Twenty Years On: The Lies We Are Still Told
Twenty years ago, my father along with fellow American Palestinians and Jewish Americans watched hopefully at the White House lawn as Yasser Arafat the President of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Yitzhak Rabin the Prime Minister of Israel sign the Oslo Accords. Sitting side-by-side Americans, Palestinians and Israelis hoped a new dawn was born. These Americans, whether of Palestinian or Jewish heritage, willingly committed to building factories and infrastructure to help their shared dream become a reality. Within few years their investments shriveled waiting for Israel to approve their projects along with every peace initiative the US and the international community launched. Subsequently, generations of Palestinian and Israeli children who bear no responsibility for their forefathers’ wars were committed to fight against or to enforce an endless illegal occupation and siege. But why did this peace promising initiative never materialize?
To better understand the futility of past peace initiatives, we need to understand our role in allowing the manipulation of our political system, and the exploitation of our fears and painful national tragedy to advance the interests of Israeli governments, that did not necessarily reflect the will and desires of the majority of Israelis.
Since its inception Israel has carefully cultivated a web of fictional assertions and myths that helped rationalize its colonial territorial claims to Palestine. Israel’s mythical claims influenced our own perception of the Palestinians; they have impacted US domestic and regional policies; and colored the views of average Americans in ways that are counter intuitive to our own sense of justice. It is important to note that despite the web of myths that were deliberately constructed and structured to advance Israel’s colonial objectives and interests, Israel’s first president and renowned historian admitted the following: ”Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves … politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves… The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down…..to take away from them their country” (David Ben-Gurion, 1938).
Nonetheless, early on Israel and its supporters spent considerable time, energy and treasure to convince Americans to ignore facts especially those that contradict with our values. So we have become numb to Palestinians’ desire for self-determination, cries of abuse or their legitimate call to end their illegal occupation. Instead we have collectively agreed to right Israel’s wrongs.
Here is a recent example that illustrates our natural collective instinct to protect civilians and in the case of Israel our selective ability to ignore protecting innocent young victims. Today most of us are rightfully disgusted by Bashar Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. Meanwhile in 2009, we ignored to question Israel’s use of ‘White Phosphorus‘ during its Gaza war. White phosphorus is a horrific incendiary chemical weapon that melts human flesh right down to the bone. International law prohibits its use in civilian areas and as we know Gaza is the most populated area in the world where more than 60% of the population is 14 years and younger.
During Israel’s war on Gaza ”multiple human rights groups,” including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross, and Israeli and Palestinian NGOs reported that the Israeli government used chemical weapons to attack civilian populations. An Amnesty International team found “indisputable evidence of the widespread use of chemical weapons in densely populated civilian areas in Gaza” including UN run elementary schools. At first the Israeli military denied the allegations, but later admitted the use of chemical weapons- but despite our natural inclination to condemn the use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians not a whisper was heard from President Obama, the Congress, the State Department, or any other US official.
But why were we silent in the face of such horrific evidence of the use of chemical weapons against Palestinian civilians. The answer is not simple. Our silence is not due to lack of compassion or disregard for human rights, it is not because of ignorance, and it is certainly not the responsibility of one group, organization, agency, or president- in fact I am certain we all care about the plight of innocent victims- especially young innocent victims no matter where they live.
Since the very beginning, Israeli governments understood the vulnerabilities of our political system and used them to advance their own interests. In 1951 Israel found AIPAC with the help of Israel’s former foreign ministry official and UN Israeli delegate Isaiah Kenen. AIPAC became the most effective US lobbying group successfully shaping US policies and American public opinion. For many years AIPAC ensured Israel’s occupation and human rights abuses are whitewashed and also helped secure billions of dollars to fund Israel’s military and its illegal settlement enterprise.
Nevertheless, in recent years Israeli and non-Israeli researchers, historians and scholars have produced a body of work that contradicted Israel’s mythical assumptions that were once accepted as facts. As a result today the Palestine-Israel conflict is read and studied with more clarity. Israeli and Palestinian research accounts have formed a new informed understanding of the confounding calamity that has beset Palestinians since Israel’s inception. For example renowned Israeli historians and scholars verify Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians form their native lands and today the Palestinian Nakba, their expulsion and disposition is no longer disputed.
Also Israeli claims that prior to 1948, there were no Palestinians or any other native indigenous people living in Palestine has been debunked and is no longer accepted. In fact you need not be a scholar to find these facts, just a simple Wikipedia entry of “Palestinian people” you will find that “Palestinians are the modern descendants of those who have lived in Palestine over the centuries and today are largely culturally and linguistically Arab. … Genetic analysis suggests that a majority of the Muslims of Palestine, inclusive of the Arab citizens of Israel, are descendants of Christians, Jews and other inhabitants of the southern Levant whose core reaches back to prehistoric times.”
