Obama Meets Netanyahu
As President Obama prepares to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel has just celebrated its founding in 1948. Palestinians have also marked this event, which they call al-Nakba – the catastrophe – a catastrophe which continues to this day for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and in refugee camps in several Middle East nations. Not surprisingly, the pro-Israeli mainstream US media hasn’t said much about al-Nakba, so we begin with a few basic facts, and the reflections of a well-known Israeli who helped create al-Nakba. Since a main pillar of the continuing catastrophe for Palestinians is the massive US military support for Israel, we end by considering what Obama should tell Netanyahu.
In 1948 the state of Israel was founded upon a program of ethnically cleansing Palestinians. Approximately 711,000 Palestinians were recognized by the UN as refugees and many more were “internally displaced.” To this day, Israel has denied these refugees and their descendants their internationally-recognized right of return. A central component of the ongoing Nakba in Palestinian society includes the destruction of homes and agricultural lands in the wake of expanding Israeli settlements. Since 1967, at least 24,145 Palestinian homes and 1,405,658 olive and other trees have been demolished by the Israeli government. Meanwhile, the Israeli apartheid wall continues to cut thru the West Bank, separating Palestinians from their farms, schools and family members. Palestinian youths demonstrating at the wall are sometimes killed by Israeli soldiers. Israeli-only roads and hundreds of humiliating checkpoints have fragmented the West Bank into small, noncontiguous areas similar to the bantustans created for Africans in apartheid South Africa.
In Gaza, the Israelis have followed a police of slow starvation, immiseration and isolation, punctuated by periodic brutal military attacks, most notably the recent massacre of 1300 Gazans, including several hundred children. As we work for justice in Israel/Palestine today, it is important for us to remember how so many of today’s problems began and to draw strength from the steadfastness of Palestinians struggling for survival under conditions of dispossession, apartheid and occupation for so long.
Ethnic cleansing is still happening. Bill Fletcher, executive editor of BlackCommentator.com, writes of the Israeli government’s attempt to remove up to 60,000 Palestinians from East Jerusalem, where they and their ancestors have lived since long before the founding of Israel. “The Israeli government often reminds me of a dog I once owned. . .” http://isiria.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/ethnic-cleansing-in-east-jerusalem-is-not-a-paranoid-worry-its-happening-now/.
But the Israeli authorities’ targets are not confined to Palestinians. Increasingly, they are also targeting Israeli youth who refuse to serve in the occupation army, and those who support them. “First they came for the Palestinians, then they came for the draft evaders, then they came for the feminists,” to paraphrase Pastor Martin Niemoller on the rise of German fascism. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/05/israel-protest-feminism-draft.
The well-known Israeli peace activist and former Knesset (parliament) member Uri Uvnery thinks a growing number of Israelis are coming to understand the significance of al-Nakba. He notes the “cognitive dissonance” between his heart, which remembers the heroic optimism of Israel’s founding, and his head, which “knows that the Zionist enterprise has imposed a historic injustice on the people who lived in this land.” http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1239519715/.
So what should Obama tell Netanyahu? In one of his “inconvenient truths” during the presidential campaign, Joe Biden predicted that President Obama would undoubtedly be tested by a foreign leader early in his term. That time has come: Netanyahu is that test. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/05/obama-middle-east-israel-netanyahu.