An Open Letter to President Joe Biden about Gaza

Face it, Mr. President: the crisis in Palestine and Israel now is one the U.S. created with the house of munitions and money that we’ve built in Israel. Yet your response is to send more arms and money. At 13 million a day, and the vast bastions developed over the past fifty years, how much more could Israel need?

In light of the reality that the “enemy” is one of the most impoverished populations on the planet, without access to medical supplies or clean drinking water, who scrap together their weapons from the unexploded ordnance the Israelis leave behind, arms are the LAST thing Israel needs.

Things they actually DO need: Negotiators, mediators, peace-makers, diplomats, humanitarian aid (in Gaza). For us to be an honest broker who can see both sides of the dispute, and mediate accordingly, rather than holding to our position of unilateral, unconditional support for Israel.

It shouldn’t be that hard to insist on withdrawal from the West Bank in compliance with the Oslo Accords as a condition of continued aid, and yet the U.S. has enabled Israel to menace, rob, and murder Palestinians there for decades.

When war broke out in 2014, President Obama said the Israelis “had the right to defend themselves” against Hamas rockets, even though the Iron Dome defense technology already did that. As Israel killed 2,251 Gazans, including 551 children, while the casualties on the Israeli side totaled 71 (practically all soldiers), Obama continued saying it. In view of the lack of threat, it sounded like he was giving Israelis license to bomb and kill Palestinians at will.

And you’re doing the same thing now, Mr. President.

The Hamas fighters who went into Israel on Saturday have been dead for days. The Israelis have dropped over 6,000 bombs on this tiny strip, they’ve killed an additional 2700 mainly civilians, flattened cities and neighborhoods, leaving countless homeless. Gazans have been deprived of food, water, and power and are being made to relocate en masse in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. And yet you continue saying to Bibi, “We’ve got your back.”

Are you going for total genocide, Mr. President?

The Israelis have gone on regular bombing missions in Gaza over the years, missions that they refer to as “mowing the grass,” a phrase that captures how humdrum the death of Palestinians and destruction of their infrastructure are to them. It also captures the complete lack of risk entailed. Some of the raids, like the 2014 war, were much more destructive than last Saturday’s Hamas incursion, by the numbers alone, not to mention the damage to the infrastructure.

But Israel isn’t used to experiencing losses on their side. Unlike the “savagery” of the Hamas operation, whose perpetrators are all dead, when the Israeli bombers kill, burn, and maim, they do so with impunity. To my mind, this lop-sided warfare and absence of valor, like the drone wars waged by the U.S., are more grotesque than the “savagery” of last Saturday’s attack, which can rightly be seen as payback for decades of brutal oppression.

Demand a ceasefire in Gaza now, Mr. President. Take back your weapons and military aid. Tell Bibi and Ganz that unless they comply, the 13 million a day will be called off. That’s how the game is played and peace is achieved, and has been since time immemorial.

We, the people, want a just settlement for the Palestinians. We want a homeland, sovereignty, statehood. We demand that you as our president actively work towards it. Like the Palestinians themselves, we find the agreements that you and your predecessors have achieved to be intolerable.

President Eisenhower famously warned against the Military Industrialist Complex because it would always push towards war rather than work towards peace. Were you heedless of this or is that the reason you chose your Secretary of State Antony Blinken from Raytheon, one of the biggest military contractors?

Blinken’s understanding of Hamas’ motivation for the attacks as an expression of “pure evil” is scary and imbecilic for a man in his position. Parallels to history abound. The situation directly recalls the Warsaw Uprising. The uprisings of the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China, also come to mind.

They have also been compared to the 9/11 attacks, which were an act of revenge from a militant Islamic group for our brutal military campaign against Iraq in the first Gulf War. Rather than minimize, assimilate, and accept the attacks, the U.S. waged an all-out campaign of revenge in the Middle East, destroying country after country, killing millions, creating the biggest migration crisis in the history of the world, in what is viewed as the worst foreign policy blunder in our nation’s history.

Can we please learn from this history?

Meanwhile, the hole in the ozone layer is growing and the glaciers are melting and the sea is rising. Maybe President Eisenhower was trying to warn us about that too. The U.S.D.O.D. is the largest consumer of fossil fuels of any entity on earth, and military emissions are exempt from the Kyoto protocols. The burn pits in Iraq were visible from outer space, and wasn’t it the burn pits that you always thought killed your beloved son, Beau?

Things are very far gone in Israel these days. The current head of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, was rejected by the army years ago, for being too anti-Arab. It’s saying a lot if you’re too anti-Arab for the Israeli army, because that’s essentially what they do. His solution was to substitute “terrorist” for Arab, and now he’s on the Knesset and has a cabinet position, which he’s using to harass Palestinians on the West Bank. Hamas listed the daily arrests and murders there as a reason for their attack on Israel. They took the hostages to exchange for the prisoners.

Here in the U.S. we’re losing our beloved and much vaunted Bill of Rights to this issue. William Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management wants to blacklist students at Harvard University who have justified the Hamas attack, depriving them of lucrative jobs as a way to punish them and shut them up. We lost our right to boycott on this issue years ago, with 35 states outlawing the Boycott Divest and Sanction of Israel for its illegal settlements on the West Bank.

Backtrack now, Mr. President. Change the history of the Middle East. Start negotiating with Hamas and Fatah, to solve this problem. It’s not intractable at all, it’s just that no one’s addressed it since President Clinton with his Oslo Accords thirty years ago, and while you’re at it, you’ll be making a big dent in global warming.

(Start reigning in the military industrialist complex and stop being a global arms purveyor, and you’ll make the biggest dent in global warming of all.)

Go down to Plains, Ga. and visit your old friend Jimmy Carter. He may not be with us much longer, so you’d better take advantage of his wisdom while you can. Before you go, be sure to read his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. President Carter cares a lot about the Palestinians; he wrote about the injustice they experienced and he traveled around the country speaking about it.

How better to honor the legacy of President Carter than to use this crisis to work towards the creation of a Palestinian state? It’s a well-known truism that the Chinese character for crisis is the same as the one for opportunity. Yes, after the ceasefire, and this crisis is over, you can get to work on that neglected project, which is the cause of the whole thing.

Sally Mansfield Abbott is the author of Miami in Virgo, a coming-of-age novel set in California’s Central Valley in the 1970’s.