Uri Avnery on Obama’s Visit to Palestine

This Avnery piece is to me the most accurate analysis of Obama’s visit I’ve read:

In Their Shoes

OBAMA IN ISRAEL: Every word right. Every gesture genuine. Every detail in its place. Perfect.

Obama in Palestine: Every word wrong. Every gesture inappropriate. Every single detail misplaced. Perfect.

IT STARTED from the first moment. The President of the United States came to Ramallah. He visited the Mukata’a, the “compound” which serves as the office of the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

One cannot enter the Mukata’a without noticing the grave of Yasser Arafat, just a few paces from the entrance.

It is quite impossible to ignore this landmark while passing it. However, Obama succeeded in doing just that.

It was like spitting in the face of the entire Palestinian people. Imagine a foreign dignitary coming to France and not laying a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Or coming to Israel and not visiting Yad Vashem. It is more than insulting. It is stupid.

Yasser Arafat is for the Palestinians what Gorge Washington is for Americans, Mahatma Gandhi for Indians, David Ben-Gurion for Israelis. The Father of the Nation. Even his domestic opponents on the left and on the right revere his memory. He is the supreme symbol of the modern Palestinian national movement. His picture hangs in every Palestinian office and school.

So why not honor him? Why not lay a wreath on his grave, as foreign leaders have done before?

Because Arafat has been demonized and vilified in Israel like no other human being since Hitler. And still is.

Obama was simply afraid of the Israeli reaction. After his huge success in Israel, he feared that such a gesture would undo the effect of his address to the Israeli people.

THIS CONSIDERATION guided Obama throughout his short visit to the West Bank. His feet were in Palestine, his head was in Israel.

He walked in Palestine. He talked to Palestine. But his thoughts were about the Israelis.

Even when he said good things, his tone was wrong. He just could not hit the right note. Somehow he missed the cue.

Why? Because of a complete lack of empathy.

Empathy is something hard to define. I am spoiled in this respect, because I had the good fortune to live for many years near a person who had it in abundance. Rachel, my wife, hit the right tone with everyone, high or low, local or foreign, the old and the very young.

Obama did so in Israel. It was really amazing. He must have studied us thoroughly. He knew our strengths and our weaknesses, our paranoias and our idiosyncrasies, our historical memories and dreams about the future.

And no wonder. He is surrounded by Zionist Jews. They are his closest advisors, his friends and his experts on the Middle East. Even from mere contact with them, he obviously absorbed much of our sensitivities.

As far as I know, there is not a single Arab, not to mention Palestinian, in the White House and its surroundings.

I assume that he does receive occasional briefings about Arab affairs from the State Department. But such dry memoranda are not the stuff empathy is made of. The more so as clever diplomats must have learned by now not to write anything that may offend Israelis.

So how could the poor man have possibly picked up empathy towards the Palestinians?

THE CONFLICT between Israel and Palestine has very solid factual causes. But it has also been rightly described as a “clash between traumas”: the Holocaust trauma of the Jews and the Naqba trauma of the Palestinians (without suggesting equivalence between the two calamities.)

Many years ago in New York I met a very good friend of mine. He was an Arab citizen of Israel, a young poet who had left Israel and joined the PLO. He invited me to meet some Palestinians at his home in a suburb of New York. His family name, by the way, was the same as Obama’s middle name.

When I entered the apartment, it was crammed full with Palestinians – Palestinians of all stripes, from Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, the refugee camps and the Diaspora. We had a very emotional debate, full of heated arguments and counter-arguments. When we left I asked Rachel what, to her mind, was the most outstanding common sentiment of all these people. “The sense of injustice!” she replied without hesitation.

That was exactly what I felt. “If Israel could just apologize for what we have done to the Palestinian people, a huge obstacle would have been removed from the road to peace,” I answered her.

It would have been a good beginning for Obama in Ramallah if he had addressed this point. It was not the Palestinians who killed six million Jews. It was the European countries and – yes – the USA which callously closed their doors to the Jews, who were desperately trying to escape the lot awaiting them. And it was the Muslim world which welcomed hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing from Catholic Spain and the inquisition some 500 years ago.

OUR CONFLICT is tragic, more than most. One of its tragedies is that neither side can be entirely blamed. There is not one narrative, but two. Each side is convinced of the absolute justice of its cause. Each side nurses its overwhelming sense of victimhood. Though there can be no symmetry between settlers and natives, occupier and occupied, in this respect they are the same.

