Opinion | Columnists

How long will US President Barack Obama ignore Israel’s policy of oppression?

US president has a duty to tell Americans and the pro-Israel lobby that it cannot be business as usual while Palestinians are abused daily

  • By George S. Hishmeh | Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 February 27, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Gulf News archive
  • US President Barack Obama

It is shocking that most western nations, especially the US, have failed to respond with punitive measures against the right-wing regime of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu despite Israel’s continuous attacks on Palestinian freedoms.

One recent example that apparently escaped the attention of western governments — it appeared in Dow Jones and Mondoweiss.com — is that Israel has granted a US energy firm, with reportedly strong political connections, including former US vice-president Dick Cheney, sanction to illegally explore oil and gas in the Golan Heights along the Syrian-Palestinian border.

This obvious violation comes a few weeks before US President Barack Obama arrives in Israel. Hopefully, he will take up the issue with his Israeli hosts and the American sponsors and not remain tight-lipped signalling satisfaction with the State Department’s‘terse’ initial reaction.

Israel’s abrasive conduct has been equally alarming in terms of handling the growing tension in the West Bank. Human Rights Watch has lashed out at Israel’s “abusive practice” of administrative detention of Palestinians whose offences are no more than participation in peaceful demonstrations against Israeli policy in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli occupation for 46 years.

As witnessed this week, two Palestinian teenagers were seriously injured by Israeli army gunfire during a demonstration near Bethlehem by thousands of Palestinians in sympathy with a 30-year-old Palestinian who died in an Israeli jail last weekend. The death of Arafat Jaradat, the father of two infants, was attributed by Palestinian officials to Israeli torture during interrogation — the case merits international investigation. More than 10,000 people accompanied Jaradat’s body from a hospital in Hebron to his family’s hometown in nearby Saer village.

The Israelis said their autopsy could not determine the cause of death. They promised to release a report on the death in a few days. But on the other hand, Israeli officials and media began to claim that these demonstrations were intended to influence Obama’s visit, neglecting the fact that they started months ago because four Palestinian prisoners went on a long hunger strike.

The rising tension has prompted the American Consulate in occupied Jerusalem to impose travel restrictions on US employees in the region. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also stressed: “We will not let [Israel] play with the lives of our sons” and insisted that he “will not allow Palestinian prisoners to remain in the occupation jails all their lives for things that they did not commit”.

Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Kamel Amr, stressed that a continuation of such policies by Israel could lead to an explosion in the region.

Coincidentally, two documentaries 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers, respectively portray Palestinian mistreatment under Israeli occupation and, in the opinion of Nathan Guttman of The Forward, an American Jewish newspaper, “lead to a similar damning image of Israel’s policy in the West Bank.” The two films were nominated for the Oscars and received wide American attention. Regrettably, neither film managed to win an Oscar. Some blamed intervention by pro-Israel supporters in Hollywood.

The makers of the two films “declared victory of sorts”. The directors of 5 Broken Cameras, Emad Burnat, a Palestinian and Guy Davidi, an Israeli Jew, said on Twitter: “Although we did not win an Oscar, we have shown the Palestinian non-violent struggle for freedom to the world. This is most important.”

In a separate internet message, Burnat revealed, in part, his prepared remarks had he won a much-prized Oscar: “This is a historic day for Palestine, for the Palestinian people. This is the first Palestinian film to win an Oscar. My son is the first Palestinian child to stand on this stage. We are seeking freedom and peace — for my son Gibreel and his generation. We are seeking a future without walls and checkpoints. Without soldiers. Without colonies. We want what you want: Life, Liberty. And the pursuit of happiness. We need your support and help. Remember that. Remember us.”

In another tweet, Burnat told his fellow villagers in Bilin, the West Bank village where the film is set, that “the world knows our voice and our struggle now”.

In turn, Dror Moreh, director of The Gatekeepers, which features shocking confessions by all six former heads of Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic intelligence service) about Israeli abuses, disclosed that had he won he was going to dedicate the award to the memory of late Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered as he was trying to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

After noting the turbulence in the West Bank, Dror commented: “It looks as if we might be on the verge of a third intifada and that shows us again that the conflict is alive and kicking even if people try to ignore it.”

Now that Chuck Hagel has been confirmed as US secretary of defence, Obama should not have any problem facing Israeli confrontationists.

George S.Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com

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