August 29, 2014
Continuing reflections on the Palestine-Israel issue

Last week I placed on Facebook an article written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for Haaretz, an English language newspaper in Israel. His article was entitled “My plea to the people of Israel: Liberate yourselves by liberating Palestine.”

Archbishop Tutu raised issues that are critical to an understanding of what is happening in Palestine. Speaking at a rally in South Africa he called on the crowd to join him while he articulated the clarion call for action. Here is an excerpt:{{more}} “We are opposed to the injustice of the illegal occupation of Palestine. We are opposed to the indiscriminate killing in Gaza. We are opposed to the indignity meted out to Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks. We are opposed to violence perpetrated by all parties. But we are not opposed to Jews”. This sums up very much the position echoed by people all over the world.

He went on to condemn Palestinians who were responsible for firing rockets and missiles into Israel, but then followed it up with what I consider a most critical point. “But we must be very clear that the people of Palestine have every right to struggle for their dignity and freedom. It is a struggle that has the support of many around the world.” Not only does it have wide support around the world, but he goes to perhaps the most fundamental point, that the Israelis, in particular, should ponder – “People united in pursuing a righteous cause are unstoppable”. Every military strike against the Palestinians, every humiliation at checkpoints and roadblocks creates youngsters who would grow up determined to fight Israel. Tutu directs his message to Christians, “The Jewish scriptures tell us that God is biased on the side of the week, the dispossessed…”

When he makes the point that the Palestinians “have every right to struggle for their dignity and freedom” the issue takes on a greater dimension when we look at what is happening more closely. The US funds the Iron Dome missile defence system that has been the effective tool against Hamas’ rockets. Additionally the US keeps Israel alive with grants of $3 billion a year. Israel’s demands amount to the disarming of Hamas, but this will leave Israel with its nuclear arsenal untouched. And very little is being said about Israel’s nuclear capacity! This particular issue goes beyond this dispute. What they have succeeded in doing is to divide the world into good and bad guys. The good guys can keep their nuclear weapons but not those they classify as bad. While one would not want to have a proliferation of nuclear weapons, an effort must be made to continue the disarmament process that had been the subject of a long debate and struggle.

It is interesting to examine the reactions to the latest truce. The US Secretary of State John Kerry states that “Israel needed to live “without terrorist attacks, without rockets, without tunnels, without sirens going off and families scrambling to bomb shelters,” while the Palestinians need “full economic and social opportunities to build better lives for themselves and for their children.” Kerry has virtually trivialised the Palestinian needs. But listen to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “The blockade of Gaza must end; Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be addressed… Any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than set the stage for the next cycle of violence”. This brings me to the American position. I have sometimes blamed President Obama for his impotence on this matter, but on reflection we have to note that all US presidents have been cautious about touching this issue. A lot of it has to do with the Jewish lobby, particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that has been in existence, I believe, since the 1960s. The role this group has played over the years has been a major contributing factor to America’s position, which, incidentally, no longer commands credibility. For anyone interested in more information on this I am recommending an article in the New Yorker of September 1, written by Connie Bruck, entitled ‘Friends of Israel’. She refers to their fund-raising efforts for members of Congress, their sponsored all free trips to Israel and their constant lobbying in Congress that cuts across party lines and their sponsorship of resolutions taken to Congress that push the Israeli position. On any issue relating to Congress, President Obama can expect to have a significant number of Democrats siding with the Israeli position.

As with the Hispanic lobby working to maintain sanctions against Cuba the members are the older clan who are becoming out of touch with today’s realities. Recent polls have indicated that only 38 per cent of American Jews believe that Israel is sincerely pursuing peace; 44 per cent that the construction of new settlements damages Israel’s national security. Another poll found that only a quarter of Americans under the age of 30 thought that Israel’s actions in Gaza were justified. One is beginning to see a shift here and hopefully this will impact on positions being taken by members of Congress. I am very sympathetic to President Obama on this and other issues. There are two points to be considered here. First, American presidents are not as powerful as we think. The prime minister under the Westminster system is much more powerful and has a strong tool in his ability to call elections at any time. Big interests are the ones who call the cards. Even more than this, Obama, as a Black man, does not command the kind of respect he should get as president. He has had to face obstacles that perhaps no other president has faced because of his colour. This is America today. Would you believe?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.