An open letter to President Obama,
I read your speeches to the State Department on May 19 and to AIPAC on May 22, 2011with dismay! Disingenuousness and exceptionalism form the basis of your rhetoric to appease Israel and its friends in the United States and such a stance is not conducive to understanding and peace.
Mr. Obama, you propose to “maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge” and “remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons” yet you propose a demilitarized Palestine and an Israel armed with nuclear weapons.
You “will stand up to groups like Hezbollah who exercise political assassination, and seek to impose their will through rockets and car bombs” but yet you allow Israel to terrorize, assassinate, and kill thousands of Palestinians annually.
You are “unwavering in our [United States] support of Israel’s security” but yet do not seem to be aware that it is the Palestinians who desperately need security from Israel’s aggression.
You “will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric” but yet allow Israel free reign in terrorizing Palestinians – demolishing their homes and taking more of the supposed remaining 22% of Palestine for more Jewish only settlements on Palestinian land.
I agree that “strategies of repression and diversion won't work anymore”. It is about time that you offer concrete and viable alternatives to Israel’s repression of Palestinians both in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and within Israel. Pursuing the never ending Arab-Israel peace process has always been used by Israel as additional time to expropriate more of Palestinian lands.
You “once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years” but you do not seem to care about the thousands of Palestinian men women, and children who are in Israeli prisons and who regularly undergo torture.
You say that “Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist” even though Palestinians and many groups have done exactly that on many occasions. You “will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements” but yet you do not require the same of Israel who has violated international law, countless UN Security Council resolutions, and who does not recognize Palestine as a state.
You demand that Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist. No state in the world insists on its “right” to exist. Israel further wants to be recognized as a Jewish state. This is a racist notion as it automatically relegates the 22% of its Christian and Muslim citizens to second rate status. Furthermore, only states recognize each other. Hamas is a political party and not a state.
Mr. President, why do you not ask Israel to recognize Palestine?
For all those who continually affirm Israel’s “right” to exist or who insist that Palestinians must recognize Israel’s “right” to exist and even now to recognize Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state”, I say that what is being asked is approval of the destruction of the Palestinian homeland and the continued subjugation of an entire people. It tells all Palestinians that it was “right” to terrorize, massacre and dispossess them in 1947-48. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians both within the 1949 armistice lines was deemed necessary so that a state free of Palestinians be formed. A further sequel to this wish is the continued dispossession of Palestinians both within Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
The governments of Israel and the United States must acknowledge the wrongs against the Palestinian people in forming the state of Israel. The partition plan in 1947 was against the wishes of the majority of Palestine’s inhabitants, and the subsequent deprivation of their inalienable right to self determination, to home, and country are wrongs that must be acknowledged. To continually affirm that Israel has a “right” to exist is to affirm the morally objectionable tactic of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians employed in its formation in 1948, in 1967, and continuing to this day.
You proclaim that “the United States will never abandon our support for those rights that are universal” and that you have “respect for the rights of minorities” in the Middle East; however we do not hear you ask for the human and civil rights of the Christians and Muslims in Israel and in the rest of what is left of Palestine!
You say that “prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress” but I do not hear you demand that Israel remove the separation barrier (wall/fence) built on Palestinian lands.
Mr. President, you claim that “the United States wishes to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy”, yet the United States and Israel through economic measures brought about the downfall of a democratically and fairly elected government in the Palestinian territories in 2006.
Mr. Obama, in claiming that antagonism toward Israel is used as a means to redirect Middle Easterner’s grievances away from their governments, ignores the facts on the ground. There are real grievances such as the past ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their country; the continued land grab to build Jewish only settlements on Palestinian land, contrary to international law; the brutal occupation of the Palestinians’ territories, the daily terror that Palestinian children experience particularly in Gaza; and the daily humiliation of Palestinian parents under occupation.
Mr. President, you demonize Palestinians by saying that they teach their children to hate and are terrorists but ignore the rampant hatred and racism exhibited by Israelis. On the issue of terrorism, it is Israel that kills many more Palestinians. Violence is intolerable, but both must stop the violence: Palestinians should stop resorting to stones and homemade rockets and the Israeli army should stop using its mighty and modern arsenal to bomb and shoot Palestinians including unarmed, peaceful resisters.
Mr. Obama, you think that the Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state, but at the same time you characterize the Palestinian’s wish for a country of their own as a ‘symbolic’ action and a wish to isolate and delegitimize Israel. This discordant talk betrays a lack of evenhandedness which is also demonstrated by all too frequent United States vetoes in the United Nations Security Council in defense of Israel’s flouting of international laws.
Mr. President, when will you hear the anguished cry of Palestinians yearning to be free from occupation of their country?
The majority of the Israeli and Palestinian people just want a normal life. They can be helped only with a firm commitment to the truth, to justice, and to reconciliation.
With the beliefs and statements in your speeches to the State Department and to AIPAC, Mr. President, how can you be an agent for peace?
Nahida Halaby Gordon
May 22, 2011
Nahida Halaby Gordon is a professor of statistics. Professor Gordon, a life-long Presbyterian and currently a church Elder, is a Palestinian-American who experienced, first hand, the 1948 Palestinian Nakba.