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Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama have one thing very much in common: both of them have nearly the same vision for the future of “Palestine”. They may not recognize it yet, but sooner or later, whether Netanyahu remains in power or is replaced by someone who speaks Dove-Liberalese better, they will shake hands and agree that the only thing that really separated them in the early months of President Obama’s administration was semantics: the language each man used to describe what he saw for the future of Palestine, or “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” –a phrase that suggests there are two sides each with a grievance that equals or cancels out the other’s and that makes a just resolution so difficult to formulate.
How deeply have we been indoctrinated.
If President Obama’s speech in Cairo signified anything, it was that the likelihood of a dramatic shift in United States’ policy toward Israel in the coming years is almost nil. The rejectionist framework in which both states have pursued their policies for the past 33 years – or since the 1976 UNSC resolution that first acknowledged Palestinian national rights within the context of two states—is slated to continue. If Obama clarified anything in his lengthy, often patronizing, often obsequious speech in Egypt – a country whose leader epitomizes the tyrannical and repressive regimes so often the primary recipients of massive US foreign aid for doing as they are told – it was the fact that no threat to the status quo of the Bush-Clinton-Bush decades is waiting in the wings.
One would never know this by the responses of often much more acute observers of Middle East regional and global affairs. Their responses of praise and excitement over the bold new President and his willingness to challenge the pro-Israel camp in the US owe much to the success of mass marketing and public image-creation that went into the brilliant Obama campaign; one that has brought to us the bona-fide New American Century promised earlier but left undelivered until now: at last we have someone who will liberate us from the scourges of unwanted wars and conflicts; who will restore the lost glory of the “City on the Hill”, that beacon of humanitarian grace and nobility known as the United States of America whose exceptional history sets us apart from the barbarism and depravity of other civilizations.
In broaching the subject of Palestine, Obama reminds us first of the “unbreakable” bond of friendship and interests that tie together Israel and the United States; of the importance of remembering the past history of suffering and persecution as the primary justification for the establishment of a Jewish ‘homeland’. Of course, we must not forget the Palestinian Muslims and Christians who suffered ‘dislocation’ for 60 years, or since the establishment of this Jewish State, and who also long for a homeland. Their suffering, Obama correctly describes, is ‘intolerable.’ He is able to state this, however, because it underscores the political necessity of the two-state vision he intends to implement, one that differs only minimally from the ‘no Palestinian state’ vision of his Israeli counterpart, Binyamin Netanyahu. In the reductive historical context Obama then provides us with in which Israel has suffered from “hostility and attacks” from “within its borders and well as beyond” (Where might “Palestine” be in all this area?) the only solution is the one the US and Israel alone have been rejecting for the past 61 years, namely, two states for two people. What is new and innovative in Obama’s vision is that the ‘two-state solution’ he is aiming for will now conform to the ‘no-Palestinian-state’ requirement of the revisionist Jewish State since Jabotinsky’s day; a solution that Netanyahu and his predecessors (in Israel and the US) have fostered for so long and with such care.
Obama’s brilliance in embracing the self-same rejectionist stance of his predecessors, by employing the language of the two-state solution, is equaled only by Netanyahu’s honesty in rejecting any such reality. For Obama, the Palestinian State he seeks to create can be fostered by Israel’s willingness to cease any further settlement construction. Obama makes it clear that “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” These settlements? What about the ones already existing? The ones that have utterly destroyed the territorial integrity of the West Bank over the last four decades? The ones comprising half a million illegal Jewish settlers – and growing – that are completing the annexation of East Jerusalem as I write; that are serving to justify continued home demolitions on a near daily basis; that have systematically and methodically displaced the people who have lived on this land for millennia? Where is Obama’s plan to restore these people to their land?
Obama goes on to insist on a return to the Road Map, the very document Ariel Sharon’s government rendered meaningless almost immediately by adding 14 ‘reservations’ to it; conditions that maintain the status quo: the cantonization of the West Bank into a series of disconnected ‘island’ villages and towns; the de facto annexation and militarization of the Jordan Valley; the encirclement of the economy-stripped Palestinian enclaves by the annexation wall whose boundaries incorporate the theft of the best agricultural land and resources in Palestine for Israeli use only. The status quo grid of interstate, “Jewish only” highways connecting the settlement blocs to Israel so that they are inseparable and indeed indistinguishable from the Jewish state itself will not be upset. The maintenance and legitimization of the major settlement blocs in historic Palestine, securing its weakness and fragmentation, is guaranteed to proceed unchallenged unless or until unified national or regional resistance, with the critical support of the American public, can force the facts on the ground to change.
