The Obama Administration proved twice recently that it intends to continue to consider Israel above the law. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caused consternation amongst the US’s allies in the Palestinian Authority and across the region by declaring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intention to "restrict" settlement activity in the West Bank "unprecedented." Netanyahu’s restriction restricts very little. Three thousand housing units that are already approved will be built. Netanyahu announced plans for building a new settlement in Jerusalem, Ma’aleh David, while settlers continue their violent assault against Palestinians, intending to expel them from the city. Last week, settlers invaded a Palestinian house, backed by a court order. The US responded with a statement calling Israel’s moves "unhelpful," but did nothing to stop them.
If Obama’s first message to the Palestinians as elected president went to those living in the occupied West Bank — as president-elect he was quiet during Israel’s winter invasion of Gaza — the second was to the families of the thousands of victims of that three-week attack. Last week the US voted against a UN General Assembly resolution to endorse the findings of the Goldstone report, which calls for Israel and Hamas to investigate allegations of war crimes. Hamas accepted the report. Israel, which killed 1,417 Palestinians, 926 of them civilians, including 437 children, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, did not. The US consented to Israel’s disapproval and initiated a campaign in the UN to discredit the report. The facts in the report remained unchallenged.
The US House of Representatives condemned the report as "one-sided and distorted." In a letter to the sponsors of the resolution, Judge Goldstone pointed out gross "inaccuracies" in the resolution. It is probable that most of those who voted for the resolution, sponsored by the powerful lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), did not read the 575-page report. What’s called "support for Israel" in Congress has achieved the status of a sacred cow. Dissent comes only at significant political cost, and inevitable smear campaigns by the pro-Israel lobby. Notwithstanding these facts, 36 representatives opposed the resolution, and 22 abstained, signs that the lobby’s control of Congress may be cracking slightly. In contrast, the House was almost unanimous in its support of the Israeli offensive in January.
The US has a long history of vetoes to protect Israel from accountability. During the Nixon presidency, in 1972, the US first used its veto power in the Security Council to protect Israel. This was its second veto overall, preventing the passing of a resolution that would have condemned Israel for the killing of hundreds of civilians in air raids against Syria and Lebanon. The US has since used its veto power more than 40 times to give Israel a free hand to commit atrocities against Palestinians and the region’s peoples.
Bush Administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, defending the US’s refusal to support a cease-fire during the 2006 assaults on Lebanon and Gaza, said that "It is time for a new Middle East, it is time to say to those who do not want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail; they will not." The "new Middle East" that Rice was referring to is one where Israel can continue to occupy the land of millions, kill thousands and kidnap hundreds, all the while running roughshod over human rights and international law.
Susan Rice, the Obama Administration ambassador to the UN, is scarcely distinguishable from the other top diplomat sharing her last name. She said in an interview with The Washington Post that the Goldstone "mandate was unbalanced, one-sided and unacceptable." She justifies this statement by claiming that it was "85 percent oriented towards very specific and harsh condemnation and conclusions related to Israel."
Yet, even if Judge Goldstone had wanted to dedicate an equal number of pages to both sides, there is only so much one can write about the three Israeli civilians killed by Palestinian fighters, or of the holes punched in roofs by the home-made projectiles. The difference in power, Israel’s status under international law as an occupying power, and the catastrophe that befell a besieged population that had nowhere to flee (unprecedented in modern warfare) suggest nearly indisputable grounds for substantiating the allegations of "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity." Moreover, all that the report asked for were credible investigations and prosecution for those found to merit it. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said that Israel arrived at a "silent understanding" with the Obama Administration that a veto will be applied if there are attempts made to put the report before the Security Council following the UN General Assembly vote.
But there is a glimmer of hope that the people of Gaza will see justice. The massacre brought about sweeping change, across the world, in perceptions of Israel. Citizen-led mobilizations in the past few months have showed that where governments have failed, ordinary citizens can, perhaps, make a difference. Even in the US, where public support for Israel has been consistently high, a discourse supporting justice for Palestinians is now voiced in mainstream media. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was met with a frigid reception in a series of lectures around the country, with audience members interrupting constantly, calling for his immediate arrest. Moreover, there are signs that opposition to AIPAC’s dominance within the Jewish American community is gaining strength.
The movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) called for by Palestinian civil society in 2005 has also gained momentum, as the Norwegian government has divested from Elbit Systems as a result of its role in the construction of the apartheid wall. Last month, an Israeli deputy prime minister was forced to cancel a trip to the UK for fear of arrest. He has since announced that he will forgo all trips to European capitals.
And while the world’s most powerful governments cavil over making Israel comply with international law, their citizens do not. Some of them — some of us — are taking up the banner of the international nonviolent struggle, staying loyal to principles of human rights and international law, following the wishes of the Palestinian people. In December, we will march in solidarity with the Palestinians living imprisoned in Gaza. In December, the Gaza Freedom March will attempt to lift the siege of Gaza, as we commemorate the one-year anniversary of Israel’s invasion. From 29-31 December, we will move through Rafah and Khan Younis and Gaza City, the length of the Strip, with a host of luminaries including Alice Walker and Walden Bello. On 31 December, we will march to the threshold of the Erez crossing. The peoples of nearly every continent will be there, in Gaza, demanding that the world take action, that the leaders of the world recognize their peoples’ solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, and recognize the inhumanity of the siege, and end it. Punishing a people in this way is not only illegal. It is wrong. It is time to make it stop.
Ziyaad Lunat is one of the organizers of the Gaza Freedom March (www.gazafreedommarch.org) and an activist for Palestine. He can be contacted at z.lunat A T gmail D O T com. Max Ajl is also one of the organizers of the Gaza Freedom March and blogs on the Israel-Palestine conflict at www.maxajl.com.