Monday, November 10, 2008

Yes we can! – Changing the President’s position on Israel and Palestine

1. The significance of the Palestinian-Israeli-Arab conflict

I have great hope in Barack Obama. I like so many was moved by the magnitude of his election as the President of United States of America. I will never forget the tears coming down from Jesse Jackson’s eyes at the announcement of Barack’s victory and the joy of seeing the Obama and Biden family coming together on the stage a symbol of the new future for America. However, Obama despite his messianic qualities is a mortal and must still be held accountable for his political positions. Yes, even though many of us just want to focus on the positives and celebrate his win - we still need to continue to be grounded in the humanity of the man. One position that Barack needs to be questioned on his position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Sadly, from my perspective Barack Obama (1) seriously underestimates the detrimental impact that US relations to Israel and the occupied Palestinian people has on the global Islamic community (2) fails to appreciate the link between terrorism and the failure to resolve this conflict and (3) fails to acknowledge the link between US bias towards Israel and the perpetuation of the conflict.

2. US bias towards Israel destabilizes the region and the globe

The United States can be both a friend of Israel and the Palestinians people, a strong supporter of the Jewish Israeli, Palestinian Israeli and Palestinian people. However, on the international stage all that people hear and see is that the United States is a friend of Israel.

The United States continues to arm Israel and vote in support of Israel at the United Nations despite her failure to follow UN General Security Council Resolutions, despite Israel’s 41 year old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel’s support of settlement expansions, killings of Palestinians and internationals, fragmentation of Palestinian land, building of a barrier often beyond the Green Line, failure to respond to the Palestinian refugee community and despite her failure to appreciate why Palestinian Arabs felt betrayed by the international community in 1948. This double standards by the United States apart from hurting both Israeli and Palestinian people in the long-term is used (and abused) by authoritarian Islamic governments and fundamentalist groups to show the ‘evil’ of the West.

The United States voting pattern in General Assembly shows how out-of-touch the United States is to the rest of the world on Israel and Palestine. The following are United Nations General Assembly resolutions that the United States voted against in November this year. The six countries that voted against these resolutions were Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Palau, Israel and the United States.

1. Applicability of Geneva Convention to Occupied Palestinian Territory (document A/C.4/63/L.16)
161 in favour to 6 against, with 2 abstentions

2. Israeli Settlements in Occupied Territories (document A/C.4/63/L.17)
161 in favour to 6 against, with 2 abstentions

3. Palestine Refugees’ Properties, Revenues (document A/C.4/63/L.14)
161 in favour to 6 against, with 1 abstention

4. Vote on Occupied Syrian Golan (document A/C.4/63/L.19)
161 in favour to 1 against, with 7 abstentions

5. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) (document A/C.4/63/L.13)
160 in favour to 6 against, with 1 abstention

6. Persons Displaced from June 1967 Hostilities (document A/C.4/63/L.12)
158 in favour to 6 against, with 2 abstentions

7. Assistance to Palestine Refugees (document A/C.4/63/L.11)
158 countries in favour, 1 against (Israel), with 6 abstentions (including the USA)

8. Vote on Israeli Practices Affecting Human Rights of Palestinian People (document A/C.4/63/L.18)
155 in favour to 8 against, with 5 abstentions

9. The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices (document A/C.4/63/L.15)
87 in favour to 8 against, with 70 abstentions

For details of the votes see:
Fourth Committee, General Assembly, GA/SPD/418, ‘Concluding Session, Fourth Committee Approves 23 Draft Resolutions,4 Decisions, including 9 Today By Recorded Vote On Middle East, Un Refugee Relief Agency’, 63rd General Assembly, 24th Meeting (PM), 7 November 2008

Israeli settlement activity since Annapolis – Nov 07- May 08

Report on the Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories, October 2008

Permanent Status Issues, PLO Negotiations Affairs Department

Current Issues, PLO Negotiations Affairs Department

The 2008 Democratic National Platform - Renewing America’s Promise. “Stand with Allies and Pursue Diplomacy in the Middle East”, August 25, 2008 Denver, Colorado, pp. 38-39
(Accessed 9 November 2008)

3. Israeli and Palestinian violence – no level playing field

If the United States was being even-handed we should be able to read on government press sites stating “Palestinians have a right to defend themselves”.

The United States supports Israel’s right to defend herself. Does the United States support Palestinian peoples right to defend themselves? How is this statement perceived by those in the Islamic world who have witnessed 41 years of occupation and witnessed the dispossession of a people from their land in 1948.

