Wednesday,26 April, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013
Wednesday,26 April, 2017
Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

The world from behind the Wall

US President Barack Obama invited Israelis to look at the world through Palestinian eyes on his recent visit to Israel, but is he taking his own injunction seriously, asks William A. Cook

Al-Ahram Weekly

“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 their own. Living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day. It’s not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It’s not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; or restricting a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or displacing Palestinian families from their homes. 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,” US President Barack Obama said during his recent trip to Israel.

Would that the president might take his own advice — “put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes.” He need only open his eyes beyond the Wall that imprisons the Palestinians he speaks about: see how the Wall blinds Israeli Jews to the plight of the people they have driven from their land; see the barren landscape on the other side, rubble-strewn, savaged by bulldozers and missiles; see the people caught in a maelstrom of poverty and deprivation; listen to the mothers and wives weep for their husbands and sons jailed without charge in Israel’s gulag, where escape comes by self-starvation as the only defence against indefinite torture and lives lost to family and friends; listen to the cries of the people of the world who have condemned this barbaric behaviour only to run into the president’s own wall — the US veto in the UN Security Council that effectively denies the justice he so righteously exalts.

How true and how easily it could be made a reality if he were to simply abstain during the vote that sought to bring this defiant state before the International Court of Justice after 64 years of impunity and to the very justice the president mouths, as though saying it would levitate him beyond criticism.

Indeed, “look at the world through their eyes.” Let Americans look at the state of Israel through Palestinian eyes to witness the monstrous injustice that exists in this “democratic state” that “shares America’s values,” America’s only “friend” in the Middle East. Let’s look at how the Israeli government responded to the president’s call for justice for the Palestinians within three days of his visit. Let’s report on a peaceful protest that has gone unnoticed by the American press with the exception of a piece by US journalist Tim King in Salem-News: “Israeli forces have sprayed Palestinian homes in the village of Nabi Saleh with ‘skunk’ as a punishment for organising weekly protests against the apartheid Wall built on occupied West Bank land.”

While the American press offered nothing about this incident, Reuters and the UK newspaper The Guardian did so, as did the Middle East Monitor, which provided this background information: “Israeli forces have sprayed Palestinian homes in the village of Nabi Saleh with raw sewage... as a punishment for organising weekly protests against the apartheid Wall built on occupied West Bank land. Human rights watchdog B’Tselem published a video showing Israel’s armoured tanker trucks fitted with ‘water cannons’ that spray the foul fluid at Palestinian protesters. B’Tselem said in a statement that the Israeli forces also targeted all the houses of the village with the sewage. The powerful jet broke windows and caused a great deal of damage, said the Israeli organisation. It also causes environmental damage, it pointed out. The non-lethal weapon has been added to the Israelis’ armoury for crowd control, said B’Tselem, even though the video shows clearly that it is also used against Palestinian-owned property.”

How can the people of the United States tolerate such despicable and inhumane behaviour from a supposed friend? When did Americans decide that peaceful protests should not be allowed? When did Americans decide that their tax dollars should provide a state the means to shower humans and their homes in foul-smelling chemicals that literally cloaks them in an animal smell used by animals for self-protection, but used here to prevent intelligent dissent from oppressive military aggression? Literally forcing silence to prevent disagreement. These are the ruthless and barbaric actions of a state that has no respect for human rights, and it casts a pall over its “friends”, the American people, by making them complicit in such abominable behaviour. It is an insult to those who have provided an estimated $3 trillion of support for this state.

What is particularly disturbing is the fact that minds have designed this “strategy” to quell dissent, a fundamental right and duty of a democratic people. It tells us that the state of Israel does not value dissent; its newspapers can carry debates by its Jewish citizens, but it will not tolerate dissent from those it occupies or its non-Jewish citizens.

Look through the eyes of the Palestinian mother and father who have struggled mightily to maintain a home through years of deprivation; watch them see this sewage pulverise the house, breaking through the windows, saturating furniture, beds, even kitchen utensils, depriving them of forks and knives to use at dinner. What is this but collective punishment of the innocent who at worst wanted to demonstrate against the occupation peacefully? There is no self-defence here; it is rather sheer racist hatred of others, demeaning, shameful, a means to inflict uncontested force against the defenceless, the coward’s way to self-fulfillment.

No state can act in this way with impunity except Israel, protected as it is by US senators like Lindsey Graham, who had the audacity to interrogate a true patriot, senator Hagel, who had pledged his oath of office to the United States not a foreign government, because he was beholden to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). This is not the democracy Americans practice; it is a sham democracy that protects the few and emasculates those who are excluded. Democracy is inclusive. Had I not witnessed this behaviour in this decade of advanced civilisation, I would have thought that it had come from the minds of an enlightened sci-fi satirist — Kurt Vonnegut, Aldous Huxley, or George Orwell — minds capable of dreaming the impossible, couched in scenes of this savage country, or 1984. Perhaps reality has now caught up with satire.