The Palestinian ‘islands’ will remain demilitarized; they will be surrounded by military checkpoints, watchtowers and roadblocks. The Gaza Strip will remain under siege, permanently disconnected from the “West Bank” until the democratically elected Hamas leadership is either wiped out, assassinated to the point of being completely ineffectual, or voluntarily steps down to make room for the Palestinian Authority under Israeli command. Where are Obama’s demands that the racist, colonial-settler state infrastructure be dismantled so that a viable, sovereign Palestinian state with territorial contiguity, national unity and economic viability can succeed?
Reading on in Obama’s speech we find that he (rightly) condemns the resort to violence by Hamas, the party that rules in Gaza whether we recognize it or not. In particularly harsh language he excoriates those who would “shoot rockets at sleeping children, or … blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered. Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build.”
What about what Israel can build –rather than what it can obliterate unopposed? What about the three quarters of a million children of Gaza who were unable to sleep normally during the nightly aerial bombardments of Gaza for three weeks on end; whose trembling bodies were immune to the embraces and desperate attempts at consolation by their parents, themselves terrified as their children asked, “Are they going to kill us?” What about the illegal use of white phosphorous on the densely populated neighborhoods of Gaza City and beyond? The cluster bombs and fleschettes? The rocketing, fire-bombing and bulldozing of entire neighborhoods? Why didn’t Obama excoriate the Israelis for the unspeakable destruction and suffering it wrought on the imprisoned population of the Gaza Strip for three weeks straight this winter, when the scarcity of water, heat and electricity was at its highest? Why didn’t he rail against the IDF for its attack on hospitals, schools, ambulances, UN buildings and shelters, food warehouses, businesses, factories and family homes? Why doesn’t he demand that Israel pay for the rebuilding of Gaza rather than the international donor community – which repeatedly pays for Israel’s successive devastations? Where is Obama’s insistence that Israel comply with the UN fact-finding mission on the commission of war crimes during its relentless assault? Why doesn’t Obama suggest Israel resort to peaceful rather than violent means of settling its disputes? Why doesn’t he mention that while ‘self defense’ against the firing of rockets is understandable, the use of force is illegal and was completely unnecessary? Why was there no condemnation of Israel for breaking the ceasefire and –we now know—of planning Operation “Cast Lead” six months prior to its beginning, or when the ceasefire was still in effect? What other country can unleash the military might of a superpower on a defenseless society, killing 1400 people, 85 per cent of whom were civilians and approximately 400 of whom were children?
Of course, there is one other country whose actions out-do those of its ally: the United States –which would explain why Israel is allowed to pursue the same pattern of destruction and murder with such impunity and, indeed, with the applause of the US Congress, the pro-Israel lobby, and its many friends in the media, academia and elsewhere across the country.
Before moving on to discuss other important topics such as Iran, which has the legal right under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty to complete the cycle of uranium enrichment that would include developing the capacity to produce nuclear weapons (but not necessarily to do so) and to discuss the importance of democracy in the Middle East (from Cairo, remember), Obama urges the Palestinians “to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.”
Perhaps someone ought to point out to him the irony that his next stop after Cairo is not Gaza City or Beirut where he might help to heal the very recent and very real wartime wounds inflicted on these tortured societies, but Buchenwald, a death camp from the Nazi era, located in the now former East Germany? Certainly Obama ought to be the first to practice what he himself preaches by showing compassion to the recent and innocent victims of an entirely illegal and premeditated slaughter than by rushing off for photo ops at one of the mighty symbols of a depraved Holocaust industry? –one whose finely tuned ideology seeks justification for every act of inhumanity based on the grievance of past inhumanity?
Barack Obama has sent Benjamin Netanyahu the message he most seeks, whether Netanyahu recognizes it or not: continue your colonial-settler project as you have been doing; just change the vocabulary you use to describe it. Then nobody will get upset or notice that the status quo will persists. In the meantime Nasrallah and his followers in Lebanon will be shaking their heads in disbelief at the service Obama has just performed on Hizbullah’s behalf.
JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN is the Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; she is also a freelance journalist, a member of the board of ICAHD-USA, founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and has lived and worked in Jerusalem, Gaza City and Beirut. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Near the Syrian border northeast of Baalbek.
I had not planned to watch Obama’s Cairo speech on June 5, since I had an appointment in the plush Bekaa Valley, near Baalbek-Hermel with Shaykh Subhi Tufayli one of the founders of Hezbollah and its first Secretary General.
Shaykh Tufayli, still a revered cleric, was a participant in the August 1982 First Conference for the Downtrodden which, I argues in a forthcoming volume, was the essential organizing event at which Hezbollah can be said to have come into existence.
At the Conference with Subhi Tufayli, twenty seven years ago, were Lebanon’s now senior Shia cleric, Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, Shaykh Muhammad Yazbak, the martyr Shaykh Raghib Harb, Shaykh Afif al-Nablsi and others who are still active in the Party.
Like Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadallah, Shaykh Tufaili disconnected from the core of Hezbollah, for political, personal and religious reasons, but remains an important figure in terms of social welfare services, especially in the Bekaa Valley.
Even though Shaykh Tufaili has not been active with Hezbollah for more than 17 years he was nonetheless placed on the US terrorism list by the Bush administration on October 12, 2001, one month and a day after 9/11, during that period of frantic State and Treasury Department compilation of T-list names. One thing students learn while engaged in research in Lebanon is just how flawed US intelligence has often been here this past quarter century.
On route to Hermel, and having received a call from a Baalbek journalist about a pending lawsuit against certain media outlets regarding wild and unsubstantiated claims about Hezbollah being involved in Hashish farming, I dropped in on an extended family that I have known this past year and who are true experts on this subject. The father had just returned, after six weeks of laying low, from one of his hideouts after he was alerted that things had quieted down, pre-election, around Baalbek. Since December 2008 the Lebanese Amy and Internal Security Service have been conducting raids on suspected hashish growers.
“Where is Ali, Marwan and “Bin Laden”, I asked, not seeing three of his bodyguards I had gotten to know from previous visits.
“All in prison”, I was told. The new team was just as heavily armed, muscled and edgy. As we were served fine pastries by Sri Lankan maids, my Shia journalist friend joined us, arriving by taxi , because, as he explained, if his car tags are recorded in this particular area the army might try to arrest him for involvement in the alleged business of our host and his roughly 60,000 member extended family.
“Al Arabia TV said I have 4000 warrants against me and that is not true! There are only 40 warrants against me. I am suing them and others who claim I am mafia or a drug baron”, our host explains as the assembly laughs.
I asked our host, who grew up just two miles from where we were meeting if the Army might come and attempt another arrest that afternoon.
“No they will not come because there will be a war if they do and they know that. These men will shoot anyone who comes near this house. Our family will fight them and will revenge any spilt blood and so the authorities will avoid a clash. Don’t worry, they will not come and after the election, especially if Hezbollah wins, we will negotiate a solution to this problem. Around 30,000 people in the Bekaa Valley having warrants against them for just trying to earn a living or subsist. We cannot continue living like this.”
While we were sitting in the living room with a huge TV screen and half a dozen couches filled with heavily armed men, three women arrived with about 14 children, most of whom I met previously and we exchange hugs. One of the women, whose husband is currently in Washington DC awaiting trial for allegedly trying to import drugs to the US, asked if we were going to watch President Obama who was giving a speech in Cairo.
My friend turns on the TV and started to explain about the election and how in the Bekaa Valley there are three electoral districts: Western Bekaa-Rashaya, Mid Bekaa – Zahle and Baalbeck-Hermel. In Zahle there is Majority-Opposition competition as there is in the Western Bekaa. In Baalbeck-Hermel, there is no competition and Hezbollah will win handily. Naturally, Hezbollah is competing and pouring electoral resources only into constituencies where there is competition. Where there is no competition, like in South Lebanon and parts of South Beirut (Dahiyeh) , the Party is asking supporters to vote in huge numbers as if it is a referendum on the Lebanese National Resistance, its arms and its call for a post election unity government.
