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

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Just Another Leak in the Dam


Wow! There is a leak in the dam and the alarm bell is ringing.  Something is happening.

FIRST – In spite of the all out effort of the United Sates to block the Palestinians from being recognized as an observer state, the United Nations, with the support of 138 nations, voted for it. Among other things, this means Israel may soon face the International Criminal Court which has already declared Israel’s settlements a violation of article 49 of the Fourth Geneva convention which:

Prohibits the transfer of civilian populations to occupied territory.  It says the settlements are “leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable state and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self determination.

Unity Dow, one of the UNHRC judges said:

The magnitude of violations relating to Israel’s policies of dispossession, evictions, demolitions and displacements from land shows the widespread nature of these breaches of human rights … The motivation behind violence and intimidation against the Palestinians and their property is to drive the local populations away from their lands, allowing the settlements to expand.[1]

Of course, the US attitude and Israel’s response is that such statements are “biased” and “counterproductive.”  If you agree with those who believe that Israel has unquestionable rights to steal Palestinian land and oppress millions of people and that Palestinians have no right to resist, then you will remain silent. However, you must be aware that most of the world considers America’s attempts to shield Israel’s actions criminal. When it comes to Palestine, most world leaders say that we are not just supporting the wrong side, we are the wrong side.

The alarm bells are ringing. Israel did not have its way before the United Nations. That is not all.

THEN - Chuck Hagel was confirmed.  The very idea that anyone not “lobby certified” could actually become a member of Presidents Obama’s cabinet rings alarm bells in Israel’s Zionist halls. Never mind that Hagel earned two purple hearts, and a medal for valor fighting for the US in Viet Nam, he failed to pass the muster with Israel-firsters in congress.  He is perfectly qualified to defend America, but he failed to commit to Israel’s issues, including no reduction of money for Israel’s military even as our own military budget is being cut, or to declare war with Iran if Israel feels threatened.  According to Philip Weiss, “It was alright for Hagel to criticize the U.S., but not alright to criticize Israel.”[2]  When Hagel suggested that the Jewish lobby intimidates people on capital hill and gets Congress to do “dumb stuff,” he was attacked by Lindsey Graham, “Name one dumb thing Congress did because of pressure.”  Hagel folded in hopes of gaining confirmation.  But, I can name some dumb things: supporting settlements, building an apartheid wall in the West Bank, and cutting off electricity, fuel and water to the people of Gaza, assassinating leaders who reach out for peace and killing hundreds of innocent women and children. I don’t know what Graham calls those kinds of actions but I call it “dumb stuff.”   And the hearing itself was evidence of intimidation by the Jewish lobby.  Yet in spite of Israel jerking the chain of so many people in Congress, Hagel was confirmed even after having declared, “I am a United States Senator. My oath is to the Constitution of the United States, not to Israel.” One more leak in Israel’s propaganda dam. 

THIRD - For years, Israel has dominated the film industry in showing movies telling of Israeli courage and the miracle of 1948 just the way Israel wants the American public to believe it happened. Classic among these is the movie, Exodus based on Leon Uris’ book by that same name.  It is still on the market.  Anyone can go into a leading bookstore and ask for it.  “Of course, we have it.” The clerk will say, "The fiction department is right over here.”

Then, two of the five documentaries nominated for the 2012 Oscar Awards focused on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

The nonfiction film, 5 Broken Cameras shows Israel’s failed effort to squelch the spirits of those demonstrating against having their lands taken in the name of Israeli security.  The title “5 Broken Cameras” comes from the fact that five cameras were destroyed by Israeli bullets and the film’s producer, Emad Burnat, was wounded by soldiers while trying to film what was going on. Why such a violent reaction?  It could be that Israel is ashamed and fears for anyone on the outside to know?  “Burnat photographed settlers burning and uprooting ancient olive trees, and Israeli troops injuring protesters with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.[3]

Mr. Burnat and his wife were hours late for the banquet given in his  honor. They had been arrested at the Los Angeles Airport because he could not prove that he had an invitation to the Oscar presentations. Only after Michael Moore learned of his arrest and intervened was Burnat released.     

Then, “We are making the lives of millions unbearable, into prolonged human suffering, and it’s killing me.” And, “We’ve become a brutal occupation force similar to the Germans in World War II.”  These are not the words of a group of Israeli peace activist or left wingers in Israel. These are quotes form two of the most respected leaders in Israel, former heads of Shim Bet, (Israel’s version of the F.B.I.)

Yesterday, I saw The Gatekeepers, the second documentary nominated for an Oscar by the Academy Awards. In this film, six former heads of Shin Bet express their opinions on such things as Israeli and Palestinian terrorism, torture, the morality of targeted assassinations with uncontrolled “collateral damage” which means the killing of innocent by-standers.  I was amazed to hear Israeli “strongmen", calling for more dialogue and less violence.  Referring to a violent scene, one said, “These moments end up etched inside you, and when you retire, you become a bit of a leftist.”

The Gatekeepers film director, Dror Moreh, presents a bleak view, “I am now worried about what is happening in Israel...Nothing good will come to the State of Israel by continuing this conflict.”[4]  As I sat through this film, I was stunned and disappointed. I felt admiration for those who used to represent power as they re-evaluated their actions, denounce the occupation and now sound like normal sensitive human beings.  I was disappointed that it took them so long.

All across Netanyahu’s government alarm bells are ringing. Of course, all across America there are politicians and media pundits who are still trying to un-ring that bell.  But word is leaking out. Israel is not the victim.  

Not one Israeli was killed in 2012 by Palestinians. Meanwhile, in the first 13 days of this year, Jewish settlers and IDF soldiers shot dead at least five young unarmed Palestinians.

Over the past decades Israel  has not hesitated to use violence on the unfortunate Palestinians --- arresting, torturing and killing them in large numbers, seizing and settling their land, demolishing their houses, stealing their water, and subjecting them to innumerable humiliations and human rights abuses.[5] Israel has rejected many opportunities for peace because each one required the stopping of settlements and recognizing the rights of Palestine to exist in its own land. 

Thomas Are
March 26, 2013

[1] John Glasser, UN Report: Israel Must Withdraw All Settlements or Face ICC. ,,
 January 31, 2013.
[2] Philip Weiss,  Hagel Offers himself as Secretary of Israel’s defense.   January 31, 2013
[3] Pat and Samir Twair,  Two Palestinian, Israeli Documentaries Depict Evils of Military Occupation.,  Washington Report on Middle  East Affairs,  April, 2013. p.50
[4] Interview with New York Film Festival Director Richard Peria, October 17, 2012.
[5] Patrick Seale, Obama’s Appointment with History., Washington Report on Middle  East Affairs,  April, 2013. p.12