Middle East peace talks were doomed to fail the moment President Obama finished speaking to the United Nations General Assembly.
The President’s plea for peace was undercut by a speech that reveals what Professor Lawrence Davidson describes as Obama’s “ahistorical” grasp of the reality of a brutal occupation.
As Obama spoke, it was clear that there would be no change in his bias for Israel. His usual pretense of balance was firmly in place, the painful balance the Main Stream Media and liberal politicians are conditioned to express. (Conservative politicians could care less about “balance”.)
The President’s speech was yet another of his Middle Eastern “on the one hand and on the other hand” renditions, one sour note after the other.
There is just one problem with that rendition: The upper hand in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is controlled by the side with the most money, the most guns, and the empire-building backing of the world’s remaining superpower.
Nothing in the speech displayed any awareness of what brought us to this disastrous point in history. The president gave no sign of even being aware of Ilan Pappe’s monumental The Ethic Cleansing of Palestine, which documents the meticulous Zionist plan, developed in advance of 1948, to clear land for exclusive Jewish settlement.
One year earlier, as Philip Weiss reminds us, Obama was aware of the Occupation. He spoke to the 2009 United Nations General Assembly and said:
The goal is clear: Two states living side by side in peace and security — a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.
This year, nothing about “occupation” and nothing about “contiguous territory”, only a plea for a settlement freeze and a focus on Israel’s security. Has Israel grown weaker in one year’s time? I don’t think so.
The recent re-release of a series of March of Time documentaries includes one called “The Palestine Problem”, initially shown to American audiences in the autumn of 1945.
The narrative of that Time-Life propaganda film is one that has served Israel’s purpose right up to, and including, Bibi Netanyahu’s refusal to even pause three months in his settlement-building project. Palestinians were, and remain, a problem because they inhabit land that the modern country of Israel wants for itself.
In his UN speech, President Obama continued to see the present moment as “The Palestine Problem”. He ignored the occupation and begged instead for “dignity” for all, an empty phrase for two imprisoned populations, one that is occupied and another that forces its young soldiers to enforce the occupation.
Phyllis Bennis wrote a perceptive analysis of the speech in which she pointed out that Obama “called on the international community to mobilize behind the U.S.-led ‘peace process.’ He called on the Palestinians to “reconcile with a secure Israel” and waxed eloquent on the illegality of killing Israeli civilians.”
A “secure Israel”? Reconciliation? It is not easy to “reconcile” with an army which has its foot on your throat.
At one point in his speech, the president strained for moral equivalency in the suffering of Palestinian and Israeli children.
We can say that this time will be different – that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way. This time, we will think not of ourselves, but of the young girl in Gaza who wants to have no ceiling on her dreams, or the young boy in Sderot who wants to sleep without the nightmare of rocket fire.
President Obama knows better. He reads the casualty reports; he knows that the rain of terror Israel sends into Gaza and the West Bank cannot be remotely compared to the scattered rockets fired at Sderot. He also knew his audience was aware of the faux “balance” his speech was peddling.
When President Obama spoke of the Gaza child who wants no “ceiling on her dreams”, did he even listen to the unfortunate language he used? The ceilings that concerns the children of Gaza are those in their homes which have been destroyed by Israeli air strikes.
Obama’s speech must be studied as an example of how little awareness of the reality of the death dance of occupation he displayed. One distressing example:
Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine — one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity. And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means — including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel.
President Obama, who entered office with such promise, has been reduced to the status of a beggar, pleading for crumbs from the peace table, groveling before Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu as he pleads for the empty gesture of a moratorium on settlement building.
After all that travel and all those cups of tea, no agreement was reached. Everyone lost, except, of course, Israel, which continues merrily along its way, taking $3 billion annually from its American Sugar Daddy to maintain a diabolical occupation.
Nothing will change as long as President Obama’s mindset remains locked in its current pro-Israel certainty.
There is a book just out that could penetrate that certainty, if only the President would study it. I refer to Gideon Levy’s The Punishment of Gaza.
The London Independent explains:
Gideon Levy is the most hated man in Israel – and perhaps the most heroic. This “good Tel Aviv boy” – a sober, serious child of the Jewish state – has been shot at repeatedly by the Israeli Defence Force, been threatened with being “beaten to a pulp” on the country’s streets, and faced demands from government ministers that he be tightly monitored as “a security risk.”