From one side there is a lot of talk about thousands of rockets being fired onto Israel. And yet what has the consequence of these rocket attacks been? 14 deaths in four and a half years (four people in 2004, five people in 2005, two people in 2006 and two people in 2007 and one in 2008). Sounds hard to believe given the level of media attention. But check the Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs for yourself. The number 14 is significant as this is the average number of Palestinians that were killed every week, i.e. 2 people per day during the period 2000-2007. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society as cited on identifies 4398 Palestinians were killed from the beginning of the Second Intifada (30 Sep 2000) until 9 January 2007.

Whilst I empathise with the trauma of an average citizen of Sderot living with the constant threat and actuality of rocket attack can you not also see the trauma for the average citizen of Gaza and the West Bank. The people of Gaza and West Bank have no air force to defend themselves if their citizens are subject to attack. This is not a level playing field.

4. Occupation as a source of terrorism

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is about the basic injustice of occupation. Occupation is a fundamental source for terrorism. Those who fight against the United States now in Iraq and Afghanistan do so on the basis of occupation. Americans rallied behind the cry of tyranny as a means to liberate the American colonies from the British, Native Americans fought long and hard against the American occupation forces for centuries, the Vietnamese used the same cry to liberate Vietnam from American forces. Those Palestinians who choose to resist occupation through the use of violence are no different.

[See Reasons for terrorism]

5. America at war

The United States is presently at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both wars cost the US trillions of dollars. Both wars have led to the deaths of thousands of American service men and women and tens of thousands of civilian casualties. America’s wars hurt her position in the world and are a source for ever increasing anti-American and anti-Western attitudes amongst the Islamic world – ranging from North Africa to the Middle East through Central Asia to Indonesia, the Philippines and then within the heart of the West in Europe, North America and Australia. If the United States wishes to win hearts and minds it needs to reframe it’s position on the Palestinian-Israeli-Arab conflict. America needs to be seen as a fair player and an honest broker, something which it is not present.

6. Reframing the Palestinian-Israeli-Arab conflict

The United States (and Barack Obama as demonstrated by his AIPAC speech) continues to identify Israel as “our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy” (eg as described in the Democrat Party Platform) is misguided and fails to appreciate the violent and undemocratic basis for Israel’s creation.

The average person might assume Israel was created by the United Nations. This is a partial truth. Yes, the United Nations did vote to partition British mandate Palestine into an Arab, Jewish state with an international city of Jerusalem. However, the UN Security Council rejected this resolution. The UN Security Council in March 1948 refused to support the 1947 General Assembly Partition Plan as it would lead to international war. The Jewish Agency was aghast, particularly by the US proposal to place British mandate Palestine under UN Trusteeship. Consequently the Jewish Agency resolved that the Jewish State would be occur with or without UN approval. As such Israel was created by military force. Jewish military units like Irgun and Haganah conquered key Palestinian Arab towns like Jaffa and Haifa before the Jewish Agency declared a Jewish State on 14 May 1948

International war resulted following the Jewish Agency’s persistence to forcibly create a Jewish state in a region that had not had a Jewish majority for over two thousand years. The Jewish Agency and its modern day equivalents needs to take responsibility for the violence used to forcibly create a Jewish state.

Why the Partition plan was rejected

Population graph (p. 5 - 1851-1948)

Population (1851-1995)

7. European pogroms and the Holocaust

The Jewish community has suffered at the hands of European nations for centuries.
The medieval expulsions, the Russian pogroms, the Holocaust were all the result of European anti-Semitism and not the fault of Arab nations. The Holocaust was an atrocity committed by Europeans in Europe. Sadly lessons were not learnt from the Holocaust. Instead the Holocaust was used as a pretext to generate support for creating a Jewish state in a part of the world which had not had a Jewish majority for millennia. However, the local population did not get much a say in this. It was the height of European and Western colonial and imperialist arrogance to expect Arab citizens to pay for the consequences of European barbarity by forcing their citizens to move to allow for a Jewish state. The idea of creating a Jewish state in a region which had not had a Jewish majority for over two thousand years was naive and undemocratic. Violent resistance which is found today amongst the likes of Hamas is a consequence of very poor European decisions. These last few sentences is extremely offensive to many people who have grown up with the concept of ‘Next year in Jerusalem’. I have tried to be as fair and open-minded as I can however, this is my conclusion. That it was too much to expect one nation to relocate in order for another nation to take their place. What was in it for them? There was no quid pro pro. So why should Palestinian Arabs have been expected to move?

That is not to deny the indigenous Jewish community of this region. However, there is a stark difference between Arabic speaking Jews living in the region and European Jews who fled from European persecution to an Arab speaking part of the world and expect to reclaim ancient Hebrew land from two thousand years before.

It is hard enough for Palestinians to reclaim there land even when there are people alive today who were dispossessed from their homeland. Why then should others expect Palestinian Arabs should relocate for another people without any treaty, compensation or the like.

