Obama’s Plea for Peace Fails as Israel Continues to Build

by James M. Wall

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.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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7 Responses to Obama’s Plea for Peace Fails as Israel Continues to Build

  1. Norma Lee K Barnhat says:

    I still can’t figure out why none of this gets in the news. A school teacher blown up in front of her class? Does Obama have this book? Should we send him a copy?

  2. Cotton Fite says:

    In response to Norma’s question of why none of this gets in the news: we’ve learned many times, and are learning again, that when a particular narrative dominates a culture and there are well-oiled organizations insuring its continued dominance, stories that call that narrative into question are given short shrift.

    It’s our job to insure that the “other” narrative is heard. And Gideon Levy and Jim are doing their best to see that it is.

  3. The New Fourth Estate is reporting. I am traveling with Ken O’Keefe’s two week non-stop speaking tour through Oregon and Washington State. Salem-News.com is filming a response to the BBC propaganda piece, “PANARAMA: Death on the Med.”

    Ken began with, “I see this world as a move-able object and any sane person can see the world needs to be changed and I believe we can do it.”

    I do too. And it will NOT be Obama or any pol to bring in the change, it will be a “few, thoughtful, committed citizens” who will end the occupation and bring down The Apartheid Wall.

  4. Sam Jones says:

    Excellent and incisive posting Jim, as always. Also, thank you for citing the Hari interview of Gideon Levy, who like you, is one of the few voices in the wilderness that is not interested in equivocation, excuses, justification, or so-called “balance.” President Obama continues to disappoint regarding the conflict, recycling the same political hacks whose incompetency was proven under Clinton and again under W and same “death by incrementalism” approach. My only disagreement with the posting concerns the following quote: “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.” This is undoubtedly true in the short-term, as will be more and untold Palestinian suffering. However, if this trajectory does not change, in the long-term (or not-too-long-term) it will be our Israeli friends who suffer, having passed the point of no return towards an apartheid state. For those leaders like Gideon Levy, Hagai El-Ad, Michael Sfard, Jessica Montell, and others, this is what must be prevented.

  5. Harris Fawell says:

    Jim: I hope that you are incorrect when you write that “Nothing will change as long as President Obama’s mindset remains locked in its current pro-Isreal certainty.” It seems that you are right about that conclusion. We can only hope that the President will wake up. Certainly, he knows better. Ultimately, our country will pay dearly for what appears to be our current thinking and political bias.

  6. Robert Hannum says:

    Thanks, Jim for this account of an interview with that brave journalist, Gideon Levy. He and Amira Haas, another Israeli journalist, are two of the voices who keep our feet in reality.

    I shudder when I think of an enclave of over 300,000, heavily armed Israeli settlers, not subject to the laws and ordinances of a new, Palestinian State, living all over that new state, able to call in the IDF anytime they wish. Let them disarm, pledge allegiance to the new, Palestinian State as citizens, with Israel’s agreement to stay out of any problem which arises with any settler. Or, go home to Israel or a former country, if they wish not to become Palestinian citizens.

    Am I a dreamer or what?

  7. Rod Parrott says:

    Once again, Jim, you provide some helpful contacts and resources. I need to look up the Levy book. Thanks.

    An older one (2001) that I recently discovered is Avi Shlaim’s The Iron Wall. It helped me understand Likud’s consistent bellicosity re. the Palestinians.

    I think it is time to propose that the US suspend its support of Israel until the government “refudiates” its linkage to the radical Gush Elmunim. Anyone who has seen the older video, “Inside God’s Bunker” or read AMEU’s recent issue of The Link (on Shehuda Street in Hebron) can only marvel at the hypocrisy of sanctioning Palestinians for supporting Hamas while winking at our ally’s common cause with the hoodlums in Hebron and elsewhere. Let’s pose that to our political candidates between now and November 2!

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