Do Something, Colin Powell


Dear Mr. Secretary,

I am not in the habit of writing to Washington politicians on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because I feel the US policy, that you have now inherited, is hopelessly biased. Also, I am not sure that you will have a chance to read this letter mainly because the previous administration has managed an “opinion cleansing” in the State Department that removed any voices the Israeli lobby disapproves of.

Clearly the American approach to the region has not produced peace. Based on history, I would add, that this approach has not served American interests well, nor those of the Israelis or the Palestinians. American foreign policy is a major factor in deepening the conflict, complicating the issues, and creating such imbalance of power that Israel could defy the world with impunity. I do not expect fairness and justice from the like of Sharon. A true justice would have tried the man as a war criminal not inviting him to the White House. The contradictions in the US policies on the Palestinian-Israeli problem are many and extreme:

Numerous UN resolutions consider the settlements on Palestinian lands illegitimate and not conducive to peace. What do we do? We fund them at our tax-payers expense.

We denounce violence, but we supply Israel with all the tools of violence used mainly for the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. It is American money and weapons that Israel is using to keep millions of Palestinians under siege, thousands in prisons, and gradually looting what is left of Palestinian lands till they have no where to go.

What is routinely referred to here as Israeli retaliations are in reality acts of genocide. This bare brutality against helpless, unarmed, impoverished people who are living under barbaric military occupation should not be rationalized. It should be condemned. Such inhuman treatment of whole population, including women, children, elderly, and thousands of disabled and maimed by Israeli violence, defy the conscious of the world. The irrefutable fact is that Israeli policies are sustainable only because of the American connection.

If we are not moved by injustice inflicted on the Palestinians, how about the harm Americans endure as a consequence of these lopsided policies. Why should Americans fear travel abroad? Why should American military boats be attacked? Why should our embassies be prisons for their staff? Why should my taxes go to aid the wealthiest country in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, on a per capita basis?

There is no legal, historical, moral, or economic argument to justify our grotesquely one-sided approach in dealing with the area. The US policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a triumph of unclean domestic politics that has damaged the credibility of the US foreign policy not only in the eyes of Arabs and Muslims but all over the world.

Mr. Secretary: I am not a Muslim nor a Palestinian. I am a student of Middle East societies. I lived in the area, and I researched, traveled, published, and taught about the region for the past three decades. This is a plea that you act in this historic moment to protect, not to deny, the Palestinians the basic right of self-determination that we seek for all peoples on this planet. Please defend their right for free living without Israeli oppression and occupation on their own lands. The Israeli children and the Palestinian children must have peace. They cannot continue to suffer living under conditions of continual shelling of residential areas and civilian facilities.

Please tell Sharon and his cohorts that razing Palestinian agricultural land will not bring Israel closer to peace.

Tell them that maintaining a total siege on the Occupied Palestinian Territories is unacceptable.

Tell Sharon not to use American weapons to collectively punish a disarmed people.

Tell Sharon and his cohorts to stop their racist attitudes toward Arabs and all non-jews in Palestine.

Tell Sharon that the US has friends on both sides of this conflict.

Tell Sharon that Americans are being distrusted globally and our people are being killed mainly because of our blind support of Israel, and, therefore, we expect Israel to respect our own national interest.

And soon, Mr. Secretary, please tell Israel, as former Secretary Jim Baker III did, that the settlements are a detriment to peace.

Demanding Palestinians surrender to Sharon’s dictates, unconditionally, will not solve anything except embolden Israeli extremism. Nor Arafat is the problem, as advocates of Israeli interests in this country parrot. It is the occupation, Sir, and nothing can hide this simple truth. It is obvious that the Israelis always want a Palestinian enforcer of their will rather than an effective and skillful Palestinian leader. Actually, they have already assassinated most of the promising ones.

We all are horrified by deaths and injuries, particularly of civilians, whether Israelis or Palestinians. But the ratio of Israeli deaths and injuries to those of the Palestinians speaks for itself. Moreover, one finds little sympathy or expressions of support coming from American politicians to bereaved Palestinian families during months of violence. Yet, Ariel Sharon, whose “march to the Mosque” ignited the whole mess receives regular calls of condolences. It is difficult to hide the fact that US policy will ultimately appear as covering up for a government that imposes Apartheid-like lifestyles on unarmed and impoverished population.

Mr. Secretary, the honest approach is to insist that both should stop violence and Israel should begin, simultaneously, to end its policies of genocide, land-grabbing, imprisonment of people without charges, and assassination of Palestinian leaders. The fundamental solution is achieved only with ending the occupation. I believe, the minimum this administration can do is to restore some balance and some fairness to our foreign policy on this question. Such balance, I have no doubt, is in the best interest of the US as well as in the interest of the Israelis and the Palestinians alike.

Mr. Secretary. You can break the impasse and make history. You can save the children of Israel and of Palestine by being fair and courageous as you have always been.

So once again, this is not a symmetrical situation. As matters of fact and of law, the gross and repeated violations of Palestinian rights by the Israeli army and Israeli settlers living illegally in occupied Palestine constitute war crimes. Conversely, the Palestinian People are defending Themselves and their Land and their Homes against Israeli war crimes and Israeli war criminals, both military and civilian.

The writer is a professor of public administration and political science at the University of South Florida.