The trouble with Obama is that he has completely, entirely, totally embraced one narrative, while being almost completely oblivious to the other. Every word he uttered in Israel gave testimony to his deeply-rooted Zionist convictions. Not just the words he said, but the tone, the body language, all bore the marks of honesty. Evidently, he had internalized the Zionist version of every single detail of the conflict.

Nothing like this was in evidence in Ramallah. Some dry formulas, yes. Some honest efforts to break the ice, indeed.  But nothing that touched the hearts of the Palestinians.

He told his Israeli audience to “put yourselves in the shoes of the Palestinians”.  But did he do so himself? Can he imagine what it means to wait every night for the brutal banging on the door? To  be woken by the noise of bulldozers approaching, wondering whether they are coming to destroy your home? To see a settlement growing on your land and waiting for the settlers to come and carry out a pogrom in your village? Being unable to move on your roads? To see your father humiliated at the road blocks? To throw stones at armed soldiers and brave tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and sometimes live ammunition?

Can he even imagine having a brother, a cousin, a loved one in prison for many, many years because of his patriotic actions or beliefs, after facing the arbitrariness of a military “court”, or even without a “trial” at all?

This week, a prisoner called Maisara Abu-Hamdiyeh died in prison, and the West Bank exploded in rage. Israeli journalists ridiculed the protest, stating that the man died from a fatal disease, so Israel could not be blamed.

Did any of them imagine for a moment what it means for a human being to suffer from cancer, with the disease slowly spreading through his body, deprived of adequate treatment, cut off from family and friends, seeing death approaching? What if it had been their father?

THE OCCUPATION is not an abstract matter. It is a daily reality for two and a half million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – not to mention the restrictions on Gaza.

 It does not concern only the individuals practically denied all human rights. It primarily concerns the Palestinians as a nation.

We Israelis, perhaps more than anyone else, should know that belonging to one’s nation, in one’s own state, under one’s own flag, is a basic right of every human being. In the present epoch, it is an essential element of human dignity. No people will settle for less.

The Israeli government insists that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the “Nation-State of the Jewish People”. It adamantly refuses to recognize Palestine as the “Nation-State of the Palestinian People”. What is Obama’s position on that?

FOLLOWING THE visit, Secretary of State John Kerry is now working hard to “prepare the ground” for a “resumption” of the “peace talks” between Israel and the PLO. Many quotation marks for something so flimsy.

Diplomats can string together hollow phrases to conjure up the illusion of progress. That is one of their main talents. But after a historic conflict lasting some 130 years, no progress towards peace between the two peoples can be real, if there is no equal respect for their national history, rights, feelings and aspirations.

As long as the US leadership cannot bring itself to that point, the chance of its contributing to peace in this tormented country is close to nil.

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4 Responses

  1. Poo says:

    Obama and Avnery have much in common. They can go on, and on and on but in the end say little. They both look good doing it too. Obama is an empty shirt whose head and heart are in Hollywood. He has no taste for the Middle East as his “legacy” will not be served by more failure. It’s far better to get a movie out! At least Avnery, boring and repetitive as he is, will not bankrupt Israel. The voters never gave him the chance. He should have run in the U.S. Obama would have given him a cabinet post!

    “Yasser Arafat is for the Palestinians what George Washington is for Americans.” Well that explains it all. Heroes like that chillingly demonstrate why the Palestinians will accept no peace plan that includes the existence of an Israeli state. Who can negotiate with someone who only wishes you harm, even death?

    Inspired, no doubt, by their “hero” Arafat, the Palestinians constantly name streets, squares, camps and schools after suicide bombers. Nice. Do you think these children will grow up to be peace loving negotiators? Hah!

    Parliamentarian and the most revered parent in Palestinian society, Mariam Farhat of Gaza, was known as the “Mother of the Struggle.” Never to be mistaken for Mrs. Cleaver and her boys Wally and the Beaver or Steven Douglas, raising ‘My Three Sons’, Ms. Farhat gave her three sons as martyrs to the cause. One was brave enough to launch a suicide attack by shooting up and throwing grenades about in a room full of Jewish students. Wow. I wonder if his two brothers died equally “heroically?” In fairness, it is more than Arafat ever did. No suicide raids for this “hero.” Am I the only one that finds it ironic that those encouraging suicide never pursue it themselves? Greatly mourned on her passing, Ms. Farhat wished only that she had “100 boys” like her schoolroom “hero” to “sacrifice for the sake of God.” I guess the other two achieved less than the murder of school children. Oh the shame. And spare me this “God” too while your at it.

