Friday, May 27, 2011

Shared Values, Ironclad Security and Incredible Hypocrisy.

President Obama gave a Middle East policy speech at the State Department on May 19th, followed by an address to the AIPAC convention on May 22, 2011. The rhetorical flourishes were beautiful, but the chasm between the President’s rhetoric and the actions of the United States in the Middle East is both disheartening and heartbreaking.

President Obama spoke of the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israeli security. Without any background on the current situation in the Middle East and particularly in Israel and the Occupied Territories, one would never know that Israel has the 5th largest military in the world and the only arsenal of nuclear weapons in the region. One would be hard pressed to know that during ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in Dec 2008, 400 Palestinian civilians died for each Israeli civilian killed.

Obama at AIPAC:
‘America’s commitment to Israel’s security also flows from a deeper place —and that’s the values we share. As two people who struggled to win our freedom against overwhelming odds, we understand that preserving the security for which our forefathers fought must be the work of every generation. As two vibrant democracies, we recognize that the liberties and freedom we cherish must be constantly nurtured.’

President Obama failed to recognize the fact that the Palestinian people also find themselves struggling to win their freedom against overwhelming odds- with both Israel and the United States aligned against them. He also fails to mention that the liberties and freedoms we cherish are denied Arabs in Israel as well as the West Bank and Gaza.

Obama at the State Dept:
‘There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.’

Perhaps better words than ‘decades of accepting’ would be ‘decades of enabling’ as America’s policies in the region kept despots in power and people oppressed. Our President fails to recognize that the Palestinian people have a stake in the Arab Spring and they will continue their struggle for self-determination, dignity, and equal rights, with or without the support of the United States.

Obama at the State Dept:
Speaking of the events in Tunisia that sparked the revolution, our President said, ‘It is the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world – the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens' dignity.’

There was no mention of the Israeli military checkpoints in Hebron where males as young as 10 years old are made to lift their shirts before they pass, or the demolition of countless Palestinian homes for the lack of an Israeli permit.

Obama at the State Dept:
‘The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders — whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.’

Again our President doesn’t include Haifa or Jerusalem where Arabs are 2nd class citizens, he does not mention the web of roads for Israelis only in the West Bank, nor does he mention any of the unrecognized towns under demolition orders in the Negev. He does not include Ramallah, Bethlehem, Bi’Lin or Gaza City. Surely this was an act of omission, a mere oversight. Of course he recognizes that Palestinians, whether citizens of Israel or citizens of the Occupied Territories should be afforded the same ‘universal’ rights?

Obama at the State Dept:
‘Let’s remember that the first peaceful protests in the region were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail. We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran. The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory.'

Is President Obama unaware that the Palestinians have been demonstrating peacefully against the Separation Wall, the illegal appropriation of their land and resources, the illegal checkpoints and other abuses of the Israeli state for many years? It is unfortunate that the image of 11 year old Muhammad al-Durrah, dying in his father’s arms, gunned down by “the most moral army in the world” is not seared in his memory. It is unfortunate that the image of the al-Samouni family, 29 persons in all, killed by the IDF in Gaza during “Cast Lead” is not seared in his memory. It is unfortunate that the image of a young American woman, Rachel Corrie, run down by an Israeli bulldozer, is not seared in his memory.

Obama at the State Dept:
‘The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.’

‘The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests. It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests. So far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression. And this speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet represses its own people at home.’

Syria should be called out for its abuses as well as Libya… But why are the Libyans who have declared violence against Gaddafi and taken up arms considered freedom fighters and Palestinian youth who have taken up stones called terrorists? And why was there no mention of the gunning down of peaceful protesters on Israel’s borders just 4 days earlier? The Iranian regime doesn’t have a monopoly on hypocrisy in the region.

Obama at AIPAC:
‘As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state.’

If only the statement that ‘Israel must be able to defend itself- by itself’ meant that the United States was ending the $3 billion in military support we provide on a yearly basis, but I’m afraid not.

We have heard continuously about Israel’s security. Not once in the past week did President Obama speak of security for Palestinians. This is a reflection of Israeli propaganda, which blames every civilian death on the victims themselves. Often they are described as human shields. Always their deaths are blamed on ‘terrorists’.

This propaganda directly contradicts the Israeli military concept known as the ‘Dahiya doctrine’, formulated during the Lebanon war. This military doctrine views disproportionate destruction and creating maximum disruption in the lives of many people as a legitimate means to achieve military and political goals. Major General Gadi Eisenkot, the Israeli Northern Command chief, expressed the premise of the doctrine: ‘What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. […] We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. […] This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.’

In his Middle East policy speech our President spoke of freedom, non-violence and democracy. In his AIPAC speech he failed to mention these concepts, but clarified America’s ironclad commitment to a secure Israel, a commitment that comes in the form of weapons used to oppress the Palestinian people.

President Obama states that every state has a right to self-defense. In the next sentence he states that a Palestinian state will be denied this right in order to secure Israel.

The status quo remains. It is business as usual for Israel, the President and the United States, Arab Spring be damned.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why I’m going to Gaza.

Every time I hear American journalists use words like “storming”, “rioting”, “infiltrating” and “terror, terrorism and terrorist” in describing Palestinian protesters marching with flags, or youth throwing stones at tanks, APC’s, and soldiers armed with American weapons, I vow to support those who march for their dignity and resist the theft of their lands and resources.

Every time I read that Palestinian youth throwing stones are met with Israeli soldiers firing teargas, rubber bullets and live ammunition, and now, using attack dogs, I vow to support the youth being shot and mauled.

Every time Israeli soldiers kill a child and our country declares Israel has a right to defend itself, I vow to stand with the children.

Every time America proclaims that people have a right to freedom, and my country acquiesces as non-violent Palestinian activists are shot, I vow to stand with the activists.

Every time America lashes out at China and other countries for the illegal detention of dissidents yet remain mute regarding the thousands of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons, (including over 300 children), I vow to stand with the prisoners.

Every time I hear our Congress pushing resolutions that deny the Palestinians their rights and blame them for their plight, I vow to stand by the oppressed.

Every time I hear our representatives veto resolutions at the UN aimed to hold Israel accountable, I vow to stand with those denied a voice.

Every time I hear Netanyahu proclaim that non-violent Palestinian protesters are intent on “destroying Israel”, and my country stands mute, I declare that my voice will be heard.

Every time I hear someone deny the Nakba (which continues to this day in the Jordan valley and throughout the West Bank) and deny the rights of Palestinians the very same rights we claim are “universal” for others- the right to security, the right to self-determination, the right to land and resources, the right to medical care, the very right “to exist”, I vow to support the Palestinian people in securing these rights.

Every time an innocent dies for the rights and freedoms I take for granted, I vow to stand up in the face of oppression.

Every time I am called an anti-Semite or a “supporter of terror”, I vow to speak the truth to what I witness.

Every time I hear a new war crime charge against “our enemy” while the United States and “our friend” kills with impunity, I vow to stand for justice.

This spring I will join with others on the “Audacity of Hope” the American flagged ship sailing to Gaza to break the illegal siege and bring relief and aid to Gaza’s people. For those of you who would like voice your support, the US to Gaza organizers are soliciting letters of support for the Gazan people as well as donations to fund our trip. You can read more about this effort at

If you wish to support me in my efforts, donate what you will.