In heavily Christian, Zahle and the Western Bekaa, Rashaya and the Mid Bekaa, Hezbollah is backing the Opposition slate against the pro-US Hariri slate. The Opposition candidate slate in these areas does not include Hezbollah members.
Interestingly, since the dozen men in the room are from the Baalbek area, and ten of them are Shia (two of the hired guns are Palestinians from the nearly base of Ahmad Jibribl’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command) not one of them supports Hezbollah. “ That seems odd, Why not”? I ask.
Some of their reasons had to do will family/tribal feuds. Hezbollah arrested a couple of them for various reasons, one said. He claimed he was held 10 floors underground in Dahiyeh until his large family sent a tribal elder to Hezbollah and explained they would fight them if he was not released. He said he was out the next morning and explained how his order of loyalty was to God, family, tribe and then Lebanon.
Others complained that Hezbollah has not done enough for the people of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in terms of employment and infrastructure, that Hezbollah tends to take their support and votes for granted, and has not helped with political ‘cover’ with their agricultural business pursuits, or getting their comrades or relatives out of jail etc.
Hezbollah’s response to these oft-heard charges is that it is not them but rather the central government that is ignoring the Bekaa. They explain that during the 1960s the Bekaa residents were told that they should not expect help from the central government due to the fact that the people supported the Shia leader Imam Musa Sadr and his “movement of the dispossessed”. Then since the 1980s the residents have been told in the Bekaa that as they are loyal to Hezbollah they should look to them for infrastructure and government services and not the central government.
Hezbollah’s response in Parliament and to the residents of the Bekaa is that there are certain things and services that the central government must do that a Party or Resistance movement cannot do. Hezbollah has promised that after the election, if the National Lebanese Resistance wins, it will set up a Baalbek-Hermal Development Zone, and also an Akkar Development Zone (Muslim Sunni and Christian area near Tripoli in the North) and bring services that every Lebanon has the right to, such as water, electricity, medical care, and jobs. Government services have been absent from these areas from the days of the Ottomans and the French colonial powers, up until today’s “modern” government.
On the big TV Obama was giving his speech which was then followed by analysis. Those is the packed living room liked what the American President said about Islam, his commitment to setting up a state in Palestine, getting rid of the settlers, and his language about there being seven million Muslims in America, a mosque is every state and the necessity of combating Muslim stereotypes.
“Obama Qwess! Qwess!” (good), two or three said.
As the kids were climbing over the couches and gleefully fingering, pointing and holding some of the weapons including pistols, AK-47’s and two Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers, my rather worthless Alfee mobile phone rang.
It was Press TV from Tehran. Would I be willing to come to their Bir Hasan Studio near Shatila Camp for an on-camera interview, the caller asked. I explained there is no way that this is possible because I am in the Bekaa Valley, two hours east of Beirut plus I have appointments.
The lady with a nice voice asks if we could do a phone interview. I asked my friends if his TV gets Press TV. It does.
So as one of the kids found the right channel, and the News Headlines were read the Screen cuts in with my file photo and the kids and gunmen drop their jaws and do a double take and stare as my friend explains what is going on. How I can be with them and on TV from Iran at the same time.
It was a funny spectacle, trying to hear and respond to the questions from the interviewer from my phone with live bounce-back sound from the TV screen, in a crowded room with kids holding and playing with guns and me hoping one isn’t accidentally discharged.
We got through it with this hilarious kid-squealing and finger-pointing event with me mumbling about how Obama at least did not use the word terrorism, and was obviously trying to redirect post Bush relations between the US and the Muslim and Arab world, and that all is all it was positive etc.
My gunmen interlocutors proved the rule about the Lebanese.
Whatever their job or activity or age or confession, they are often way more astute politically than many of us.
The Bekaa Valley seems to like Obama, are hopeful that American will finally stop enabling Zionist colonialism in their part of the World, and will be a friend and ally for Lebanon.
Even Shayke SubhiTufaili appreciated the humor of what happened on the way to my dialogue with him. He like many here believes the days of Zionism are numbered and the growing global Resistance, after June 7th, will welcome dialogue with President Obama’s administration. He believes the US will be among the first in line to work with Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran to bring an end to the injustice that the Palestinian have endured for so long.
FRANKLIN LAMB is doing research in Lebanon. He can be reached at email@example.com.