Moral relativism, political double talk, and a military juggernaut blind to its violence against an occupied people highlight the most recent, tragic conflagration in Israel and Palestine. In justifying Israel’s most brutal and bloody salvo against Gaza in decades – which has so far killed nearly 400 Palestinians and wounded more than 1800 – Israel’s UN ambassador stated that Israel was “rightfully defending itself from continued Hamas rocket attacks within her borders.” Furthermore, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert forewarned that the offensive “is liable to continue for some time.”
By affirming Israel’s “right to self defense” and supporting Israel’s contention that the onus is on Hamas to renew the truce, President Bush’s waning administration highlighted its remarkably predictable political incompetence and tone-deaf moral vacancy by squandering yet another precious opportunity to remedy – at least rhetorically – the festering, radioactive sore that is the Palestinian human rights crisis in Gaza and the West Bank. Continuing to spin a broken record, his administration condones Israel’s brazen and repeated violations of international law while simultaneously denying Palestinian human rights, at the precarious risk of destabilizing a hostile and volatile Middle East region.
It goes without saying that this sad reality fails to absolve the illegality of Palestinian violence directed against Israel and her civilians. Hamas’ infractions of international law should be strongly condemned by both the United States and the international community, including Arab countries, many of which espouse reactionary, anti-Semitic rhetoric. But such actions do not justify an escalation into outright war – one in which civilian causalities are almost a certainty due to the density of Gaza – any more than the Israeli blockade of Gaza would justify suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. The answer to a festering conflict is to take steps towards resolution, not spiral the conflict into madness.
President-elect Obama conveniently remains silent on the current hostilities (for now) and has thus deferred to President Bush. Nonetheless, earlier this summer he endorsed Israel’s right to defend itself against Qassam rockets by stating, “If someone were sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do anything to stop it.” One wonders, however, if President elect Obama’s principles of safety, dignity and self defense apply to Palestinians as well? If Obama and President Bush’s daughters were forced to suspend their emergency hospital operations due to fuel shortages, beg for 300 essential medicines, drink contaminated water that causes malnutrition and anemia in children, eat bread made of animal feed, and renounce electricity because their main power plant was forced to shut down, what would they do?
That hypothesis tragically exists as a reality for Gaza residents, some of the poorest people on Earth, who have survived Israel’s nearly two-month embargo and blockade that followed another two years of frequent and devastating closures. Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), called the Gaza humanitarian crisis “disastrous” and said the agency has been unable to get needed medical supplies into Gaza for more than a year due to Israel’s blockade of border crossings.
At AIPAC’s annual conference last summer, in what devolved into an embarrassing competition of one-upmanship, both President-elect Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton pledged unyielding support for Israel. Obama promised he would “never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security”; meanwhile, Clinton affirmed that “the United States stands with Israel now and forever.”
It warrants a mention that the brutality of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians has transcended the bipolar framework of an “Arab vs. Jewish thing” and is now recognized internationally as a shameful example of human rights violations. After visiting Israel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who opposed apartheid in South Africa, stated he saw “the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.” He offered Israel would “never get true security and safety through oppressing another people.” Commenting on Israel’s policies in Gaza and West Bank, President Jimmy Carter controversially declared that it existed as “a system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights.”
The United States could publicly acknowledge the lopsided and oppressive relationship existing between the nation of Israel and its Palestinian refugees by refusing to implicitly or explicitly endorse and rationalize Israel’s latest offensive incursion as simply a “defensive security measure.” Yet, by continuing to vocally defend Israel as the only advocate and partner of peace while perpetually blaming Palestinians as the sole aggressor, the United States recklessly obfuscates the reality of an Israeli blitzkrieg that repeatedly bombards a beleaguered Palestinian refugee population with an inordinately superior and sophisticated military might.
This changed tone, which would reflect fairness and nuance, would also signal to the Muslim world that the US does not blindly and unconditionally endorse Israel’s prejudicial treatment of Palestinian refugees, its building of illegal settlements on West Bank and Gaza lands, its illegal, extra judicial killings and kidnappings, and it’s most recent gratuitous violence unleashed on Gaza civilians.
Finally, the loss of innocent Palestinian life in relation to Israeli life should not merely be treated as tragic, but necessary, “collateral damage.” Both need to be afforded dignity and value as human beings, who are neither favored nor condemned for sake of advancing narrow-minded foreign policy initiatives and strengthening expedient political alliances.
(Photo courtesy of cactusbones via flickr under a Creative Commons license).
Associate editor Wajahat Ali is a Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders” is the first major play about Muslim Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at http://goatmilk.wordpress.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.