Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dear Mr. President

On June 27th, forty-four outstanding Christian clergy, including Jimmy Allen, Ron Sider and Tony Campolo, wrote to President Obama supporting his “call for progress in bringing about an agreement to end the conflict between Israel and Palestine.” They expressed appreciation for his “important and helpful proposals concerning the issues of borders and security as a basis for negotiations.” They even asked for a “statement that addresses all final status issues, including the need for Jerusalem in the future to be the shared capital of both states, a just resolution to the issue of all refugees, and assured access for all faiths to their holy places.”

I appreciate their letter and commend them for writing it. It’s a letter that the president might actually get to read. However I wish they could have been more specific. They write, “There are of course other concerns, but they should not be allowed to interfere with making real progress toward an agreement on borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees”

Israel makes sure that Americans don’t forget what it feels like to be afraid of suicide bombers in the shopping mall, how much Israel is forced to invest in protecting its streets and guarding its citizens against suspicious characters. No one denies how hard it must be to live under such threat.

But what about the thousands who have been killed by Israeli planes, tanks and mortars, and those who die of ill health because of Israel’s blockade of food and medicine and those thousands more, including children, languishing in Israeli prisons?

History has shown that any president or politician who speaks out against such Israeli atrocities will suffer the loss of the Jewish vote and contributions. It’s not just that Obama might be a one term president; it will also mean the loss of numerous democratic seats in congress.

I wish the letter could have been more specific. I am not sure how much impact letters, or in fact any other statements, make when talking in generalities.

For instance, there is the specific matter of our ship, The Audacity of Hope, carrying American citizens currently being prevented from proceeding to Gaza with humanitarian aid. In fact, according to Stephen Zunes, professor of Politics and Chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco:

The Obama administration appears to have given a green light to an Israeli attack on an unarmed flotilla carrying peace and human rights activists – including a vessel with 50 Americans on board – On June 24, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Campaign by saying it would “provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”

Zunes goes on to say:

Clinton did not explain why a country had “the right to defend themselves” against ships which are clearly no threat.

The flotilla has been stopped in Greece and its passengers; doctors, writers, professors, political figures, clergy from various faith traditions and a holocaust survivor, plus nearly three thousand tons of supplies necessary to sustain life in Gaza have been held up. The captain of our American ship is now in jail and has yet to be visited by anyone from the U.S. Embassy.[1] Still, our president is silent. And who can blame him. The deck is stacked. Following last years attack on the Mavi Marmara in which Israeli commando killed nine unarmed humanitarian volunteers:

329 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter that referred to Israel’s attack as an act of “self defense” which they “strongly support.” A Senate letter – signed by 87 out of 100 senators – went on record “fully supporting what it called Israel’s right to defend itself.”[2]

The American president must use stronger language than “unsustainable” in light of the fact that the United States has contributed billions of dollars every year to sustain Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians.

And how can any letter of concern to the president not mention the wall snaking down through the West Bank claiming the aquifers at Qalqilya on the Israel side, forcing 350,000 Palestinians to live in “the dead zone,” separated from their families, schools, hospital and farms. Then there is also the matter of continued destruction of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

Isn’t it time to raise the question of harassment by illegal settlers living on Palestinian land who attack citizens, beat children on their way to and from school, and shoot holes in water tanks.

And surely it is time for our president to raise the question of Palestinian security. Hamas is a democratically elected government. It’s a cheap shot to just label them terrorist and do all that can be done to disempower them. It is time to acknowledge the “State terrorism.” of Israel which continues to kill Palestinians every month. If the president addresses these issues, maybe even the media would be forced to report them and maybe the president would gain the support of public opinion without which it seems even he becomes irrelevant.

Peace is an interesting and safe subject. Everyone supports peace. But what about justice, Mr. President? Fourteen hundred Palestinians were killed during Operation Cast Lead last winter and all the presidential candidates were silent. Nine humanitarian aid volunteers were cut down last May by Israeli commandoes including a nineteen year old American citizen and the White House remained silent. Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza leaves a million and a half people imprisoned in that overcrowded little walled in strip of land and the president says nothing.

It’s easy to say, let’s talk peace. It’s quite another to seek justice, without which there can be no peace.

Thomas Are
July 16, 2011

[1] Philip Weiss, US Flotilla Passengers Begin Fast at US Embassy in Athens, Mondoweiss, July 3, 2011.
[2] Stephen Zunes, Washington Okays Attack on Unarmed U.S. Ship. Foreign Policy in Focus. Paul Craig Roberts writes, “If there were ever any doubts, this dispels it. The U.S. government is the complete and total puppet of Israel.” (Email, June 30, 2011)