Will Obama Be Any Better on Palestine?

Will Obama Be Any Better on Palestine? January 8, 2009

It’s an open question, but I remain pessimistic. The blinkered tendency of Americans to the world through the eyes of Israel, ignoring the shocking treatment of the Palestinian people, goes far beyond partisanship. Then again, at the very least, the Obama administration will distance itself from the bloodthirsty bellicosity embodied in the neocons, a group that McCain kept very close. Or so we hope.  Just take a look at the following quote:

“These people willingly send their own children to their deaths simply to make a statement — to accomplish nothing but the murder of two Israeli civilians and signal their commitment to the fight. The fight against Islamic radicals always seems to come around to whether or not they can, in fact, be deterred, because it’s not clear that they are rational, at least not like us. But to wipe out a man’s entire family, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t give his colleagues at least a moment’s pause. Perhaps it will make the leadership of Hamas rethink the wisdom of sparking an open confrontation with Israel under the current conditions.”

This is Michael Goldfarb, who worked for the McCain campaign, gleefully discussing the advantages of wiping out a person’s family. This is what we are up against, this embrace of uber-consequentialist evil, utterly denying the humanity of the Palestinians. With that premise, there are few restraints. Thus we have the deliberate sealing off of the Gaza strip (this is not a new development), the bombing of civilian areas, the refusal to allow humanitarian aid, the targeting of UN staff and installations, the ban on all foreign journalists, and the extraordinary public statement from the Red Cross to the effect that Israel “failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law” after finding a string of corpses and emaciated children lying next to their mothers.

So we might get the pure evil of Goldfarb and his ilk, but we will still not get fairness. We will still get the pro-Israel bias. One thing that made me cringe was Obama’s oft-quoted remark that he would want to do whatever it took to protect his children, if somebody was bent on sending a rocket into their bedroom. Yet again, this sees the conflict through the eyes of Israel alone. It ignores the very legitimate concerns of the Palestinians. As noted by Daniel Levy, we need to remember that Israel did not leave Gaza for altruistic reasons– it did so precisely to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and proceeded to immediately close Gaza to the outside world, making it impossible for any economic development and fostering a deeply immoral policy of collective punishment.

Levy also takes issue with the innocent-Israel-standing-alone-against-terrorism narrative that is so dominant in the United States. He is worth quoting in full here:

“We also frequently hear the claim – what would America do if it came under rocket fire from Canada or Mexico?..But let’s at least complete the analogy… Gaza constitutes under 6 percent of the ’67 territory in which a Palestinian state is supposed to be created (Gaza, West Bank, Palestinian East Jerusalem), about 94 percent remains under occupation so under our scenario 94 percent of Canada or Mexico would have remained under a 40 plus year American occupation with settlements and roadblocks, and with the “liberated” 6 percent still under siege.  Now I like the Mexicans and Canadians as much as the next person but is it totally inconceivable that under such circumstances some of them would have formed hardline armed groups that would even become very popular and use that 6 percent of territory to launch attacks against America? I will leave it to your imagination.”

Remember the Israeli settlements, the subsidized and heavily fortified luxury compounds amidst Palestinian poverty. Remember the land thefts, the arbitrary barriers, the interference in the economic life of the Palestinians. Remember the daily indignities foisted on the Palestinians as they cross through daily checkpoints, often to protect the settlements. Remember the vastly inequitable distribution of water, that scarce resource in the region. Why are the Palestinian voices not heard in the United States? I think the contrast with the Russian-Georgian squabble is enlightening. The United States did not hesitate in condemning the disproportionate response from the Russians to Georgian mischief making in the majority-Russian and disputed regions within Georgia. And the response was indeed disproportionate– but no more so (and possibly less so) than Israel’s.

America, remove your blinkers! I wish Obama and his team could come to this conflict as honest brokers, adopting the position of the Vatican. If nothing else, the country would earn more respect and attract less vitriol from the Islamic world. I’ll leave the final word with Msgr. Manuel Musallam, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Gaza City:

“What you see on television cannot be compared to what is happening. The word love is choking in my throat. … We are living like animals in Gaza. We cry and nobody hears us. I am asking God for mercy and pray that the light of Christianity continues to shine in Gaza.”

I do not see how Christians can support what Israel is doing.


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