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Richard Gere and the Occupied Vote


The recent election in Palestine, the first of two scheduled Middle East votes this month to be held under occupation, came complete with the humiliation and indignity that is meted out daily to the long-suffering Palestinian people. The electoral experience in the West Bank and Gaza drove home the point that if “free and fair” elections are but a cynical myth in class-divided “democracies”, then they are a complete farce for those living under the boot of military occupation.

And so there was the spectacle of Mustafa al-Barghouti, widely recognized as the closest rival to Mahmoud Abbas, being detained by Israeli security forces three times during his campaign. The harassment of a prominent presidential candidate, though, barely registered indignation in the rest of the world – it was just par for the course in the Middle East, as is the daily abuse doled out in the occupied territories.

As with the miserable spectacle that was the recent U.S. election, one point that did register indignation and a range of other emotions was the intervention of Hollywood; this time in the form of Richard Gere. Israeli-Palestinian lobby group One Voice invited the movie star — renown in recent years as much for his friendship with the Dalai Lama as for his earlier roles in An Officer and a Gentleman, American Gigolo, and Pretty Woman – to participate in a video urging voter participation in the election. One can only hope that Gere didn’t write his own utterly preposterous lines:

“Hi, I’m Richard Gere and I’m speaking for the entire world. We’re with you during this election time. It’s really important. Get out and vote” (Reuters, January 5, 2005)

One perplexed soap factory worker in Gaza, Manar an-Najar, offered a simple but effective comeback:

“I don’t even know who the candidates are other than Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), let alone this Gere. We don’t need the Americans’ intervention. We know who to elect. Not like them – they elected a moron.” (Reuters)

Though this retort reflects the justifiable disdain of the Palestinian Street for sanctimonious “star” advice from an American, the truly hysterical reactions to Gere’s pitch came from the neo-conservative American Right and other staunchly pro-Israel advocates. The despicable FrontPage Magazine was predictably out in front in denouncing Gere, labeling him “Terrorism’s American Gigolo” and asserting that the aging heartthrob was “pulling tricks for jihadist Palestinian Johns supporting terror.” (Frontpagemag.com, January 6, 2005)

So let’s leave the vitriol against Gere right there, and turn to the crux of the matter, which is not, in fact, the voter participation rate in this election for a segment of an oppressed nation so long denied its sovereignty. The key point is that long before the Gentleman Gere deigned to tackle the Middle East, the “entire world” had spoken out about the Israeli occupation, albeit from the imperfect and powerless tribune of the United Nations General Assembly. Countless resolutions have been passed by overwhelming majorities in this forum, such as, for instance, Resolutions 242 and 194, urging an end to the Israeli occupation and defending the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, respectively.

Most recently, the International Court of Justice ruling against the Wall being constructed by Israel in the West Bank was supported by a vote of 150 to 6, with 10 abstentions. Notables voting against included, predictably, the United States and Australia. Canada, to the Liberal government’s shame, was among the 10 who sat out the vote.

So while the world opposes the Apartheid Wall in the Middle East, North America’s governments take a decidedly minority position, the one admittedly more overtly pro-Israel than the other. And though they certainly aren’t the primary cause of this power relationship, the timidity of liberals and “progressives” on this continent with respect to the Middle East plays a role in the continued impunity of our governments in supporting unjust occupations.

So I’ll leave the gratuitous piling on against Gere to the Right. We can only hope that he and other self-styled progressives put a hold on any “Rock the Vote” type efforts with respect to the sham elections slated for January 30 in Iraq. And rather than ‘speaking for the entire world,’ perhaps they had better start listening. And get out and oppose the occupations of Iraq and Palestine. It’s ‘really important,’ after all.

Derrick O’Keefe is an activist and founding editor of Seven Oaks Magazine (www.SevenOaksMag.com).

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