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November 01, 2009

Sending a Clear Message to the Muslim World

Posted in: Barack Obama,Gaza,Hillary Clinton,Human Rights,Israel

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Much of the world – and many of us – greeted the Obama adminstration as a breath of fresh air, a chance to reshape the American role in the world and reopen civil relations with the Muslim world in particular. Recent news proves how wrong we were.

Look for instance at Secretary of State Clinton’s recent travels. While in Pakistan, where we have increased drone attacks which have killed an estimated 13 Al Qaeda leaders and hundreds of civilians, Sec. Clinton spoke forcefully of Pakistan’s need to fight terrorism but apparently had no real response to the question raised by one Pakistani student:

At the Islamabad town hall meeting, a student from a university in Peshawar, a city shaken by a car bomb blast Wednesday that killed 118 people, summed up the anger over the drone attacks.

“What is actually terrorism in U.S. eyes?” the woman asked. “Is it the killing of innocent people in, let’s say, drone attacks? Or is it the killing of innocent people in different parts of Pakistan, like the bomb blast in Peshawar two days ago? Which one is terrorism, do you think?”

Clinton was tentatively scheduled to head to Afghanistan but given the election mess there, changed her plans and headed to Abu Dhabi. There she met with Fatah’s Abbas, pressuring him to reopen talks with Israel –  and to approve Israeli construction of 3,000 new settlement housing units.

Ignoring Israel’s continued evictions of Palestinian homeowners in it’s continued land grab, she completed her reversal of the Obama administration’s demands of just months ago that “the US wants to see a stop to settlements. Not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions” by calling Netanyahu’s refusal to end the settlement expansion an “unprecidented concession” and criticized instead the Palestinian’s unwillingness to restart talks.

Of course, Clinton not only did not visit Gaza but also ignored the horrific repercussions of Israeli actions there. While she was praising Netanyahu, nothing was said about the conditions his government has imposed on the people of Gaza where “10,000 Gaza residents have no access to a water network – while about 60% — about 1 million people – don’t have access to water daily and receive water only intermittently.”

Even today, the most basic commodities for life still continue to be barred by the Israeli government. Materials like wood for doors or cement for rebuilding in the aftermath of the destruction left by the last attack remained barred.

No electrical appliances, like refrigerators or washing machines, and no parts for cars are allowed. Also restricted are “fabrics, threads, needles, candles, matches, mattresses, sheets, blankets, cutlery, crockery, cups, glasses, musical instruments, books, tea, coffee, sausages, semolina, chocolate, sesame seeds, nuts, milk products in large packages, most baking products, light bulbs, crayons, clothing and shoes.” [11]

School supplies too, are blocked from entering. More than 100 trucks full of stationary are still awaiting clearance to enter Gaza. All of the 387 government-run and 33 private schools, which serve more than 250,000 students, lack essential supplies.

All of which is not surprising given our government’s refusal to press Israel on even it’s worst actions against the Palestinian people including the decision to oppose adoption of the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead.

One of the best ways to understand the Goldstone report is to view Bill Moyers interview with this respected jurist.

BILL MOYERS: I mean, there are allegations in here, some very tough allegations of Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed civilians who pose no threat, of shooting people whose hands were shackled behind them, of shooting two teenagers who’d been ordered off a tractor that they were driving, apparently carrying wounded civilians to a hospital, of homes, hundreds, maybe thousands of homes destroyed, left in rubble, of hospitals bombed. I mean there are some questions about one or two of your examples here, but it’s a damning indictment of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, right?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, it is outrageous, and there should have been an outrage. You know, the response has not been to deal with the substance of those allegations. I’ve really seen or read no detailed response in respect of the incidents on which we report.

BILL MOYERS: Why is that?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, you know, I don’t know. I suppose people hate being attacked. There’s a knee-jerk reaction to attack the messenger rather than the message. And I think this is typical of that. And of course, a lot of the allegations, I certainly don’t claim anything like infallibility. But I would like to see a response to the substance, particularly the attack on the infrastructure of Gaza, which seems to me to be absolutely unjustifiable.

BILL MOYERS: What did you see with your own eyes when you went there?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, I saw the destruction of the only flour-producing factory in Gaza. I saw fields plowed up by Israeli tank bulldozers. I saw chicken farms, for egg production, completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of chickens killed. I met with families who lost their loved ones in homes in which they were seeking shelter from the Israeli ground forces. I had to have the very emotional and difficult interviews with fathers whose little daughters were killed, whose family were killed. One family, over 21 members, killed by Israeli mortars. So, it was a very difficult investigation, which will give me nightmares for the rest of my life.

And such opposition to an evenhanded examination of what happened less than a year ago is also strong amongst Democratics in Congress.  When Goldstone’s report was issued, Kirsten Gillibrand wrote to Sec. of State Clinton calling on the administration to reject Goldstone’s report saying:

Furthermore, the report does not adequately recognize the extraordinary measures taken by the Israel Defense Forces to minimize civilian casualties, which frequently put Israeli soldiers at risk.

and the following Senators signed on:

The letter was co-signed by Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), James Risch (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Mark Begich (D-AK), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), John Ensign (R-NV), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Tim Johnson (D-SD), David Vitter (D-ND), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dan Inouye(D-HI), John McCain (R-AZ), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), John Thune (R-SD), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

On this coming Tuesday, the House will vote – and likely pass a nonbinding resolution that
charges that the report is “irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy,”

Sadly, even the innovative J Street which had seemed a source of hope in the american discussion of Israel is mostly going along – urging congress to rewrite the resolution but with assurances that Israel will never be called to the dock for war crimes.

For those of us who wish to see a more just approach to the issue, Gideon Levy perhaps says it best in today’s Haaretz:

Before no other country on the planet does the United States kneel and plead like this. In other trouble spots, America takes a different tone. It bombs in Afghanistan, invades Iraq and threatens sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Did anyone in Washington consider begging Saddam Hussein to withdraw from occupied territory in Kuwait?

But Israel the occupier, the stubborn contrarian that continues to mock America and the world by building settlements and abusing the Palestinians, receives different treatment. Another massage to the national ego in one video, more embarrassing praise in another.

Now is the time to say to the United States: Enough flattery. If you don’t change the tone, nothing will change. As long as Israel feels the United States is in its pocket, and that America’s automatic veto will save it from condemnations and sanctions, that it will receive massive aid unconditionally, and that it can continue waging punitive, lethal campaigns without a word from Washington, killing, destroying and imprisoning without the world’s policeman making a sound, it will continue in its ways.

Of course, Levy’s advice depends on the US elite actually wanting to end these crimes. Makes you wonder.



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