by Mitchell Plitnick
Sometimes I just cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to be an Arab citizen of the United States, much less a Palestinian one.
There are many people with personal connections to Israel and to Gaza who are frightened, safely sitting in the US and worrying about their friends and family in that region. A lot of them draw comfort from their communities and from the various sources, mostly social media, where they can find not only reports, but also messages of sensitivity and solidarity for their people (often at the expense of the other). But the experience is still very different for Jews and Arabs. Especially in Washington, DC, a Jewish-American citizen can always take comfort that no matter how worried she may be about her relatives in Be’ersheva or Ashkelon or Sderot, the US government is expressing support for Israel. But a Palestinian citizen? Not so much.
Right now, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is pushing nearly identical bills through the House of Representatives, which has already passed one, and the Senate. The bills — both “Sense of Congress” bills, which express a view but bring about no concrete action – declare absolute support for Israel, call Hamas’ violence “unprovoked,” and, in the Senate version only, call on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian unity government.
What can that feel like to a US citizen who has relatives or friends in Gaza?
While Hamas’ indiscriminate firing at Israeli civilians is reprehensible and criminal, claiming its attacks were unprovoked is simply incorrect. As I detailed previously, the attacks were not only provoked, but the provocation was clearly planned by the Netanyahu government. This isn’t exactly ancient history; all this began just a few weeks ago. But the narrative in Washington, in most of the mainstream media, and in much of Israel has been completely turned on its head. Israel’s actions in bringing about these events have been forgotten.
The Senate, probably more keenly aware than most House members that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s goal from the beginning was to dismember the Palestinian unity “government,” added that clause to its call. But what is really striking here is not just the usual one-sidedness of an AIPAC-backed resolution. That is, of course, expected.
What is truly stunning is the stark absence of any mention of the people getting killed. None of those people, so far, are in Israel. At this writing, the death toll in Gaza stands at 174 people, of whom at least 32 are children. 80% of those killed are estimated by the United Nations to have been non-combatants.
No one who pays any attention to the politics of Israel-Palestine would expect Congress to blame Israel for those deaths. No one would expect Congress to comment on the illegal bombings of private homes by Israel, which have killed dozens of innocents. No one would expect Congress to question whether this entire operation constitutes “legitimate self-defense” as permitted by international law.
But even Congress, as intertwined with AIPAC as it has been for so long, could be expected to express some regret at the loss of life. In the past, congressional statements have included such regrets, often saying that they are inevitable because of Hamas’ actions, its embedding itself in civilian areas, etc. They could have done this again. But even that gesture, it seems, is too much for this Congress.
What message does that send to Palestinian-Americans? To all Arab citizens?
It sends the message that Arab life, and especially Palestinian life, is not just cheap, it’s meaningless. It sends that message not only to those citizens, but to all US citizens, and it communicates to the entire world that the deaths of Palestinians are not worth any notice by the United States.
But by allowing AIPAC to speak for us all through our Congress we are allowing the collective voice of the United States to scream to the world that the immeasurably greater destruction raining down on innocent Gazans means nothing to us. The only consolation, and it is microscopic, is that the bills have received fewer co-sponsors – 41 in the Senate and 166 in the House — than what AIPAC bills normally acquire. So far it has received insufficient support for an immediate vote, and has been referred to the Foreign Relations Committee. AIPAC will be pushing the committee hard to get it through.
If it comes to the Senate floor, it will almost certainly pass. Yet no matter how supportive of Israel one may claim to be, it is hard to imagine the moral justification for a statement from Congress that offers, at this time, exclusive support for Israel, where, thankfully, no one has been killed, while not even mentioning Gaza, which has lost 174 people and counting. Is this really a message that the majority of Americans would want to send to the rest of the world? I think not.
Photo: Children play atop a bullet-riddled building in Gaza on April 10, 2011. Credit: UN/Shareef Sarhan
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