American soldiers will continue to die while the United States fails to accept complicity in the forcible creation of a Jewish state 60 years ago. The land of Israel today did not have a Jewish majority in the region for over two millennia.

UN vote on Holocaust remembrance
A/Res/60/7, 60th Session General Assembly, 21 November 2005

General Assembly decides to designate 27 January as annual International Day of Commemoration to Honour Holocaust Victims, 60th Session General Assembly, Plenary, 42nd Meeting (AM), 1 November 2005

8. The Common sense reason for the war of 1948

Common sense should tell you that war of 1948 was the consequence of one people i.e. Palestinian Arabs saying no to being dominated by another people i.e. Palestinian and European Jews. Consider the extraordinary demographic situation where in 1948 - 67 percent of the population was not Jewish and just 30 years before at the time of the Balfour Declaration 87 percent of the population was not Jewish.

9. Obama’s AIPAC speech

Barack Obama has done little to offer change to accepting the historic demographic reality of British mandate Palestine. The land was populated by Muslims and Christians and Druze with a much smaller component of Jews. The President-elects speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in June 2008 did much to undermine any good will that he may have had towards Arab and Islamic citizens of the world and to those in the West who have for years been critical of the injustices being perpetrated against Palestinian people.

At the June 08 AIPAC conference Barack Obama speaks of the centrality of the story of homeland. Where is the homeland for the Iliinois, the Potawatomi and the Miami? What happened to the treaties that were agreed between these Native Americans and the European American invaders?

Barack Obama and Joe Biden: A Strong Record Of Supporting The
Security, Peace, and Prosperity of Israel
[Scroll down to fact sheet on Israel]

“Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten Israel threaten us. Israel has always faced these threats on the front lines. And I will bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security…I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat - from Gaza to Tehran.… Across the political spectrum, Israelis understand that real security can only come through lasting peace. And that is why we - as friends of Israel - must resolve to do all we can to help Israel and its neighbors to achieve it.”
[Obama Speech at 2008 AIPAC Policy Conference, 6/4/08]

Question: Did Barack speak at the ADC American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee? Arab-American Political Action Committee? Arab American Institute?

Obama just presents a rosey view. No talk of Israel’s share of blame.
What has Obama said about Americans killed by Israelis eg Rachel Corrie. One positive agrees Palestinians need a state which is contiguous. However, he empahsises Israel must be kept as a Jewish state. What does this mean for the fifth of the population who is not Jewish? Obama opposed the Gaza election in 2006 as Hamas was on the ballot. What does this say about democracy and self-determination?

Obama’s speech at AIPAC, 4 June 2008

Obama’s speech at AIPAC was extremely one sided. Did he speak at an Arab American conference. If so how did it compare.

10. Obama and Rahm Emanuel

Barack Obama’s choice of Rahm Emanuel does little to help show the United States as an even-handed player in relation to the Middle East.

The United States puts in danger the lives of her service men and women and her citizens every time it refers to herself as pro-Israel instead of simultaneously stating the US is both pro-Israel and pro- Palestinian i.e pro-humanity. The United States must be seen and articulate itself as a friend of not just Jewish Israelis but a friend of Palestinian-Israelis, Palestinians who live under military rule, and a friend of Palestinians and Jews who suffer discrimination and deprivation in neighbouring Arab nations.

It is dangerous to speak of the United States as a friend of Israel in isolation without simultaneously acknowledging the friendship offered and shown to Palestinians.

Rahm Emanuel’s position on Israel follows conventional US policy which yet again will only minimize opportunities for resolution of the conflict rather than create new possibilities of Israelis and Palestinians relating to each other as neighbours.

Rahm Emanuel on Obama and Israel (YouTube)
8 August 2008
Originally videoed by: Rahm Emanuel, speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Obama campaign's Jewish Community Leadership Committee for Seattle on August 4. 2008.

Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel @ AIPAC (YouTube)
4 June 2008

Emanuel Commemorates 60th Anniversary of the Founding of the Modern State of Israel
14 May 2008

Who is Rahm Emanuel, Obama views , Palestine Policy by Ali Abunimah (YouTube)
7 November 2008

Ali Abunimah is himself from Chicago

Antony Loewenstein's perspective on Obama and Rahm Emanuel (12/11/08)

11. Hopes for the future

I realize the above reflection will be extremely offensive to many who have grown up with the belief that Jewish security is dependent on the presence of a Jewish nationalist state based in the historic region occupied by ancient Hebrew people. However, as difficult as it is to read please be assured that the purpose of writing this reflection is to help build a future where the 11 million human beings in the troubled region of Israel and Palestine may find creative and sustainable ways to live in peace. Peace is based on attaining fundamental needs such as justice, security, meaning, identity and autonomy. A balanced honest interpretation of the history of the region is essential for this. We need to allow space for each other to state our understanding of this history.