Mr. President, I very closely followed your trip to Israel this week, and I have to say, you confused me.
You visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the most famous Palestinian of all time. The church is a United Nations World Heritage Site, listed in the UN under the “State of Palestine,” a designation you loudly opposed in front of the world. It must have felt weird to see something that everyone else says exists but you say doesn’t. I can relate. Every day I tell myself my belly isn’t actually there.
But watching from afar, I was a little confused.
I listened carefully when you gave that monumental speech in Jerusalem. You started off talking about the strong bond between Israel and America, the perseverance of the Jewish people, and their ingenuity in building a nation. You then talked about security and the constant threat of destruction that Israel lives under. You brought up Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, the usual suspects. You also sang to the Israeli audience:
You are not alone
I am here with you
Though we’re far apart
You’re always in my heart
Ok, you only said the first line, but it reminded me how much I miss Michael Jackson.
Now, you did talk to us earlier in the day in Ramallah. There you told us we shouldn’t ask Israel to stop building settlements and confiscating land before we return to negotiations about where our state might be one day. So, Israel gets touchy-feely speeches and we get asked to behave.
I was a little confused.
Then you said, “peace is necessary.”
Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.
Demographics west of the Jordan River? That means us, I think. And I think it means we are reproducing quickly. Well, without a state, we don’t have much else to do. You can only demonstrate so much in one day.
This sort of sounds like the whole “demographic threat” thing Israeli politicians talk about all the time. Benjamin Netanyahu must have given Ariel Sharon a high-five when you said this. Well, not literally a high-five, because Sharon… well, whatever.
Mr. President, we Americans live in a country where our values don’t allow us to use race to build the identity of our citizenry. But you said, “In Israel, we see values that we share.”
Forgive me if I was a little confused.
Also, I’m not sure if you noticed, but many in the Israeli audience were Palestinians. I saw a couple of my cousins on CNN. In fact, one out of every five Israeli citizens is actually a native Palestinian, and not Jewish at all. How is the whole “Jewish and democratic” thing supposed to work out for them?
Forgive me if I was a little confused.
Then you said, “peace is just.” After you stated proudly how you opposed any moves by the Palestinians to achieve statehood in the UN, you noted:
The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes… It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
It was very nice to hear about all of our rights. But what good are rights if we have to negotiate for them? What good are they if we have to wait? Put yourself in our shoes. English is technically my second language, but I think they call them “rights” because you don’t have to ask for them. They’re just always there.
Again, forgive me if I was a little confused.
Then you said “peace is possible” and that “negotiations will be necessary.” You noted that, “Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable– that real borders will have to be drawn.” Don’t worry, Israel is taking care of the “drawing borders” things. No negotiations necessary.
There was some reason for optimism. You reminded us that, “Four years ago, I stood in Cairo in front of an audience of young people.” You spoke of freedom, democracy, and economic advancement, to rousing applause and enthusiasm. That was June 2009. In January 2011, they overthrew their whole system and moved forward in a new world. I’m glad you finally gave a big speech in Israel. We Palestinians have waited 65 years… what’s another eighteen months?
Finally, before you left, you convinced Benjamin Netanyahu to apologize to his Turkish counterpart for the deaths of nine Turkish nationals at the hands of the Israeli Navy in 2010. Since you’re on a roll, could I ask you to request another apology from Israel? This one would be for 450 villages, 5 million refugees, and thousands of slain children.
Sadly, you’ll never do that. And that leaves me the most confused of all.