Invisible vic­tims

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Dr James J Zogby

Ev­ery­one made nice, when Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu came to Wash­ing­ton last week. It was make up time. The Ad­min­is­tra­tion sought to demon­strate that de­spite, what the Pres­i­dent re­ferred to as their “mi­nor dif­fer­ence” over the Iran deal, there were no re­main­ing hard feel­ings. Three-quar­ters of the Congress wel­comed Ne­tanyahu with a let­ter de­nounc­ing Pales­tinian violence and in­cite­ment. And the Is­raeli PM was fawned over dur­ing an ap­pear­ance at a lib­eral think-tank.

Be­fore, dur­ing, and af­ter the visit, of­fi­cial state­ments and press cov­er­age largely fo­cused on two themes: Is­rael’s se­cu­rity needs in the wake of the P5+1 Agree­ment with Iran; and how, de­spite Ne­tanyahu’s testy re­la­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Obama, the US-Is­rael re­la­tion­ship re­mains as strong as ever. When Pales­tini­ans were dis­cussed at all, it was most of­ten as per­pe­tra­tors of in­cite­ment and violence or as a prob­lem to be solved so that Is­rael could live in peace.

Suf­fer­ing

Pres­i­dent Obama did speak of the need to “lower the tem­per­a­ture be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans” and his con­cern “that le­git­i­mate Pales­tinian as­pi­ra­tions are met through a po­lit­i­cal process”. For his part, Ne­tanyahu stated that he re­mained “com­mit­ted to a vi­sion of two states for two peo­ples, a demil­i­ta­rized Pales­tinian state that rec­og­nizes the Jewish state”. But in the over­all scheme of things, the Pres­i­dent’s call to “lower the tem­per­a­ture” and Ne­tanyahu’s re­sponse that he was open to “discussing...prac­ti­cal ways...[to] lower the tension”, ap­peared to be “throw­away” lines - oft re­peated, but never im­ple­mented.

What was miss­ing was any forth­right ac­knowl­edg­ment of the suf­fer­ing of Pales­tini­ans un­der a harsh oc­cu­pa­tion that has abused and hu­mil­i­ated them, de­nied their fun­da­men­tal rights, and sucked the very life out of their hopes for the fu­ture. There was noth­ing new here, since the fail­ure to ad­dress th­ese re­al­i­ties has long char­ac­ter­ized US pol­icy dis­cus­sions of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

From the ear­li­est days of the Zion­ist en­ter­prise in Pales­tine, the West has por­trayed the re­sul­tant con­flict in a sim­plis­tic equa­tion - Jewish hu­man­ity con­fronting the Arab prob­lem - real peo­ple ver­sus an ab­strac­tion. Even when Pales­tinian na­tional rights were fi­nally rec­og­nized, the pol­icy dis­cus­sion shifted only slightly with the call for a Pales­tinian state pre­sented as nec­es­sary, not to free Pales­tini­ans from the night­mare of Is­raeli rule, but to in­sure that Is­rael would re­main a “Jewish state”.

There were oc­ca­sions when lead­ers de­vi­ated from this dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive. Bill Clin­ton spoke about Pales­tinian suf­fer­ing in his re­mark­able ad­dress to the Pales­tinian Na­tional Coun­cil in 1998, as did Barack Obama in his 2009 Cairo Univer­sity ad­dress and his 2013 Jerusalem speech. But in­stead of mark­ing a per­ma­nent change in our pol­icy dis­course, th­ese ap­peared to have been one-off ex­er­cises. In any case, in re­cent years, there has been lit­tle or no men­tion of the cruel bur­dens faced by Pales­tini­ans. And no out­right de­nun­ci­a­tion of Is­rael’s cruel treat­ment of the cap­tive peo­ple over whom it rules or any pro­posed ac­tion to change this de­plorable sit­u­a­tion.

Sym­pa­thy

We can talk about “low­er­ing the tem­per­a­ture”, but un­less the be­hav­iors that raise that tem­per­a­ture are called out by name, noth­ing will change. Sym­pa­thy is, of course, due to vic­tims of stab­bings. And those who in­cite such be­hav­ior should be called to ac­count for their words. But where is the sym­pa­thy for the thou­sands of fam­i­lies in He­bron who have been evicted from their homes to make way for ex­trem­ist Is­raelis who have set­tled in the midst of their city; or the fa­thers who have been sub­jected to hu­mil­i­at­ing treat­ment at Is­raeli check­points in front of their chil­dren; or the chil­dren who have re­coiled in shock at the sight of their fa­thers de­meaned in this way; or the in­no­cent vic­tims of col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment, whose only crime was to be re­lated to some­one who is al­leged to have com­mit­ted a vi­o­lent crime; or the fam­ily mem­bers of those who have died at check­points be­cause they were de­nied ac­cess to hos­pi­tals; or the 50 per­cent of young Pales­tini­ans who have no jobs, no prospect of a job, and there­fore no hope for the fu­ture?

In the end, th­ese Pales­tinian lives mat­ter and must be ac­knowl­edged and pro­tected. In the ab­sence of con­cern for Pales­tinian lives, talk of one-state or two-states is empty. In the face of the sys­tem­atic vi­o­la­tions of Pales­tinian rights, it is an abom­i­na­tion to ar­gue that a two-state so­lu­tion is needed in or­der to pro­tect Is­rael’s Jewish char­ac­ter.

Pales­tini­ans are vic­tims, invisible vic­tims. It is this history of abuse to which they have been sub­jected and the anger and de­spair it has fos­tered that has led the very young to act out, as they have. Their des­per­ate ac­tions are de­plorable and should not be cel­e­brated. They should in­stead set off alarm bells caus­ing us to re­flect on how we in the West have con­trib­uted to their anger and de­spair by ig­nor­ing them for so long. Ne­tanyahu should not have been hosted and feted in Wash­ing­ton, he should have been called out by pol­icy makers for his be­hav­ior. Un­til that oc­curs, noth­ing will change. Pales­tini­ans will re­main invisible vic­tims, de­nied their rights, and peace will re­main as elu­sive as ever.

NOTE: Dr James J Zogby is the Pres­i­dent of the Arab Amer­i­can In­sti­tute

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