Palestinians vs. Americans
The title of this piece is purposely misleading. There is no face-off between Palestinians and Americans, the peoples that is. The Palestinian people have no grudge against the American public. We never did.
As a matter of fact, if one can see past the well-oiled media spin and take a closer look at what the Palestinians have been struggling for over the last seven decades — not to mention the last fifty-two years while under Israeli military occupation — it would be clear that the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence is a classical American struggle.
After all, Palestinians simply yearn for national independence, civil liberties, human rights, as well as the right to establish their independent economy, integrated into a global economy and free from Israeli domination.
In short, Palestinians and Americans share many more values than Americans are led to believe.
The Palestinians are doing what any American citizen would do if they were faced with the same predicament: we are struggling for our rights. At times, some Palestinian individuals and organizations regretfully employ violence. This is sad but is a bitter reality of the environment that a prolonged foreign military occupation creates. No matter how many times US presidents or Israeli prime ministers call upon Palestinians to condemn acts of violence, the reality remains that if the oppressive source of the violence is not nipped in the bud, it will not stop.
That noted, using violence is definitely not the norm in the Palestinian struggle.
Palestinians realize that, unfortunately, too many Americans are overwhelmed with their domestic politics, especially these days. Too many think the West Bank refers to California and the Middle East is Chicago. In fact, however, the history of the Palestinian struggle is rich; it is something that every American can relate to. Let me explain.
First, the Palestinians are not begging for a homeland of their own. They had a homeland in 1948 before the establishment of the State of Israel. As a matter of fact, long before 1948 they were living mostly peacefully in a secular environment: Jews, Muslims and Christians. It is the establishment of the State of Israel that created the first wave of Palestinian refugees who are still suffering a daily hell, seventy-one years later. After being dispossessed and turned into refugees, these Palestinians did not immediately take up arms against Israel when they were forcefully prohibited by Israel from being allowed to return to their homes. Just the opposite. To this very day they live, waiting, in squalid refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and throughout the Middle East.
From 1948 up until the mid-1960’s, Palestinians attempted to find a peaceful resolution to their being forced from their homes by the Israeli military. Through numerous political and organizational venues, Palestinians shuttled from the United States to the United Nations to the United Kingdom and back again, demanding that justice be served. Everyone, including the US State Department at the time, recognized the historical injustice committed against the Palestinians, but no one stood up to take action.
It was only then that the Palestinians took up arms and began their struggle. For this they paid a high price. Israel saw that the world’s powers-to-be were not concerned with resolving the plight of Palestinians and proceeded with a military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem on June 4, 1967. This created a second round of Palestinian refugees and, consequently, another generation of anger.
In the 1970’s the Palestinians shifted gears, away from armed struggle and towards non-violent resistance. They went to the UN and demanded again for justice to be served, peacefully and diplomatically. The UN passed significant resolutions — more than 700 over time — in favor of Palestinians; however, it had neither the power nor the political will to implement any of them. Palestinian living conditions continued to worsen.
The Palestinians intensified their non-violent resistance in the beginning of the 80’s, only to have the leaders — including mayors and university presidents — of that nascent movement exiled from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many others — writers, student activists, unionists, musicians, and community organizers — that tried to work non-violently to end the Israeli occupation and restore the rights of the refugees were thrown in Israeli prisons. Many of them were tortured. All of this is well-documented.
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and tried to crush the Palestinian movement there, where thousands of Palestinian refugees had taken refuge as they waited for the world to act. The Israeli defense minister at the time facilitated the massacre of up to twenty-five hundred Palestinians in the refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila, but the Israeli military machine failed to destroy either the Palestinians’ hopes or their struggle. The US was right there behind Israel every bloody step of the way.
Then in 1987 the Palestinians took to the streets in what is now known as the first popular uprising (Intifada), an action not unfamiliar to anyone who lived in the US South during the 1960’s. Palestinians made their voice heard, again mostly non-violently, but the US continued to turn a blind eye while at the same time arming Israel to the teeth and pumping more foreign aid money into Israel than it provided to the entire continent of Africa.
In 1993 Palestinians entered a peace process that made unprecedented Palestinian political overtures to Israel even though the Oslo Peace Accords still maintained the system of Israeli military occupation. Palestinians explicitly recognized the state of Israel and renounced violence. During the next two decades, what the Palestinians got in return was an eighty percent increase in the number of illegal Israeli settlers living on their land and continued Israeli domination of their economic development.
Today, we are facing a US administration bent on implementing an extremist Israeli right-wing agenda, publicly perpetrating war crimes in broad daylight. Many Palestinians believed that a world empowered with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of South African Apartheid would not put up with such continued Israeli intransigence. We were wrong, but all is not lost. Let’s recall that in the US it took only four guys sitting down at a lunch counter in North Carolina to spark a few things; in Palestine, every corner of the world, churches, students, the woman movement, Black Lives Matter, dozens of Jewish activists, and so many more are already shaking this occupation from its roots. It’s the US that is on the wrong side of history here, as they were in Apartheid South Africa too.
Over the years Palestine and the Palestinians have historically been every American government’s worst nightmare. Why? Because US administrations know something that every Palestinian also knows — US foreign policy, at least on this issue, has never reflected genuine US strategic interests in the Middle East, nor has it reflected the will and values of the American people.
The foreign government of Israel identified the huge chasm between the American public, US Administrations and the United States Congress. Thus, when the Palestinian struggle moves to the front burner, as we are seeing today, the US fears that their most prestigious government institutions are about to be exposed to the undue influence of a foreign government, Israel.
Israel chose long ago not to waste its time with the American people, so it created the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) and its related plethora of political action committees to deal directly with Congress. And deal with Congress it has! As for the American people, it sufficed to bluff them into submission.
AIPAC ensures that US policy toward Israel provides the funds (over $3.8B annually), as well as the political and diplomatic cover for Israel to continue its occupation and building of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands, in flagrant disregard to US laws and in blatant violation of international law, all the while making sure to dehumanize Palestinians in American public discourse.
All this happens at the expense of the US, financially and otherwise, as Israel offers its citizens free health care, free education and a standard of living that beats that in most US cities. All this and more are largely made possible by unknowing US taxpayers.
In his farewell address in 1793, Founding Father and First US President, George Washington, said,
“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence…the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republic Government….” Regarding Israel, his words could not have been more accurate.
A sad but true fact is that American society, the most developed in the world, has forced upon you to view the Palestinian struggle (and your own politicians) in the same manner that you purchase your brand of toothpaste — buying the side that spends more advertising dollars. The most expensive marketing campaign in the world can’t sell spoiled goods, thus Palestinians will eventually end the Israeli occupation.
Israeli colonialism will fail no matter how many US armaments, US vetoes of UN Security Council resolutions and US funds are made available to it. In modern times, colonialism always fails. And as we struggle to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine, we urge you to end the Israeli occupation of Congress.
The American people deserve better leadership.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is Chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy (AVPE) and serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network and is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians” (1994). He blogs at ePalestine.com. @SamBahour