End the Occupation First
By Sam Bahour
February 7, 2009
If Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today he may well have attended President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony wearing a black-and-white checkered kaffiyeh and holding a sign saying, "Mr. President, stop the Gaza nightmare. No more false hopes and delayed dreams. End the Occupation NOW!" Civil rights leaders spent precious political capital to speak out against America's wrongdoings across the world, most notably the war in Vietnam. President Obama should spend domestic political capital to denounce Israel's domination of the Palestinians. Nothing would boost desperately needed international capital more.
Rev. King would have recognized that without unfettered US arms, funds and political cover, Israel would never have been able to inflict the level of brutality it 'proudly' inflicted on Gaza. Nor would it have been able to keep Palestinians in bondage so long.
King would have pointed to where the solution to this conflict lies: the United States of America. If President Obama is to be an historic leader, and not just the first African American elected to the presidency, he must not tolerate Israel's continued slaps in the face, from restricting President Carter's movements in the Mideast, to using US funds to build illegal Jewish-only settlements, to launching a one-sided "war" on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. He will instead deal with the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Palestinian people have been on the receiving end of the US-armed-and-financed Israeli military machine for over 60 years. This latest chapter of Israeli-sponsored state terrorism has claimed over 1,300 Gazan lives, mostly civilians, in just three short weeks. A similar Israeli attack on America would have caused over 260,000 deaths: 92 times the loss of life witnessed from the 9/11 tragedy.
Israel owes its existence to the United States. America's vote was the key to establishing the self-proclaimed Jewish State. However, Israel's existence is also threatened by the United States. Since President Truman, every US administration has indulged Israel while it has dug itself into deeper and deeper trouble. From expansionist adventures in Egypt-Syria-Palestine, to Jewish-only settlements, to caging Palestinians in their own cities and villages, America has paid the bill. To be sure, Palestinians also paid. But the ultimate cost will be borne by Israel. Its endless aggression (enabled by US warplanes, war technology, Apache helicopters, munitions, and so on) not only angers the world, but causes resistance to escalate.
More dangerous than weaponry has been America's role in demobilizing international organizations created to rein-in countries like Israel when they act like rogue nations. The two most blatant examples are the Bush administration's green-lighting of Israel's military misadventure in Lebanon 2006 and its recent crimes against humanity in Gaza by delaying UN Security Council resolutions calling for immediate ceasefires.
To stop further bloodshed, including inevitable revenge attacks against Israelis, President Obama must act immediately to create momentum for lasting peace.
First, he must stop the needless killing. It's not enough to stop Palestinians from arming themselves. An arms embargo must be placed on Israel, too. No more weapons of any kind should be sent to it. Israel has shown time and again that increasing its military might just escalates the conflict, leading to a regional arms race. The Arms Export Control Act gives the President of the United States the authority to control the export of defense articles and defense services. He should use that authority. And, in due time, he should dismantle Israel's nuclear capacity, too.
Second, President Obama must force Israel to end--totally--its 41-year military occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank (including East Jerusalem). It took Israel six days to occupy those areas. It would take less than six months to end the occupation, moving settlers violating international law back to Israel, were the will there. Then and only then can the world expect Palestinians to approach negotiations and reach final status agreements. To expect them to negotiate while Israel's boot of occupation is on their neck (especially after the recent slaughter in Gaza), is a pipe dream.
To bring into reality the dream Martin Luther King envisioned and to avoid the nightmare of a Mideast in flames (which will not spare America), President Obama must focus on leadership. There is no time for posturing or second-term politicking. It's time for him to make a historical correction that will make the world and America safe for years to come. He can begin by visiting Gaza and the West Bank for the same reason Martin Luther King, Jr. gave from his jail cell: "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here."
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman from Youngstown, Ohio who lives in the occupied West Bank and is co-editor of "Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians." He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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