Furthermore, “a study of high-resolution haplotypes [DNA sequences] demonstrated that a substantial portion of Y chromosomes of Israeli Jews (70%) and of Palestinian Muslim Arabs (82%) belong to the same chromosome pool.” In short Palestinians are more connected to the first Jews who settled Palestine during the time of Moses than their European Jewish colonizers. Why are these revelations important? Because they refute Israel’s assertions that European Jews settled barren uninhabited empty lands.
More critically historical facts and scientific findings clearly show that the Palestinians whom Israel is hard pressed trying to colonize, rule, subjugate and cleanse are the Jewish families of a thousand years back who at one time or another chose a separate cultural and religious affiliation. Since 1948, the indigenous Palestinian natives (Christian or Muslim) who are the decedents of the Jewish people and tribes have been denied their right to their historical lands and properties. But the relevance of these facts has not been enough.
The new revelations that refute Israel’s mythical claims, or the propositions of its powerful lobby are not the only challenges Palestinians, Israelis and US advocates for the end of Israel’s illegal occupation have to overcome. Conveniently, Israel and its American supporters have cultivated a new breed of Zionists. Today the Zionist movement embraces any and all Americans who agree with its expansionist policies.
Among the most ardent supporters of Zionism are the so-called “Christian Zionists” who dedicate considerable treasure and political will for the second coming of Jesus, the final battle of Armageddon and Christian deliverance. Christian Zionists believe they must be the living instruments that will help fulfill Christians’ ultimate eternal reward “Rapture”. While these Zionists are Christian, they are heavily invested in maintaining Israel’s Jewish character and dominance over Palestinians (Christian and Muslim).
US Christian Zionists and their churches fund the collection, sending and gathering of as many Jews as possible to settle Israel and its illegal settlements, which in their theological view is a pre-condition for their eternal salvation and Israel’s ultimate destruction. Based on their interpretation of their Christian doctrine, Christian Zionists, Judaism and Israel play an intersecting role in the end times. Accordingly these Christians have no other choice but to support Israel’s policies “right or wrong.”
It is understood by both that the Christian Zionists’ strong support of Israel’s occupation is focused on hastening Armageddon. It is also well known to both that this convenient partnership ends with the punishment of the same Jews these Christian Zionists currently support. For these Christians, their precious heavenly reward has tangible suffering they are willing to carry- Palestinians for now and Jews in the future. Never mind that among those who are sacrificed are the first Christians who since the time of Jesus Christ chose to remain in Palestine tilling their ancestral lands and keeping Christendom’s first churches open to worshipers and pilgrims.
Yet despite their self-serving interest in expediting their heavenly ascension and deliverance, America’s Christian Zionists are of great value to Israel. They offer Israel grass root connections to a swath of Americans. They provide Israel with political support and a free hand to articulate its political and military objectives, and best of all they serve as Israel’s agents in every state house that help grant it Congressional protection, and cover to execute its colonial ambitions. It is important to note that Palestinian Christians who are the living descendants of the disciples reject these views and find Christian Zionists, their agenda and activities to be in complete contradiction to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Also many other Christians and the majority of the Protestant Christian denominations do not agree with the Christian Zionist’s interpretation of the Bible.
Meanwhile, the rise of Jewish American groups that counter AIPAC, and the growth of the Palestinian non-violent movement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the global support of the non-violent Palestinian lead Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign are forcing Israel and its supporters to contrive other strategies to advance their settlement policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel and its supporters have found a golden opportunity in 9/11 to endorse Israel’s expansionist objectives. Without question the unthinkable terrorist attack on September 11th has shaken every American to the core. 9/11 is seared in our national memory and the tragic deaths of thousands of innocent Americans are painfully memorialized. Nevertheless, this very heartfelt American tragedy has been used to advance Israel’s political and military objectives with little regard that this most recent unfolding strategy is damaging our national constitutional principles.
In 2011, the Center for American Progress published a well-documented report that reveled the names of a small knit group that has successfully utilized America’s shared horrific national tragedy to advance a narrow political agenda. While the casualty of this anti- Muslim campaign is to smear, spread hate and suspicion of American Muslims, Islam and Muslims at large; the objectives of this Islamophobic campaign is clear, focused and specific. According to the Center for American Progress and several other extensive reports, this American anti- Muslim alliance is fueled by love- love of Israel.
