Bold gestures go a long way

The Palestinian delegation to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva walked out of the February 28 session in protest. Guess why? Because, even though the session was held in response to the Libyan crisis and Muammar Qaddafi’s murderous grip on power, the US, in the form of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, just couldn’t resist throwing Israel into the mix.

After a long impassioned speech on protecting the rights of Libyan demonstrators, supporting democracy and condemning Qaddafi, Clinton, in reference to the performance of the Council added, “And I must add, the structural bias against Israel –” including a standing agenda item for Israel, whereas all other countries are treated under a common item –” is wrong.” Clinton was referring to Item 7 of the Council’s standing agenda that deals with Israel’s violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.

‘This is a new US attempt to protect Israel blindly, particularly after the US veto in the UN Security Council; human rights are universal, but why are they no longer viewed this way when it comes to Palestinians?" said Palestinian UNHRC delegate Ibrahim Khreisheh after the walkout.

“The Council must apply a single standard to all countries based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It cannot continue to single out and devote disproportionate attention to any one country,” she said. No, that is obviously the United States’ job when defending Israel.

It never ceases to amaze me just how blatantly biased the US is towards Israel even as it reproaches others for this very vice in the same breath. The bitter taste of the United States’ veto of the UN draft resolution condemning settlements is still fresh in our memories. Despite the US’ declared condemnation of Jewish settlements as illegal and the consensus of the remaining 14 Security Council members to pass the draft resolution, America still felt a duty to veto it in the name of loyalty to Israel.

The United States’ unwavering support for Israel is nothing new but the current situation in the Arab world only makes its double standards even more glaring. How can Clinton or even US President Barack Obama speak about the will of the people, the surge towards democracy and protection of human rights in the same sentence in which they deny Palestinians these very things?

It is naïve to think we can change US foreign policy simply by pointing out the obvious. I am sure even those in Washington’s inner circle of power understand how two-faced America looks in these instances. But it is never too late or too naïve to make bold gestures in protest. I think walking out on the Human Rights Council session was the right thing to do. If I were representing Palestine, I would have done the same.

Bold gestures are what we need. The pro-Israel current is so strong in the West it has become almost taboo to counter it. The draft resolution didn’t go through because the US stood in its way. We all know that. Now, the Palestinians need to make a stink. It can make an even bigger one if they take it to the General Assembly. Khreisheh and his delegation walking out of the Council will not change the United State’s stance towards Israel but if they didn’t do that, no attention would have been brought to Clinton’s statements or her government’s half-hearted sentiments towards Arab freedom and democracy.

It’s a tough current to swim against. For some reason, the western world in particular is geared towards sympathy for Israel and changing attitudes and preconceptions is perhaps the toughest battle of all. But we as Palestinians can do two things: one is to expose these double standards and biases at every possible turn and two is to never become hypocrites like those we criticize.