaging of an infrastructure is seen as a price worth paying for an imagined future stability. Hezbollah directly and deliberately targets civilians in Israel and apparently regards the lives of Lebanese civilians as counters to be deployed in their strategy; Israel risks treating the Lebanese population as if they were all de facto collaborators with Hezbollah. Both act like this because the prize is so temptingly comprehensive. Yet the irony is that the only clearly visible effects are the returning of Lebanon to a chaos from which it had begun to escape and the continuing exposure of Israeli civilians in the border area to indiscriminate attack, which shows no sign at all of lessening. Those who are rightly anxious about Israel?s security have to ask about the cost of so dangerously unstable a neighbour. The big prize of some really decisive solution, some transforming victory for one value system over another, is simply being made more and more unattainable by the tactics being used. It is a lesson that could be applied, in a different degree, to the whole rhetoric of the war on terror.

The ethical tradition that has developed around the conduct and aims of war is profoundly discouraging about definitive solutions that will justify any amount of interim suffering and devastation ? which is why terrorist tactics are always immoral without qualification. But even in the deployment of legitimate defensive force, one of the moral criteria applied historically to the judgement of any such action is whether it has in view attainable, limited and realistic goals to be secured by any engagement of force. And this implies that a conflict fought on an all-or-nothing basis, rather than looking to measurable advantages and negotiated adjustments of interest, is going to be morally problematic. Consciously to create a civil vacuum in the hope that it will guarantee total victory is to court both practical and moral defeat in the long run.

So one of the middle-to-long term issues for any UN intervention will be what kind of peace is expected to emerge if a ceasefire is negotiated ? and who takes the responsibility for anything that looks like a ?common security? solution, preserving the integrity and legitimacy of civil society and government in Lebanon and giving no possible handle to the rhetoric of groups (or nations) that challenge Israel?s right to exist (the Arab Summit of 2002 - in Beirut, ironically ? attempted to put down a positive marker on this). Some of the Middle Eastern commentators I have been discussing have outlined a process by which Israeli withdrawal from the disputed Shebaa Farms territories (on the guarantee from Syria that Lebanese sovereignty here is recognised) matches a ?decommissioning? of Hezbollah units and their absorption into the Lebanese security forces under international monitoring. It is again a move that does not currently look easily achievable. But only something like this will make any useful contribution to a proper strategy for a law-governed outcome in the region. And that is the only goal worth working for.

A law-governed situation is one in which interests and conflicts are argued, negotiated and balanced out, with no permanent, unassailable winners and losers. At the moment, what we see is dangerously close to lawlessness in the strict sense, a disregard for present chaos and pain in the name of a future that will justify everything. The Abrahamic faiths are all committed to law because none of them can accept that consequences alone justify actions. So we need to hear more from leaders of all these faiths in support of law as well as of immediate humanitarian action ? in support of short-term improvements, pragmatic means of resolving injustices, civil procedures for discovering common goals, however limited, acceptance of interests that are more than ?reasons of state?. And we need to hear more from jurists of all backgrounds in the mapping out of what a ceasefire and an international presence will be seeking to make possible in Lebanon and in the region.

And meanwhile, we could do worse than spend a moment listening to the most immediate pleas from those on the ground. A statement from Hezbollah about its prisoners, an easing of the blockade to guarantee safe passage for WFP convoys and supplies for the hospitals of Lebanon and Gaza ? these are not huge and complex matters. But if they save even a handful of lives, they are not wasted. And they will represent just a small sign that somewhere there is a shared future to be negotiated for the ordinary people of the region, Israeli, Palestinian or Lebanese.