So it is not an accident that several ad campaigns sprung all over the country that call on Americans to wage war on Islam and support Israel’s objectives. These not so subtle messages have merged the love of Israel with the hate of Muslims. This multi media deliberate campaign has spread fear of American Muslims, while proposing that supporting Israel’s political objectives is synonymous with the objectives of our war on terror- here and abroad. This campaign aims to broaden US support for Israel, but its impact has been devastating to our own national discourse, resulting in considerable harm to our 225 year old Bill of Rights. It has weakened our basic fundamental rights, and US constitutional guarantees. Once we approved the abuse of American Muslim liberties, privacy and constitutional rights, knowingly or unknowingly we also agreed to suspend the liberties of all American citizens. Since 2001 American Muslims have been used to advance domestic and international initiatives that would have been unthinkable prior to 9/11.
Twenty years ago, my father along with other American Palestinians and Jewish Americans stood hopeful at the White House lawn as Arafat and Rabin shook hands promising a new dawn in the Middle East. But their hopes died soon after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin (1995) and the subsequent slow death of President Arafat (2004) on the hand of Israel. Interestingly Arafat had renounced violence and officially recognized the state of Israel- but that did not spare him. The death of these two courageous leaders sealed the outcome of the Oslo Accords and every other subsequent peace initiative. Prime Minister Rabin’s death brought the rise of Israel’s Likud party, which since its founding has stood firm in protecting and supporting Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise. Likud’s political prominence also marginalized the important work and advocacy of Israel’s peace movement. While the death of Arafat ensured the Oslo Accords gave Israel indefinite time to continue its illegal settlement building and create facts on the ground to destroy the prospects for a viable contiguous Palestinian State.
The reasons for our failure and the failure of Israelis and Palestinians to deliver the promised peace is multi fold, but chief among them is that every Israeli government since Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination has exclusively focused its efforts on building Israel’s military might and the continuation and expansion of Israel’s settlements beyond Israel’s 1948 borders-in Palestinian territories. Since 1995, Israeli governments have focused on preparing for war by employing their entire diplomatic, military, and industrial sector on maintaining Israel’s illegal occupation.
Today Israel is one of the strongest military powers in the world consumed with preparing for the next imminent war. Israeli institutions practice, drill and perpetually prepare for war- each cadre of Israeli officials became experts in their field by assuming to protect Israel by demonizing the Palestinians, justifying Israel’s human rights abuses, and its policies of land confiscation and annexation.
Meanwhile Israeli leaders have overlooked to invest any effort or learn the skills necessary to build the tools that could advance the peace, the Israelis, Palestinians, the world, and we wish to see. Peace like war needs preparation too, but Israel ignored to build the necessary formal and informal structures that could lead to collaborative trusting relations with the Palestinians they claim to want to engage. Instead they tightened control, built more settlements and tried to curtail the spread of the Palestinian non-violent movement. Israel understood well how to utilize our political system to sustain its illegal occupation and settlement enterprise and ensured it policies receive wide public support within Israel and in the United States, but it failed to prepare or advance peaceful measures with its closest neighbors. Meanwhile, Israel and its supporters were able to control debate on all things Israel with devastating effect on Israelis and millions of Palestinians- whether refugees, Palestinian Israelis, Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation, or the Palestinians enduring Israel’s inhumane siege of Gaza.
Meanwhile here in the US, we have been challenged with our war on terror, while trying to advance a path of peace for both Palestinians and Israelis. Our reflexive support of every abusive Israeli policy has its costs. We never considered that if and when we were to succeed in ending the Palestinian occupation, we could have to some measure controlled the frustration and anger that we face across the Arab and Muslim world, and internationally. Meanwhile, our political vulnerabilities have allowed the intrusion of ideas that contradict with our national character and our innate respect for human rights.
In the US it has become accepted to refute any challenge to Israel’s abuses even when they contradict with our interests or our basic humane instinct to protect innocent civilians from indiscriminate harm. Furthermore, our legitimate fears of the next terror attack has allowed the fragility of our democracy to be threatened with little understanding of how our faith, religious biases and fears were used to advance policies that disagree with our common held values of fairness and compassion.
So where do we stand twenty years later after the signing of the Oslo Accords? Israel has successfully employed all means to advance its narrow political and military objectives with little regard to our own declared policies of supporting a two state solution, or consideration of our regional interests. We have ignored the fundamental human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis in ways that are counter intuitive to our own sense of justice. Meanwhile we have endorsed Israel’s right or wrong policies with considerable damage to our world standing. We also have consented to weakening our constitutional privileges. Above all we ignored to take into account the desires of the majority of Israelis, Palestinians, and the hopeful wishes of the majority of world nations.
In the words of President Kennedy “We cannot negotiate with those who say what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.” But that’s exactly what we have continued to propose to the Palestinians, and with little power they have obliged us- but will we acknowledge the futility of this new round of peace negotiations as we continue to absolve Israel of its self destructive policies.
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