President-elect Obama may face a challenge or two, coming into the Oval Office. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the economy and global warming may have seemed enough to stump some new presidents. But Israel has provided him with a new can of worms, stamped with the congressional seal of approval.
The Gaza strip is about half the size of Durham County, NC, where I live. The population of Gaza, 1.5 million people, have been living under a crushing Israel-imposed blockade for nearly two years. Under the cease-fire agreement last summer, Israel was supposed to lift the blockade. Israel never did that, and they further violated the ceasefire militarily on November 4 with an attack in Gaza that killed six Palestinians.
And now the news: On December 27, Israel began bombing Gaza. 1,133 are now dead in Gaza, including more than 300 children, with more than 4000 wounded, infrastructure destroyed, and the entire population heading for post-traumatic stress disorder. Only about 15 Israelis have been killed, including four from trigger-happy "friendly fire." The US media refer to Israel’s fish-in-a-barrel slaughter as "fighting," and Congress blames the Palestinian victims. A resolution in support of Israel’s murderous assault passed the U.S. Senate 100 to nothing on January 8, and a similar resolution passed the House on the next day in a 390 to 5 roll call vote with 22 voting "present."
When Congress passes a resolution supporting Israel, it usually means Israel is committing more crimes against humanity. Gaza, where illegal phosphorous weapons have also been used, is no exception. Nor is the West Bank. In 2004 the International Criminal Court ruled that Israel’s Apartheid-like wall running through the West Bank was illegal, and within days the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to deplore the Court’s findings. Whenever Israel commits new crimes against humanity, you can expect a supportive resolution from a Congress which pays for Israel’s weapons and does so with our US tax dollars.
Let us consider what is wrong with the Congressional resolutions on Gaza. The resolutions support action which violates international law, ethical and moral standards, US law and US interests. International law is undermined if the most powerful exempt themselves and their "closest allies" at the expense of the weak. Ethical and moral standards are undermined when they are violated with impunity. US law prevents the provision of weapons to foreign countries for use against civilians, for use in war crimes or for use in government escalation of violence. And US interests are undermined by continuing to engage in and support a foreign policy that is costing billions and enraging potential enemies in oil producing regions, while at home the economy and healthcare are failing. To paraphrase former President Bill Clinton, "It’s the stupidity, Stupid!"
More specific problems with the resolutions involve claims of terrible Israeli suffering while ignoring measurably worse Palestinian suffering. The resolutions also assert Israel’s rights of self-defense, but ignore Israel’s responsibilities to defend Palestinians under occupation. As the occupying power which controls Gaza’s borders and airspace, Israel has the legal responsibility to preserve and protect life and property in Gaza, but Israel’s two year blockade created a humanitarian crisis which has been exponentially worsened by the recent military destruction. The resolutions claim that Hamas launched thousands of rockets since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. From 2004 to late 2008, though, only fifteen Israelis died from rocket attacks. Israel’s blockade was far more deadly to Gaza residents.
Several weeks before Israel’s attack, Congressman Kucinich wrote the following to Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice: "Israel’s debilitating blockade has halted the supply of UN food and medical aid to 750,000 Palestinians and forced Gaza’s sole power plant to shut down. Since its imposition the blockade has effectively resulted in the collapse of the economy and limited access to basic goods including wheat, flour, baby milk, rice, sanitized water, and other essential goods. It has also destroyed Gaza’s public service infrastructure. Due to Israel’s prohibition on the import of spare parts as well as its punitive restrictions on fuel and electricity, hospitals cannot operate lifesaving equipment and nearly 40-50 tons of sewage pours into the sea daily."
What are we Americans getting in exchange for the billions in dollars and weapons we send Israel, and for the diplomatic support our government provides almost without question? How much is it costing us to fight Israel’s enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan? What do we get for supporting the only nuclear power in the Middle East in its threatening claims against Iran, which might want nukes as a deterrent but is evidently smart enough not to waste money and diplomatic capital on useless weapons? What is the impact on our own political capital with oil-producing countries when we perpetuate destabilization in the region? Assuming Osama bin Ladin was in a position to know, and recalling his statement that we were attacked in 2001 because of our support for Israel’s killing of Muslims in Palestine and because of our sanctions regime which was killing Israel’s enemies in Iraq, what has the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks cost us as a nation? What kind of "national security" can we expect going forward if we do not change?
Congress should have been offended when Israel chose the weeks between our election and inauguration, and the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, to launch this attack. Our government could not have been more out of balance. But our Congress believes in doing the right wing thing, the far right wing thing, when it comes to Israel, as it so often does. The main questions on Capitol Hill last week, when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (a.k.a. "the Israel lobby," or AIPAC) told Congress to jump, were, "When" and "How high?" The answer was, "Now and very!"
On her third day as my Senator, Kay Hagan (D-NC), the woman I voted for to replace Liddy Dole, voted in support of that resolution backing Israel’s violence one hundred percent. As stated above, every single US Senator voice-voted in favor of the resolution. On the House side, the similar resolution also flew through, opposed by only five Members including Republican Ron Paul and Democrat Dennis Kucinich, the seldom-interviewed candidates who advocated real change in the recent presidential election. My district’s Congressman David Price (D) voted for the resolution, too, I am sorry to say. It is a shame that Congress supports violations of international and humanitarian law, and voters should let Washington and the media know.
Things aren’t any better at the White House. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has boasted that a telephone call he made to President Bush forced Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to abstain in a U.N. Security Council vote on a Gaza war resolution which she had actually worked hard to negotiate. Why is our president taking direct orders from Israel and passing them on to the State Department? The State Department now claims, unconvincingly, that Rice had already decided not to vote for it, but the egg is still on her face.
There’s a joke that asks why Israel doesn’t become America’s fifty-first state. The answer is, "Because then Israel would only have two senators."
The media, as always, are central to the problem. There have been large protests in the US and around the world, including Israel where 700 were arrested, but you would not know it from American media coverage. News coverage about Israeli military actions, US expenses on Israel, and Israel politics in the US, including the Israel lobby, is generally more thorough and more fair in Israel than it is here. Americans are poorly informed on international topics, but as the price they pay continues to increase with congressional selling-out of foreign policy, Americans may wake up. Democracy may come back to the United States. Who knows?
As for the incoming administration, Mr. Obama either meant what he said when he spoke of change, or he did not. If he does not make a sharp change in Israel policy, though, we should not expect too much good news on the rest of our foreign policy, or on energy, or on the economy or on health care.