United States and Middle East leaders had a meeting yesterday to stake out their priorities for Israeli-Palestinian talks expected to resume when the United States gives them a new peace plan or “road map.” Palestinian officials have said they will support the U.S. peace plan unconditionally, but the Israeli government wants a precondition that all violence be halted. In the meeting Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said the imminent confirmation of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian prime minister would be “a positive step in the right direction” but progress would depend on Palestinian steps to protect Israelis.
What I wouldn’t have given if I could’ve attended the meeting! I would be jumping out of my seat pointing my finger at the Israeli ambassador and asking him about the protection of Palestinians. And what about your definition of violence, Mr. Israeli Ambassador? Is it only violence when a Palestinian suicide bomber strikes or do you also define violence when Israeli soldiers are killing innocent Palestinians on a daily basis, including women, and children? Is it your definition of violence when American peace activists like Rachel Corrie is brutally and deliberately crushed by an Israeli bulldozer or is killing innocent peace activists only wrong “unless Israel does it?”
Hardly a day goes by without Israelis invading another Palestinian village or refugee camp killing dozens of innocent Palestinians and bulldozing more Palestinian homes and shops. Even while the Israeli ambassador calls for protecting Israeli citizens before implementing any peace plan, Israeli soldiers backed by helicopter gun–ships are at this minute raiding a Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank killing an unarmed 16-year-old boy. And this is the kind of Israeli violence we see everyday. It’s the kind of violence we never hear or see on our local or national news. Only when Israelis are killed by desperate suicide bombings do we get the news. According to U.S. media, as long as there are not Israelis killed the condition in the Middle East is described as “relative calm.” In the world according to U.S. media, the high moral ground in the Middle East belongs to Israel’s government –even when it slaughters Palestinian women and children.
But media spin cannot change realities on the ground. In the last 31 months of the current Palestinian uprising, an uprising against the brutal and illegal Israeli occupation, there have been 2,280 Palestinians and 760 Israelis killed. That’s 3 times the number of Palestinians killed as Israelis, yet the normal American would think the figures were the opposite.
The Israeli ambassador talks about protecting Israelis but he never mentions protecting Palestinians. And if he thinks that he can justify the violence against Palestinians by relating it to the “intifada” then he has another thought coming.
Why, Mr. Ambassador, do you think there was an uprising in the first place? For more than 55 years the Israelis have plundered and murdered other peoples in the Middle East to include the Palestinians and the Lebanese. You have kicked them in the teeth and they have taken it for so many years without kicking back. You have confiscated their land; you have demolished their homes; you have assassinated their political leaders and you have killed their children. Yet your only concern is the protection of Israelis. You have constructed more than 400 illegal Jewish settlements on confiscated Palestinian land while these “Uzi toting” Jewish settlers have attacked hundreds of innocent Palestinians long before the current “intifada.” Yes, you have kicked them in the teeth for more than 55 years but there comes a time when they can’t take it forever without kicking back.
I can fill a dozen pages listing the crimes of Israel. I can cite you hundreds of human rights violations committed against the Palestinian people long before any uprising. But let me focus on just one of them–home demolitions. I will quote to you a passage from Amnesty International’s December 1999 report, a report submitted nearly a year before any uprising. The report states: “Since 1987 the Israeli authorities have demolished at least 2,650 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, because they did not have a building permit. As a result 16,700 Palestinians (including 7,300 children) have lost their homes.” Did you hear that Mr. Israeli Ambassador? What did you do to protect these 7,300 children who now are without a home? These are children who didn’t do a damn thing to threaten any Israeli. While Jews are living comfortably in their plush homes, these 7,300 children are living in cardboard huts. While Jews are filling their swimming pools, these children have very little water to drink.
The AI report goes on to say that “The Palestinians are targeted for no other reason than because they are Palestinians. The demolition of their houses is in no doubt linked with Israeli discriminatory policy to restrict Palestinian development to existing urban areas. For Israelis, it is a different story. They have few problems obtaining building permits and even if they build homes without authorization, their houses are rarely, if ever, demolished. By targeting Palestinians for house demolitions and denial of building permits, the Israeli government has violated its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law which it has promised to uphold.”
And don’t use the normal comeback by most Jewish sympathizers that the majority of homes demolished by the Israelis are the homes of terrorists and their families. Amnesty International specifically excludes these homes in their figures and goes on to say ” The demolition of houses for security reasons–a collective punishment used against Palestinians accused of security offenses and their families (recently mostly against families of suicide bombers) has frequently been condemned by Amnesty International, and is not considered in this report.”
Could you tell me, Mr. Israeli Ambassador, what would Israel do if just one Jewish Settler home, let alone 2650 homes, was demolished by Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Organization? Or better yet, what would the Jewish World Organization do if just one Jewish home was demolished in any other country by that country’s government? And how would the United States respond? I think you and I both know the answer to those questions. The response would be quite differently than how the world, including the U.S., responds when the atrocities committed on other people are atrocities committed by the Israelis. And that’s where the problem lies. It’s the special treatment Israel receives even when it commits the most brutal criminal act. And as long as this special treatment continues, the longer there will be violence in the Middle East. Protecting Israelis from Palestinian violence can only be achieved when Israelis begin to learn the true meaning of the word “violence.”
The most outrageous double standard in the world today is the different ways by which Israelis and Palestinians are judged in the court of “public opinion.” We have one standard for the treatment of Israelis that is so high they cannot be criticized no matter what grisly crimes they commit. Then we have a second standard for the treatment of Palestinians that is so low we publicly finance their ethnic cleansing and torture.
America has reasonably moral policies at home but our foreign policy is as corrupt, hypocritical, and violent as any of the third world dictatorships we love to look down upon and occasionally bomb. The Palestinians are willing to accept this “road map” without any changes. The Israelis already are demanding 15 changes. The U.S. has initially stated that there would be no changes. It’s time the U.S. held fast to its plan and gets tough with Israel. If not, any “road map” to peace will end up like all other attempts in the past, at a dead end.
James J. David is a retired Brigadier General and a graduate of the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, and the National Security Course, National Defense University, Washington DC. He served as a Company Commander with the 101st Airborne Division in the Republic of Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 and also served nearly 3 years of Army active duty in and around the Middle East from 1967-1969.