A letter to President Obama Palestine, yes we can


The sounds of “yes we can” still ring in our ears, Mr President, but we have yet to see the changes we can believe in. That was evident when you backed down to Israel on a settlement freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. You made us believe that we can, but it seems that you no longer believe that you can.

On the matter of Palestine, many people in the world would have been happy if you had just stuck to your word.  The tragic, relentlessly abused Palestinians were ready to say, “yes we can”; we can negotiate peace again, despite sixteen years of repeated failures, if you would ensure that Israel freezes and dismantles its illegal settlement building. We would all say “yes we can” if we could see the US finally become an honest broker in such an obviously unequal conflict.

However, the summit meeting you had with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders is worse than that sense of déjà vu everyone is talking about.  We know that we have all been here before, but more Palestinians are dying Mr President, more of their land is being stolen and being built on, more of their children are suffering from hunger, anaemia and unrelieved psychological trauma, more of their painful hope is being tortured out of them by our miserable efforts to gloss over an ethnic cleansing we said would never happen again.

What are you waiting for Mr President if you cannot put at least a temporary hold on the $3 billion plus-a-year “aid” your country gives to Israel? If you cannot stop arms sales to Israel when US law expressly states they must be used for defensive purposes only, and when there is precedent for doing so? If you cannot countenance the UN Security Council reaching its own conclusions free of US veto on the charges of war crimes in the Goldstone report?  If you cannot distance the US administration from Israel’s aggression and defiance even though it hurts America’s interests?

We didn’t need a United Nations report to tell us what was so blatantly obvious, but now that we have Goldstone’s documented war crimes in Gaza, your concerns about the validity of his mandate only make us wonder if law has lost its meaning.   All this patter about moving forward without calling in the debts of horrific crimes against humanity will surely take us down a slippery slope to lawlessness – a licence for aggression – where anything goes for those in power. But what kind of power is it when you cannot stop what you have started?  What kind of power is it when you fear the people you suppress by force and terror?

As each day passes, Mr President, people everywhere believe less and less that you will change the eight awful years of neoconservative rule. In fact, they see things getting much worse. The words “yes we can” increasingly grate, as you do nothing: and you of all people could have turned the Titanic midstream. The world would have been with you, no matter how powerful the military-industrial complex that your late President Eisenhower warned Americans about, no matter how shrill the cries of some 30 million Christian Zionists salivating over End Times in Jerusalem, no matter how intimidating the Israel lobby that shamefully holds Congress in its sway to the detriment of America’s own interests.

Do you really think we don’t know that these forces are dictating our futures?

What kind of future then do you envisage for the 4 million Palestinians under occupation and almost 5 million refugees Mr President?  There is no two-state solution: it is a sham. In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Palestinians are being stripped of their homes and their farming lands while Jewish foreigners flood in from abroad to populate the monstrous complexes being built illegally on the last remaining vestiges of the Palestinian homeland. And in Gaza, people are drowning in blood, ravaged by hunger, sickness and hopelessness while they watch politicians grin and shake hands and make promises that everyone knows are as empty today as they were yesterday.  Must another generation of Palestinians watch their prison walls squeeze them in tighter while the world plays more games of pretending peace and talking about a future state vanishing before their eyes?

Be honest with us Mr President and tell us openly that you cannot fight the forces stacked against you alone. We would understand that. We do want to believe that a sense of justice will still move you to make the changes we can believe in.  Billions of people in the world are ready to carry you on the crest of a tsunami, if you would only give us more than words. Perhaps from where you stand Mr President you don’t hear how hollow they sound.

Yet, it is in that very same hollow space that more and more people can hear the keening sounds of silence from Gaza and the rapidly fading echoes of your “Yes we can”. It is not too late Mr President to give us the changes we can believe in; it is not too late to say Palestine, “yes we can”.


Sonja Karkar is the co-founder and co-convener of Australians for Palestine and founder and president of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia.   She is also the editor of the website <
http://www.australiansforpalestine.com> and has had numerous articles published in online and printed journals and Australian newspapers. She can be reached at [email protected]

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