When atrocities befall the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli occupiers, much of the Western world remains silent. Particularly in the USA, we await an Israeli explanation for the atrocity, often assuring ourselves that we will be offered a rational and acceptable justification for whatever has taken place. Civilians killed, for instance, when the Israelis choose to assassinate a Palestinian leader, and we are generally told that it is tragic collateral damage. The use of cluster bombs in the attack on Lebanon in 2006, and we are treated to stories about the brutality of Hezbollah. The fact is that Israel is the only power in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, and we are entertained with silence. In each case, the response is accepted as understandable, given Israel’s fight for existence.
Today the people of Gaza are victims of what both Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists correctly call collective punishment. After the Hamas/Fatah mini-civil war in which Hamas took over Gaza, allegedly because they believed that Fatah was preparing to attack them, the Israelis began a blockade (as well as military incursions) with the full support of the Bush administration. This was followed by rocket attacks on Israeli settlements near Gaza by some Palestinian military units. The Israeli blockade never let up nor did Israeli attacks on Gaza or Palestinian rocket attacks against settlements. Despite Hamas’ repeated offers for a truce, the Israeli government has turned a deaf ear, finally locking the people of Gaza into a collective hell.
When, a few weeks ago, humanitarian organizations began voicing louder and louder concerns regarding the conditions facing the people of Gaza, the Israeli government and their apologists in the USA shrugged this off. I was stunned, for instance, to read commentaries in the US media where it was suggested that, while conditions may not have been ideal, there was no humanitarian threat. When Hamas blew up the walls blocking off Gaza from Egypt and hundreds of thousands of people entered Egypt in order to get badly needed supplies, some commentators in the USA suggested that the Palestinians were really just interested in obtaining more cheap cigarettes.
As a little reminder, the notion of collective punishment, that is, taking steps against an entire people due to the actions of some, is illegal according to international law. Consider, for instance, if the USA decided to blockade and bomb Sicily due to the activities of the Sicilian Mafia (which has been responsible for the deaths of thousands through the drug trade as well as other illegal activity). What if, in addition, the USA took military action against the Italian government because it had not taken a strong enough stand against the Mafia? Such an approach would be considered absurd, but this is, in effect, what has been unfolding against the Palestinians, not just today, but for the length of the Occupation that began in 1967.
The suffering in Gaza specifically, and Palestine in general, has not been the subject of any substantive discussion in the 2008 Presidential campaign. There is a code of silence that surrounds this subject and an unspoken assumption that whatever steps Israel needs to take to ensure its survival will receive 100% support from the US political establishment. Additionally, as was in full view in the aftermath of former President Jimmy Carters best-selling book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, those who question the Israeli Occupation and the US complicity in it, are subject to vitriolic attack, and more often than not, accused of being anti-Semitic. Thus, the conditions have been stacked in most so-called mainstream circles against a reasonable discussion of a key foreign policy matter.
The continued consequences of this approach should not need to be reiterated. Despite the photo-op that took place in Annapolis with the Bush-orchestrated Israeli/Palestinian summit in 2007, little progress has been made. Israeli strangulation of the Gaza makes it politically unlikely for the Palestinian National Authority, under President Abbas, to make any significant compromises, not that the Palestinians have much more to give.
The garroting of the Gaza and the destruction of the wall separating it from Egypt actually serves as a metaphor for the larger Palestinian situation. Whether through the “apartheid” Wall created by the Israelis cutting off Palestinian territory and creating, in effect, reservations for the Palestinians; through the imprisonment of some Palestinian leaders; through the assassination of other Palestinian leaders; and through the increase in illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory, the Palestinian people are being pushed further and further to the brink.
The good news, to the extent to which there is any, is that there has been a noticeable change in the climate on the ground in the USA when it comes to discussing Palestine. The fact that Carter’s book was a best seller, not to mention the growing attention in the USA and in Europe to the need for an immediate end to the Israeli Occupation, quite possibly portends an opening toward a just resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Yet the US political establishment does not get it. Each time they attempt to silence discussion of Palestine, or pretend that atrocities against Palestinians are simply the figments of someone’s imagination, their credibility in the eyes of the world further diminishes. It is the equivalent of attempting to keep a bubble under water.
With each atrocity against the Palestinian people comes another battle cry from one or another part of the planet, not only against Israel, but against their unconditional backers in Washington, DC. And those battle cries should raise our concern.
What about this do our political leaders not understand? When will they get the wax out of their ears and the cotton out of their mouths and recognize that a different road must be taken?
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is Executive Editor of The Black Commentator. He is also a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.