It’s Going to Take More Than a Videotape to win Arab and Islamic Public Opinion

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That the Osama Bin Laden confession on tape is proof to many of his guilt is not surprising. That the same tape is seen as a fraud throughout the Arab and Islamic World is also not surprising. That people in our government have expressed astonishment that anybody should question it is surprising, however.

Whether it is the announcement that the US believes that a Palestinian state has always been in our vision or whether hours are spent in meticulously translating a videotape, we have lost so much credibility in the Middle East that focusing on various events or declarations, however well intentioned, is futile. But there is a solution to this credibility problem and that is to uphold the values that have made our country so great. In other words, it’s time to take an honest look at our foreign policy in the Middle East because this is the root of mistrust on the Arab streets. We are a nation that stands for freedom. And as we tend to make human rights a cornerstone of our foreign policy, the Middle East should be no exception to this rule.

Take, for example, the Palestinian uprising for freedom against Israeli Occupation. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell noted the issue of Occupation in his recent speech, as well as the necessity of its ending. In fact, what many people don’t realize is that Israel is the last remaining occupying power in modern history. For more than 34 years, Israel has interfered in every facet of Palestinian life. Israelis say they don’t want to occupy the Palestinians. Well then, what are they still doing in Palestinian lands and why did the Occupation continue during the Oslo Accords? Why have they controlled exports and imports into the Palestinian Authority? Why have the military checkpoints remained between every Palestinian population center? Why did Israeli settlements continue to be built, with no reprieve even during the last 15 months? Why have homes continued to be demolished?

But Israelis say that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in 2000 would have given Palestinians a state. Yet, even the Israeli Gush Shalom’s maps show that a future Palestinian state would have looked like Bantustans — populated islands of autonomy with no contiguity or real viability. South African blacks turned down a similar plan by the white Afrikaners many years ago. They didn’t want anything less than the implementation of international laws, and neither do the Palestinians.

When CNN correspondent, Wolf Blitzer, recently questioned the director of the Arab American Institute, Jim Zogby, about the fact that a Newsweek poll showed many Americans believe Palestinians are to blame for recent events, Zogby answered that this is nothing new. It means that the Israeli narrative of this conflict is more known.

How right he is. Because if fellow Americans knew the realities, there would be outrage. More than 800 Palestinians have been killed since the Palestinian uprising for freedom. More than 17,000 have been injured. Thousands of homes have been demolished, more than 385,000 olive trees have been bulldozed, people are left at checkpoints to die even during medical emergencies. This is in the last 15 months alone.

The images of such daily suffering of Palestinians are rarely shown in our country but the realities are shown on Arabic TV. From the mother whose son is killed by an Israeli missile to the woman who loses her baby while giving birth at an Israeli checkpoint, these realities harden the Arab viewer’s heart. Now, Israeli tanks and troops have moved into Palestinian towns again. F16 bombers are destroying police headquarters and death squads are killing unarmed Palestinians. This has been a conflict between the world’s fourth most powerful army and people armed with stones and mortars. It is hardly a “war” between two armies.

As taxpayers, we give Israel billions in aid each year. We have the right to demand that Israel stop its Occupation of millions of people and to be held fully accountable to the law. We have the right to demand answers about the atrocities committed under the pretext that the Palestinians are the “new” Taliban, and therefore, any action is apparently justifiable. Remember that we’re not occupying anyone. Israel is.

So, the Palestinian nightmare goes on and the Israeli government continuously violates human rights with impunity. This is all known to the average Joe in the Middle East. It’s definitely going to take more than a videotape to win over Arab and Islamic public opinion.

Sherri Muzher is a Palestinian-American activist, lawyer, and freelance journalist.

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