Friday, March 29, 2013

Obama in Israel

Someone, in fact several people, asked for my take on Obama’s visit and speech in Israel.  I am terribly flattered as though what I thought might make any difference.

Some have contacted me expressing disappointment and even anger that Obama was not stronger in condemning Israel for its brutal treatment of the Palestinians.   I have read that some Palestinians were feeling betrayed by the American president.   I understand their anger. However, but for what it’s worth:

I read (not heard) Obama’s speech to the students in Jerusalem and I am not that upset by it. Like those who are angry, it galls me that he referred to “the courage of the Israeli Defense Force,” without any reference to its brutal bombardment of its unarmed neighbors such as Lebanon in ’82,  and Gaza in ‘08-09 and again in 2012, killing hundreds of civilians.  Knowing that history, how can he say, “In Israel we see values that we share.”  He brought up rockets in Sderot, without a hint of the multiple murders of women and children in Gaza that triggered those rockets, as “Israel’s right to defend itself.” He called Menachem Begin, one of the world’s worst terrorist, “a brave leader” of Israel. He must have forgotten Begin’s Irgun days when he blew up the King David Hotel, executed British soldiers and massacred at least a hundred unarmed citizens in Deir Yassin.  Nor in any way did Obama hold Begin accountable for the thousands, mostly women and children, killed during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Our president referred to a two state solution without any reference to the almost 600,000 settlers who continue to steal land and water from Palestinian families. He ignored the construction of the apartheid wall as well as praised Israel’s military disengagement from Gaza as if it had been a disengagement. It’s not “disengagement” when you continue to control the imports of food, medicine and fuel, and shoot fishermen seeking to survive in their own waters.

I agree that Obama ignored Israel’s abysmal behavior and record of human rights violations.

At the same time, the word “Palestine” has seldom passed the lips of any U.S. president, politician, preacher  or broadcaster for the past 64 years. Obama obviously knew, since his Cairo speech, that anything he said on this issue would be repeated over and over.  Yet, he still put the Palestinians on the table. 

But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.

Then, maybe in the best part of his speech, he paints Arabs, especially Palestinians, as “no different” than the kids to whom he was speaking:

Four years ago, I stood in Cairo in front of an audience of young people. Politically, religiously, they must seem a world away. But the things they want – they’re not so different from you. The ability to make their own decisions; to get an education and a good job; to worship God in their own way; to get married and have a family. The same is true of the young Palestinians that I met in Ramallah this morning, and of young Palestinians who yearn for a better life in Gaza.

He used the term, “occupation,” and spoke of “justice for Palestinians.” Will his saying these things make any difference? Probably not to the governments of the U.S. or Israel.  But maybe, just maybe, his recognition of a Palestinian people who  have hopes and dreams just like those to whom he was speaking may touch the conscience of those young people.   I don’t think he was talking to Netanyahu or the U.S. Congress. He was talking to the future Israel which will be one state made up of Israelis and Palestinians.  Those kids will have to decide whether it will be an apartheid state of violent oppressors or a democratic nation for all its citizens.

He challenged those 2000 students in Israel, and he did so, in spite of the attacks he will receive from the big four: Netanyahu, the Republicans, the Christian fundamentalists and the lobby, none of which express any caring for the Palestinians. The reality of the Israeli/Palestinian situation has been deliberately hidden from the American people. At least, Obama put it on the table.

Now, it’s up to the rest of us, ordinary people like you and me, to keep it there.

Thomas Are
March 30, 2013

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