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End the Occupation First

If Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today he may well have attended President Barack  Obama’s inauguration ceremony wearing a black-and-white checkered kaffiyeh and holding a  sign saying, “Mr. President, stop the Gaza nightmare. No more false hopes and delayed  dreams. End the Occupation NOW!” Civil rights leaders spent precious political capital to  speak out against America’s wrongdoings across the world, most notably the war in Vietnam.  President Obama should spend domestic political capital to denounce Israel’s domination of  the Palestinians. Nothing would boost desperately needed international capital more.

Rev. King would have recognized that without unfettered US arms, funds and political cover,  Israel would never have been able to inflict the level of brutality it ‘proudly’ inflicted on Gaza.  Nor would it have been able to keep Palestinians in bondage so long.

King would have pointed to where the solution to this conflict lies: the United States of  America. If President Obama is to be an historic leader, and not just the first African  American elected to the presidency, he must not tolerate Israel’s continued slaps in the face,  from restricting President Carter’s movements in the Mideast, to using US funds to build  illegal Jewish-only settlements, to launching a one-sided “war” on Palestinian civilians in  Gaza. He will instead deal with the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Palestinian people have been on the receiving end of the US-armed-and-financed Israeli  military machine for over 60 years. This latest chapter of Israeli-sponsored state terrorism  has claimed over 1,300 Gazan lives, mostly civilians, in just three short weeks. A similar  Israeli attack on America would have caused over 260,000 deaths: 92 times the loss of life  witnessed from the 9/11 tragedy.

Israel owes its existence to the United States. America’s vote was the key to establishing the  self-proclaimed Jewish State. However, Israel’s existence is also threatened by the United  States. Since President Truman, every US administration has indulged Israel while it has dug  itself into deeper and deeper trouble. From expansionist adventures in Egypt-Syria-Palestine,  to Jewish-only settlements, to caging Palestinians in their own cities and villages, America  has paid the bill. To be sure, Palestinians also paid. But the ultimate cost will be borne by  Israel. Its endless aggression (enabled by US warplanes, war technology, Apache  helicopters, munitions, and so on) not only angers the world, but causes resistance to  escalate.

More dangerous than weaponry has been America’s role in demobilizing international  organizations created to rein-in countries like Israel when they act like rogue nations. The two  most blatant examples are the Bush administration’s green-lighting of Israel’s military  misadventure in Lebanon 2006 and its recent crimes against humanity in Gaza by delaying  UN Security Council resolutions calling for immediate ceasefires.

To stop further bloodshed, including inevitable revenge attacks against Israelis, President  Obama must act immediately to create momentum for lasting peace.

First, he must stop the needless killing. It’s not enough to stop Palestinians from arming  themselves. An arms embargo must be placed on Israel, too. No more weapons of any kind  should be sent to it. Israel has shown time and again that increasing its military might just  escalates the conflict, leading to a regional arms race. The Arms Export Control Act gives the  President of the United States the authority to control the export of defense articles and  defense services. He should use that authority. And, in due time, he should dismantle Israel’s  nuclear capacity, too.

Second, President Obama must force Israel to end–totally–its 41-year military occupation of  the Gaza Strip and West Bank (including East Jerusalem). It took Israel six days to occupy  those areas. It would take less than six months to end the occupation, moving settlers  violating international law back to Israel, were the will there. Then and only then can the world  expect Palestinians to approach negotiations and reach final status agreements. To expect  them to negotiate while Israel’s boot of occupation is on their neck (especially after the recent  slaughter in Gaza), is a pipe dream.

To bring into reality the dream Martin Luther King envisioned and to avoid the nightmare of a  Mideast in flames (which will not spare America), President Obama must focus on  leadership. There is no time for posturing or second-term politicking. It’s time for him to make  a historical correction that will make the world and America safe for years to come. He can  begin by visiting Gaza and the West Bank for the same reason Martin Luther King, Jr. gave  from his jail cell: “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”

SAM BAHOUR is a Palestinian-American businessman from Youngstown, Ohio who lives in the  occupied West Bank and is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and  Palestinians.” He may be reached at sbahour@palnet.com.

 

 

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Sam Bahour is managing partner of Applied Information Management (AIM), a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, a secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group, and chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy. He blogs at www.epalestine.com. Twitter: @SamBahour

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