Condemnations Not Enough

The bombing in Tel Aviv this past Sunday that claimed the lives of 22 Israelis was the first suicide attack in six weeks.é Six weeks without a bomb exploding is not an enviable record.é People everywhere should be able to live without keeping track of when the last bomb exploded, and without worrying when the next will explode.é When dealing with an occurrence so terrifying, six weeks does not seem like much time at all.

During those same six weeks, reported by the media as a “lull” in Mideast violence, Israeli troops killed more than 100 Palestinian civilians.é Many of those killed were children, including a nine-year-old girl shot while she played outside her home, and an 11-year-old girl shot while she leaned out of her bedroom window to watch the funeral of yet another Palestinian child killed the previous day.é There were also the 10 Palestinians, including two UN employees, killed in their homes on the Muslim equivalent of Christmas day.

Over the past 27 months, Israel has killed Palestinians at a rate of nearly three a day.é The Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, calculates that nearly 20% of those killed were children.é An even less enviable record to be sure.

President Bush swiftly condemned the Tel Aviv bombings in the “strongest possible terms.”é He reiterated America’s determination to continue the “global fight against terrorism.”é He has yet to condemn with any conviction the near daily killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers and settlers.

Attacks on civilians can never be justified.é That is as true of bombs in pedestrian malls as it is of missiles dropped from F-16s or shells lobbed from tanks.é Yet President Bush has been remarkably consistent in his disregard for the deaths of Palestinian civilians.é Condemnations come only when there are Israeli victims.é The President’s selective outrage has dangerous implications for America’s already faltering image abroad and for any hopes of achieving peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

To improve our image in the Muslim world, American taxpayers foot the bill for a $15 million ad campaign designed to convince Muslims that America respects Islam and treats Muslims well.é One sentence from President Bush would accomplish this goal more effectively, and at a cheaper price to the American taxpayer, than all those glossy ads combined.é If President Bush were to condemn in the strongest possible terms the murders of innocent Palestinian children, his words would be heard in the Muslim world
as loudly as his silence is heard now.é

Ariel Sharon too must hear a message in the President’s selective outrage:é “Keep doing what you’re doing é killing civilians, demolishing homes, besieging an entire population and expanding settlements.é We will not criticize you and you will not bear any consequences.”é That message is heard so clearly that an Israeli team is in Washington this week asking President Bush for roughly $15 billion in additional American aid.é That is on top of the $3 billion Israel already receives each year.é

Certainly this is an opportunity for President Bush to show leadership and to prove wrong those who accuse the US of incoherent, anti-Palestinian policies.é At a bare minimum, any Israeli request for more of our money should be met with a serious demand for an immediate freeze in settlement activity.

President Bush maintains that his vision for Mideast peace is based on an end to Israel’s military occupation and the establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state.é Yet his inaction allows the occupation to deepen and makes a viable Palestinian state an impossibility.é Israel has reoccupied the West Bank and Gaza and continues to expand existing settlements and build new ones.é Not only has President Bush consented to this, he may soon have us pay for it with $15 billion more of our tax money.éé

Palestinian suicide attacks allow Sharon to mask his drive to maintain control of Palestinian land in the garb of the “global fight against terrorism.”é This may fit conveniently into the Bush Administration’s simplistic ‘with us or against us’ framework, but the reality is quite different.é The reality is that of the ongoing, systematic violence of the Israeli military occupation, an occupation that has claimed the lives of too many innocents on both sides of the conflict.

Merely condemning attacks and offering condolences to grieving families does neither side any good.é Nor does it qualify as statesmanship.é President Bush needs to move past the simplistic formulas and engage in an honest effort to bring Israel’s military occupation to an end so that Palestinian and Israeli families can replace grief and loss with hope and peaceful coexistence.é

Margaret Zaknoen is director of programs of the Washington, DC-based American Muslims for Jerusalem.