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Obama should choose morality over self-interest

The US president must do the right thing and condemn Israel's actions rather than seek to prolong his political career

Image Credit: Illustrations: NIÑO JOSE HEREDIA/©Gulf News
Obama isn't doing the US any favours either. At least two of his top military commanders have said that America's perceived bias in favour of Israel is endangering US interests and the lives of American troops throughout the Middle East.
Gulf News

Words fail me when it comes to describing how I feel about Israel's murder of civilians in international waters. There were over 600 men, women, children and a one-year-old infant on the Mavi Mamara — one of six aid ships sailing to Gaza under the banner of the Free Gaza Movement in hopes of breaking the cruel, illegal blockade.

Their only weapons were their kind hearts. Their only intention was to cast a spotlight on the terrible plight of 1.5 million souls confined to the world's largest open-air prison. Yet Israel sent its naval vessels and zodiacs to surround them before its elite commandos dropped out of helicopter gunships when nine unarmed activists were killed and dozens injured. One female passenger described the scene as a "river of blood".

The French foreign minister said he was "shocked", but we have come to expect this barbaric behaviour from the Jewish state.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed rage. His fury is understandable, but what use is verbalising anger if Israel is allowed to get away with such atrocities time and time again? It's just like shouting at the wind. What is needed is concerted international action.

Propaganda

Even before the captured flotilla had docked at the Israeli port of Ashdod, Israel's slick propaganda machine was put into gear. They weren't peace activists but terrorists with links to Hamas and Al Qaida, said one Israeli official, which is laughable when one considers they have all now been released without charge and sent back to their home countries.

They were armed with guns and planned to attack our soldiers, said another, which proved to be a blatant lie when all that was shown to the press were slingshots, marbles, scissors and metal bars; items that the besieged passengers used to defend themselves.

Perhaps the greatest insult to our intelligence is this: Israel claims that it was within its rights to infringe Turkish sovereignty in international waters by killing its citizens and seizing its vessels together with those sailing under the flags of other countries.

This was not only a gross infringement of international law but also an act that could be interpreted as an act of war. Just imagine if the shoe had been on the other foot and Turkey had seized Israeli vessels and shot Israeli civilians!

Israel had not been attacked by any of the ships. Its territorial waters had not been penetrated. Besides, its ally Turkey had thoroughly checked the boats' cargo for weapons.

Therefore, Israel's assertion that it was acting in self-defence rings hollow. In reality, Israel wasn't defending its citizens. It was defending its much condemned policy of stripping the people of Gaza of their God-given freedom.

Thankfully, on this occasion, the international community isn't falling for Israel's spin. The backlash from European, Arab and Asian nations was instant. The EU and the UN loudly condemned the incident.

Several countries summoned Israeli ambassadors; others called for an end to Gaza's strangulation. An emergency session of the UN Security Council was held when Turkey, Lebanon and the Palestinian National Authority drafted a strong condemnation urging an independent probe into what took place.

But, as we might have anticipated, Israel's ally the US — a veto-holding permanent member of the Security Council — negotiated with Turkey to deprive the statement of its bite.

How the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must have chuckled when he heard that the UN expects the perpetrator Israel to investigate itself! This is tantamount to asking an accused convict to be his own policeman, judge and jury.

Following President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo a year ago when he reached out to the Arab and Muslim world, this region dared to hope that, at last, here was an American leader who was prepared to be even-handed and fair-minded.

In fact, all his grand promises have come to naught. The Israelis are still expanding illegal colonies on the West Bank, still constructing an illegal ‘apartheid wall' on Palestinian land and still show no real interest in discussing a Palestinian state.

The US president has shown only a certain coolness towards Netanyahu, who, during his last visit to the White House, was deprived of the usual joint press conference and photo-ops.

In response, Obama faced a barrage of criticism from the notoriously pro-Israel Congress as well as from members of his own Democratic Party. Netanyahu's scheduled visit to Washington this week was meant to repair the damage.

With mid-term elections coming up in November, Obama is wary of upsetting the powerful pro-Israel lobby which can make or break political careers.

President Obama is fond of quoting the man who was arguably America's greatest leader, Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he is a long way from approaching that great man's stature.

Lincoln stood up against slavery when it wasn't politically fashionable to do so. He was a person who put integrity and truth before personal benefit. On the other hand, President Obama refuses to condemn Israel's crimes on the high seas or on Palestinian territory for fear of risking his re-election chances.

If Obama stands firm and does right, he actually improves his chances to win re-election. When George H.W. Bush had a showdown with Israel over colonies, he had 90 per cent public approval.

With an approval rating hovering around a low of 46 per cent, Obama is unlikely to achieve a second term in office. He should summon the courage to stand up to the Israeli gangsters, who are leading his country and the rest of the world by the nose.

He may be uncomfortably positioned between two feuding US allies but as Prime Minister Erdogan has said, he isn't expected to choose between Turkey and Israel but between right and wrong.

Counterproductive

Obama isn't doing the US any favours either. At least two of his top military commanders have said that America's perceived bias in favour of Israel is endangering US interests and the lives of American troops throughout the Middle East.

By contrast, the Turkish prime minister should be applauded for his humanitarian concerns for the residents of Gaza and his willingness to speak out against the Israeli pirates to the point of endangering Israeli-Turkish relations and alienating Washington.
 
In recent times, Erdogan has stood firmly against Israeli onslaughts on Gaza and has proved to be fearless when it comes to calling a spade a spade.

It's embarrassing that the only regional leader to staunchly defend the Palestinians is a Turk. Where are the Arabs? Yes, Egypt temporarily opened the border between Rafah and Gaza.

Yes, the Arab League held an emergency meeting of Foreign Ministers last Wednesday, but to what end? Will they send ships to pierce the blockade? Will those countries which have signed peace treaties with Israel seek to end them? I think not.

Instead, they have decided to take Israel before the International Court of Justice and have promised to break the siege by all means. Fine talk, but will it be translated into action? Let's see!

Khalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group.

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