Obama’s trip to Israel demonstrated, in the words of AIPAC, America’s “resilient friendship, based in large part on an unshakable dedication to common values. Commitment to democracy, the rule of law, freedom of religion and speech and human rights are all core values shared between the United States and Israel.” What is that rule of law that binds these two countries together that such a vicious display of animosity against neighbours should be inflicted so shortly after the president of this “resilient friendship” left the country, having asked the Israeli people to consider “looking through the eyes of their neighbours at the conditions imposed on them by the Israeli occupation”?

The Israeli government has imposed military order 101 that requires an Israeli permit if more than 10 people gather together, something similar to the “parade permits” required in the Old South in the United States to ensure that there were no demonstrations. Martin Luther King had to face that same logic in the United States in August 1963. Certainly, the current US president knows the brilliance of King’s logic that tore apart the logic of the occupiers and oppressors that had denied the rights of people who lived in a free, open and equitable land, a truly democratic land that treated all its citizens by rules of law as civilised societies must.

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown,” King said. Is not this the purpose of the president’s visit to Israel: to announce to the world that America will not tolerate injustice done in its name by its “resilient friend” that receives $8 million a day from the largesse of the American taxpayer?

But there’s more, much more, that King argued before the American government when it was forced to confront its immorality and illegality after 90 years of segregation, oppression and deceit against its own people. “I am cognisant,” King asserted, “of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly... You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being.”

How prophetic of the conditions that have yoked the United States to the state of Israel. Indeed, that state wants to forge a “security agreement” that would link its behaviour to that of the United States and literally drive US policies in concert with its own. Skunk tankers would become American tools against its own people, even as the US permits, even encourages, the lawlessness that drives Israeli policies against its neighbours whether the American people agree to it or not. Thus do Americans become complicit in the evil perpetrated by that rogue state.

Some will assert that America has had laws requiring permits to gather, to protest peacefully, and to march against the immoral actions of its local military authorities. But King demolished that logic by appealing to a human nature that knows barbarity does not and should not rule in a civilised state.

“One may well ask, ‘how can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’ Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust,” King said.

We, humans that design and implement the rules of law, do so to ensure that all are treated equally under that law; if not, we have abrogated the responsibility of civilised humans to act on behalf of all and thus have become beasts dependent on instinct and ruthless force to exist. That is not the principled foundation upon which the United States was fashioned. And while the nation did not begin its days in keeping with its principles, it never erased them, but rather attempted in time to reconcile its beliefs with the implementation of laws that corrected its deficiencies.

Well might we ask how President Obama has reacted to the foul actions of the Israeli government when it uses such despicable actions against the people it is responsible for protecting under the rules of occupation. This is what he said: “so peace is necessary. But peace is also just. There is no question that Israel has faced Palestinian factions who turned to terror, leaders who missed historic opportunities. That is all true.”

But it is deceitful as well, since it addresses only the concerns of one side, the “resilient friend” of the US. Why no mention of the Nakba, the defiant use of illegal destruction by the Jewish Agency and its armies against the legal authority of the Mandate Government charged by the international community to protect both the indigenous people of Palestine and the immigrants arriving from Europe? Why no mention of the 64 years of intentionally stalled peace negotiations that resulted in the virtual takeover of all the land of Palestine? Why no mention of the original intention of the Jewish Agency and its adherents to remove by whatever force necessary the Arabs from the land of Israel, when in fact they didn’t own it or have a “historical” right to it? Why pretend to the world that the Palestinians have been the perpetrators of terrorism, when they have the legal right to defend their homeland against illegal occupiers and oppressors?

“And that’s why security must be at the centre of any agreement,” Obama continued. But security for whom? Do not the Palestinians need security when the reality on the ground has been the theft of virtually all their land? Is this to be only security for the state of Israel against the Palestinians, when Israel has the fourth-largest military in the world and the Palestinians have no military at all?

“It has to be done by the parties,” Obama said. Certainly it is obvious to all that the United States cannot be a broker for peace between these parties. It is yoked to the state of Israel irrevocably. Only the UN can bring resolution by bringing Israel before the Security Council to determine how it will reconfigure its borders so that the state of Palestine can be fashioned legitimately and justice for all can be established.

“But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, their right to justice, must also be recognised,” he said. If this is Obama’s desire, then he has a responsibility to take action to ensure it happens. Doing nothing will change nothing. Let the 95 per cent of the world’s population that has recognised the rights of the Palestinian people (188 nations out of 193 accepted Palestine’s status as a member state of the UN) direct the process by which justice can be done.

If we look at the world from behind the Wall that imprisons the Palestinian people, we must accept the injustice that pervades the Zionist government’s treatment of its neighbours. Any law that degrades human personality, as Martin Luther King states, is unjust. What is more degrading to the human personality than to be drenched in the sewage that flows from Israeli settlements, or sprayed by the skunk they use to deny the democratic right of dissent? A just people create just laws, laws that uplift the human personality. Peace is just what the US president said it was: would that he would make it so.


The writer is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California.

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