    So what exactly have the Palestinians achieved as a nation state since the Oslo Accords put Gaza and the West Bank in their grasping yet incapable hands? Are there new roads or hospitals? Where is the basic infrastructure that all legitimate states provide for their citizens? True, they have created a war industry to build rockets they can cowardly launch from civilian rooftops and schoolyards. True they now have billions of well meaning but naïve international tax payer’s dollars in Swiss bank accounts. Is this illegitimate savings plan what the underserved and ill used population truly admires? Or do they admire the deceit involved in acquiring it? You get the government you deserve, I suppose.

    Happily Canada, where I pay my taxes, is currently reconsidering our $300 million donation to Palestine. We have not agreed to sign up again for such folly. The negotiations continue. I hope they stop. There is a growing sentiment against it. Full disclosure, I’m not Jewish. I just object to my tax dollars being abused by tin pot dictators, tribal chiefs and bomb building terrorists anywhere in the world. Have heart rocket builders. We’re all for meaningful work. We’ll give in. We always do.
    But the time is fast approaching when we will withdraw from all fiscal nonsense in the Middle East and elsewhere too.

    As I go to great pains to point out and Avnery goes to opposite yet equal pains to ignore, the Israelis accepted the 1947 U.N. partition of British Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. The Arabs, of course, said no and have consistently rejected every peace offer that leaves a Jewish state anything but rubble. Their “hero” Arafat said no at Camp David in 2000 and again at Taba in 2001. Mahmoud Abbas walked away from an offer that would have given the Palestinians a state on all of the West Bank with its capital in a shared Jerusalem. Share? Share? Unfair! Unfair! Its occupation!!! We do not share. They learn this in school. What’s mine is mine and what’s Israel’s is mine too. The only consistent policy ever put forward by the Palestinians is “No” to peace plans for over seven decades.

    Even a disinterested Obama knows there will be no successful peace talks on his watch. Israel cannot make any concessions while their neighbors are in such a state of upheaval and violence. The Muslim Brotherhood will soon run out of Coptic Christians to torture and will need someone else to blame for the ruination of once proud Egypt. Can you spell Israel? Then there is Hamas still importing, making and firing rockets from Gaza, Hezbollah claiming some 50,000 missiles aimed at Israel not to mention the civil war running rampant in Syria attracting Jihadists from all over and, if that weren’t enough, Iran keeps threatening to nuke Tel Aviv and Haifa. Whew. That’s quite a list. All we’ve got on our border is the U.S. and we like them. It’s a bad time for Israel to be making any deals. Who would you trust amongst the tawdry group listed above? For the record, I vote none.

    Then, of course, there is Abbas who has shown Obama and everyone else that he has no real interest in negotiating anything. Mind you, he has little to no support in Gaza but that is beside the point. He is supported by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) comprising some 120 members and 17 observer countries all with their hands out. Some have both hands out. Even when Israel foolishly undertook a 10 month settlement freeze, Abbas waited nine months to show up for talks and then walked out. He never returned. Ho hum. I guess after 9 months he expected a baby.

    The settlements have never been an obstacle to peace talks or any peaceful solution. Nor do they imprison or force occupation. Even Obama knows that the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Palestine “are the core issues.” Good Grief! Even Obama knows!!! How much simpler can it get?

    But it is to the advantage of Hamas leadership to perpetuate the myth that Palestinian misery and statelessness are the fault of Israel and the settlements rather than their own hapless government. I appreciate the use of “government” in the same sentence as “Hamas” does a great disservice to the word “hapless” but there you have it. Even Obama knows that any peace agreement that produces a Palestinian state will remove every settlement that sits on its territory. Duh! Any settlement that infringes on the agreed Palestinian border will be razed. As long as there is a substantive and enforceable guarantee of Israeli security the settlement issue is resolved. Double Duh!

    Will peace finally arrive? Hell no. Neither Hamas, nor Hezbollah, nor Abbas nor even the Muslim Brotherhood can allow it. With peace comes responsibility. Who would ever want that as long as there is an Israel to blame for their incompetence and a world willing to make it rain dollars to be squirreled away for personal use?

    Avnery would do his fallacious arguments some good if he weighed rockets against bulldozers. He might also consider what he no doubt knows better than I. There has been a Jewish presence in the Middle East for over 4,000 years. The Arabs and the Jews once got along famously sharing much both in their cultures and religions. But that was then. This is now. The only glimmer of hope might lie in the fact that the 2 parties got along for much longer than they fought. Not much I admit, but it’s a glimmer all the same.

  2. Rochelle Owens says:

    Poo’s arguments
    are historically correct and compassionate
    –A righteous gentile.
    Too many Jews are willing to bash Israel
    just to be left alone.

  3. Icebox Plum says:

    Poet approves Poo

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