Enough with the Empty Words

Nothing irks me more than politicians who blow off serious situations with hollow phrases on the outrageous assumption that people will actually believe them. Living in Palestine with a career revolved around words, you can imagine how many times I am irked in a day. Today is no different.

A quick glance at the headlines in Haaretz (really, the only Israeli paper I read), met me with this quote: "Israel’s plan to raze E. Jerusalem homes is an obstacle to peace." The "words of wisdom" came out of the mouth of from EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton. To be fair, this particular quote was not Ashton’s strongest but the one that fits better with Haaretz’ editorial line. The full statement, which appears later in the article has Ashton saying, "Settlements and the demolition of homes are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible." Much, much better.

It is phrases like "obstacle to peace", "unhelpful" or "concerning" that set me off the most, particularly when the matter at hand involves the demolition of Palestinian homes, the killing of civilians whether in Gaza or on a boat in international waters just off of Gaza’s shores. And believe me, they are used amply, especially from Western powers that do not want to shake the boat with Israel but feel compelled to pay a pittance of lip service in the name of morality.

The razing of homes Ms. Ashton was referring to are in Silwan, 22 to be exact. Residents of these homes have lived there for years, some for decades. Over these years, they (along with the rest of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents) have watched as Jewish settlers crept and crawled their way into their neighborhoods, taking over their homes and lands and slowly squeezing them out of their own areas. This neighborhood in particular –” Al Bustan –” is threatened with almost complete annihilation, with 88 homes slated for demolition to make room for another garden (ironically speaking since "bustan" means garden in Arabic) –” this one the King’s (David) Garden complete with tourist centers, hotels and shops.

The UN has called the Israeli plan "concerning", its Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calling it a "provocative step". The US has said the demolitions would "mar" peace talks and "appreciated" Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s delay of the move.

In the aftermath of Israel’s brutal raid on the Turkish Freedom Flotilla earlier this month in which nine civilians were killed and dozens other injured, the White House came out with the flimsiest statements of all. The US, the statement read, " deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained." If that were not bad enough, Washington also said it was still "working to understand the circumstances surrounding the tragedy." What’s to understand? Unarmed peace activists bringing much needed aid to Gaza were shot at and killed by Israeli navy commandos. Not much gray area for interpretation.

That is not the point though. The point is, the US, the UN, Europe and Israel use these empty words to satisfy the press, offer up some limp semblance of concern and avoid any real responsibility towards an issue that requires decisive action. The demolition of 22 homes is not "concerning" or even an "obstacle". It is appalling, in complete violation of international law, in contravention of any decent value system that has any regard for human dignity and it is doubly as appalling since it is Israel –” the self-proclaimed beacon of democracy in the Middle East –” which is the perpetrator.

Likewise, killing nine peace activists, unarmed civilians on their way to deliver medicines and food to a beleaguered population is equally as abhorrent. It is not enough to "regret" the loss of these lives, because frankly, I doubt the US even feels that. If the US or the UN or the Europeans truly "regretted" the wanton killing of these nine people, it would move into action against Israel so as never to allow such an abomination to happen again. Instead, we the public are fed hollow, and frankly insulting, phrases, words that lost their meaning eons ago because of how much they have been used without effect. One might be "concerned" with the health of their pet, or "regret" that they painted their house the wrong shade of beige. But powers such as the United States government, the European Union or above all, the United Nations, should be "outraged" by such crimes. Words such as "unacceptable" and "accountability" need to be introduced to these leaders followed by other words such as "punishment" and "war crimes."

If that is not possible, my next hope –” a far distant –” but still better than the status quo –” would be that those who feel compelled to offer half-baked statements on tragic incidents would just stay quiet. Because silence, no matter how unbecoming, is still a step up from hypocrisy.