This is because he has done something very simple, and something that almost no other Israeli has done. Nearly every week for three decades, he has travelled to the Occupied Territories and described what he sees, plainly and without propaganda.
“My modest mission,” he says, “is to prevent a situation in which many Israelis will be able to say, ‘We didn’t know.’” And for that, many people want him silenced.
The Independent’s Johann Hari recently interviewed Levy during a tour promoting his new book. They met at a hotel bar in Scotland:
The 57 year-old looks like an Eastern European intellectual on a day off – tall and broad and dressed in black, speaking accented English in a lyrical baritone. He seems so at home in the world of book festivals and black coffee that it is hard, at first, to picture him on the last occasion he was in Gaza – in November, 2006, before the Israeli government changed the law to stop him going.
He reported that day on a killing, another of the hundreds he has documented over the years. As twenty little children pulled up in their school bus at the Indira Gandhi kindergarten, their 20 year-old teacher, Najawa Khalif, waved to them – and an Israel shell hit her and she was blasted to pieces in front of them. He arrived a day later, to find the shaking children drawing pictures of the chunks of her corpse. The children were “astonished to see a Jew without weapons. All they had ever seen were soldiers and settlers.”
“My biggest struggle,” he says, “is to rehumanize the Palestinians. There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood, and I’m a product of this machinery as much as anyone else. [We are taught] a few narratives that it’s very hard to break.
That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us? So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any questions marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard.”
Levy uses a simple technique, asking his fellow Israelis: How would we feel, if this was done to us by a vastly superior military power?
Once, in Jenin, his car was stuck behind an ambulance at a checkpoint for an hour. He saw there was a sick woman in the back and asked the driver what was going on, and he was told the ambulances were always made to wait this long. Furious, he asked the Israeli soldiers how they would feel if it was their mother in the ambulance – and they looked bemused at first, then angry, pointing their guns at him and telling him to shut up.
“I am amazed again and again at how little Israelis know of what’s going on fifteen minutes away from their homes,” he says. “The brainwashing machinery is so efficient that trying [to undo it is] almost like trying to turn an omelette back to an egg. It makes people so full of ignorance and cruelty.”
He gives an example. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel bombing of blockaded Gaza in 2008-9, “a dog – an Israeli dog – was killed by a Qassam rocket and [that news was] on the front page of the most popular newspaper in Israel. On the very same day, there were tens of Palestinians killed, they were on page 16, in two lines.”
Early in their long discussion, Johann Hari asks Gideon Levy if he is pessimistic or optimistic.
“I am very pessimistic, sure. Outside pressure can be effective if it’s an American one but I don’t see it happening. Other pressure from other parts of the world might be not effective. The Israeli society will not change on its own, and the Palestinians are too weak to change it.
But having said this, I must say, if we had been sitting here in the late 1980s and you had told me that the Berlin wall will fall within months, that the Soviet Union will fall within months, that parts of the regime in South Africa will fall within months, I would have laughed at you.
Perhaps the only hope I have is that this occupation regime hopefully is already so rotten that maybe it will fall by itself one day. You have to be realistic enough to believe in miracles.”
In the meantime, Gideon Levy will carry on patiently documenting his country’s crimes, and trying to call his people back to a righteous path. He frowns a little – as if he is picturing Najawa Khalif blown to pieces in front of her school bus, or his own broken father [a holocaust survivor] – and says to me: “A whistle in the dark is still a whistle.”
On a more positive closing note, we could soon see a development that will lift the dark clouds left by the failed peace talks. A Sydney, Australia, newspaper, reports that talks are progressing which would unite the two political parties, Fatah and Hamas, in a union that would lead to new elections in the West Bank and Gaza to form a united Palestinian government to deal with Israel and other outside forces.
Fatah’s military forces are trained under a US-sponsored “security coordination” program headed by a US officer, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton. The “security” program was launched by the Bush Administration in 2005 allegedly to help Fatah reform its security services. The initial and main purpose, however, was to develop a Fatah army that could oust the Hamas party from control of Gaza, a project which failed.
After Obama’s election, the Electronic Intifada urged the new president to replace General Dayton. Thus far, this has not happened.
The picture at top is from B’tselem; Gideon Levy’s photo above is by Ashley Combes/Epicscotland.