April 19, 2002

Wake up about the Middle East

It is disheartening to see the lack of American concern for human rights violations in the Palestinian territories. Recent Gallup polls indicate that generally Americans side with Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but what is more worrisome is that most Americans believe that the United States should not be directly involved in resolving the conflict. It is time for Americans to realize their culpability in prolonging the occupation and their greater responsibility to fight for human rights in the occupied territories. I do not say this because the world's only superpower has a moral responsibility to be the world's police. I say this because it is the U.S. that directly finances Israel's military occupation of the Palestinian territories. There are countless United Nations resolutions that declare Israel's occupation illegal and demanding Israel's withdrawal from lands occupied in the 1967 war. Yet Israel obdurately refuses to implement them (case in point is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chauvinist refusal to heed Bush's and the Security Council's recent orders to withdraw immediately from all areas recently occupied), labeling them as biased against the Jewish state. This is ironic given that they are based on international law. When other countries fail to abide by U.N. resolutions they have sanctions thrown on them, as is the case with Libya and Iraq, where hundreds of thousands have died as a result of the sanctions placed due to Saddam's failure to implement security resolutions.

No sanctions have ever been placed on Israel; instead, the U.S. has steadily increased both financial and military aid to it, the latter being at least $2 billion a year. Unfortunately, many Americans are oblivious to the fact that a substantial portion of their taxes goes to finance not only the already strong Israeli economy, but the Apache helicopters, F-16s, and other military weapons that have been ubiquitously used against the Palestinian population throughout the current Intifada. Many will say that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are not out to attack civilians; the goal is to eradicate the "terrorist infrastructure." This is far from the truth. Yes, suicide bombings are reprehensible, but one cannot just condemn them and put the onus solely on the besieged Arafat to stop the activities of militant groups while turning a blind eye to Israel's deliberate targeting of unarmed civilians and other human rights violations. Over the past few weeks, we have watched Sharon, in his supposed "campaign against terrorism," completely destroy the fledgling Palestinian society. One needs only to visit Jenin to see the wanton destruction committed by the IDF. The center of the refugee camp has been flattened by bulldozers, the stench of corpses reeks everywhere, and bodies are still missing under the rubble. Already, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Society have located charred bodies of women and children, and those who were once refugees have once again become refugees.

The international media and human rights organizations have routinely documented the flagrant violations committed by the Israeli military for years. There is comprehensive evidence that Israeli soldiers have deliberately targeted innocent civilians, destroyed homes and crops, and placed curfews and military closures of entire towns and cities in order to terrorize the population in what is otherwise known as "collective punishment." The philosophy behind these tactics has been that if Palestinian society gets sick of suffering because of the activities of militant groups, then it will turn against them and make the Israeli occupation much easier. Americans must know that not only are their taxes supplying the weapons used to maintain an illegal occupation that constantly dehumanizes and deprives Palestinians of their legitimate rights to freedom and self-determination, but that it is being done against a U.S. law that forbids the government from supplying arms to a country that will use them in situations other than a war between two states, and it specifically forbids the supply of arms to an entity that uses them to occupy another population.

Many Americans are now realizing these facts and are taking responsibility to protest human rights violations in the territories. They are labeled as "Pro-Palestinians" and are often faced with a powerful opposition that "stands with Israel" and uses slogans such as "Israel and the U.S. are together in the fight against terror." The "Pro-Palestinians" are often claimed as being anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli for their condemnations of the Israeli government's actions in the territories. This is propaganda designed to rally Americans to continue to give unbridled for support Israel. It is very deceitful to conflate sympathy for Palestinian suffering under occupation with being anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli. One can support the existence of the Israeli state while at the same time reprimanding its abhorrent activities in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. A case in point: On April 15, as thousands of pro-Israeli supporters gathered on Capitol Hill, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz, addressing the crowd, reminded people that there are also innocent Palestinians suffering. He was immediately and aggressively booed down. Is it blasphemy to acknowledge that the Israeli state has committed crimes against civilians? Or must people become indifferent to the daily suffering and humiliation of millions of Palestinians because of the actions of suicide bombers?

Thus, one may ask, "What is the solution?" There is no simple answer, but one thing that is for sure is that the occupation must end. Even if borders and the implementation of the refugees' right of return must be negotiated upon, the Israelis must withdraw from the territories. They have corroborated the adage that there is no such thing as a just occupation. The moment you attempt to occupy a people against their will, not only will you oppress and dehumanize them, as seen in the Palestinians' resorting to suicide bombings as a military tactic, and thus you will also dehumanize yourself. The Israelis claim to have pride in freedom and democracy while a few miles away Israeli soldiers persistently cut off water and electrical supplies to entire Palestinian cities and villages, humiliate Palestinians at checkpoints, and often indiscriminately kill unarmed civilians.

Human rights activists and numerous governments have repeatedly called for international observers to go to the territories. But the U.S. has constantly used its veto powers to deny this request that would separate the occupiers from the occupied. These are reasons why Americans cannot continue to ignore the conflict in the Middle East and their moral responsibility to stop the U.S. government from allowing human rights violations to continue through its financial and diplomatic support for Israel. If the reader has any doubt about any accusations I have made, he or she just needs to check with Amnesty International and B'Tselem, or listen to Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, who has been trying in vain for the past month to get Israel to allow a fact-finding mission amidst the recent Israeli incursions in the territories.

The occupation has left an indelible scar on every single Palestinian man, woman, and child, as well as the Israeli soldiers who have become dehumanized themselves as a result of their oppressive tactics. This is neither an anti-Israeli nor an anti-Semitic diatribe. This is a simple call for people to support human rights and justice, so that Palestinians and Israelis may live in peace.