Our new president-elect George W. Bush has unconditionally supported Israel as a "true friend of the United States," and if it came down to war with Palestine and its Arab allies, the United States would be 100 percent behind the nation of Israel. In light of recent events in that part of the world, this unconditional support leaves me baffled about our nation's foreign policy and our relationships with Middle East countries, especially Israel.
I was brought up to believe the United States is the defender of democracy around the world and the watchdog of human rights. As a nation, we pride ourselves on quickly condemning a country's leadership when issues such as human rights, an abusive military and racial prejudice come to our attention.
Through NATO, we supported the Bosnians in their drive to push the Serbians out of their homeland, and we worked hard behind the scenes to rid Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic. The U.S. supports crippling United Nations sanctions placed on Iraq in order to weaken Saddam Hussein, and we are hopeful that repressive North Korea will one day join the democratic South Korea.
With these lofty successes and goals, isn't it surprising that when it comes to the Palestinian dream of independence in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, we turn our backs on the Palestinians? Over the last seven years, the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams have worked hard to develop a peace plan that is just, to both Palestine and Israel. Concessions on territory were made on both sides, and negotiations were worked out to respect both Jewish and Islamic Holy sites in Jerusalem.
With this in mind, you can imagine Palestinian frustration and rage when one of the most conservative leaders of Israel, Ariel Sharon, made a controversial speech from the most dramatic symbol of Palestinian nationality, not to mention the third holiest site in Islam: the Al Asqa mosque in the heart of Jerusalem. What was the Israeli leadership thinking when they allowed Sharon to speak at this site, surrounded by hundreds of armed Israeli soldiers? On witnessing this atrocious act, some Palestinians were angry, confused and, above all, completely discouraged with 'peace negotiations.' The Palestinians went into a rage and rioted with devastating consequences.
They were met by deadly force. Remember this: For every picture you see of an angry Palestinian throwing a rock, they are met by at least four Israeli soldiers on the other side wielding M-16 machine guns and trained in the latest American military technology. The results were devastating to the Palestinians. More than 100 Palestinians, mostly young men, were killed, and the peace process was left in ruins. Yet, when the U.N. Security Council voted 14-0 to condemn Israel in its excessive use of violence against Palestinian protesters, the United States was the only country on the council to abstain from the vote. By refusing to vote on this issue, we condoned the draconian tactics used by the Israeli military and further jeopardized the American role as an honest peace broker in the Middle East.
Are these Israeli actions something the U.S. should be supporting? Both major presidential candidates stressed the importance of reaching out to moderate Arab nations such as Jordan and Egypt to support American peace efforts in the Middle East. Can Arab countries trust the United States to be fair, just and equitable when the U.S. never questions the actions of Israel? Can these countries trust the U.S. to broker peace deals throughout the Middle East even though they never question Israel on any of its controversial actions? The U.S. has always stood behind the U.N. and perceives the U.N. as the central enforcers in the "no fly zone" over Iraq. Yet, when the U.N. Security Council condemns Israel for excessive use of violence, our government is silent.
Until recently, Israel has always been in the role of the David against Goliath, considering its place in the Arab world. It's fought wars against its Arab neighbors and won. It's gained international support for its efforts to have a legitimate place in the world. Its per-capita income is 10 times that of the Palestinians and 20 times that of Israel's nearest neighbors, Egypt. The United States gives Israel $4 billion in aid every year to boost its military and help Israel stay one step ahead of its Arab neighbors. By all accounts, Israel is an economic and military success. It should be proud of its short 50-year history.
This begs these two questions: Why is Israel so adamantly opposed to the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state? And second, why is the U.S. so passive in its support of Palestinians trying to create their own nation, one that determines its own destiny?
The United States is a country that will go to great lengths to oppose tyranny and defend the rights of the oppressed peoples of the world. Why not Palestine?
Unfortunately, we as Americans have a double standard when it comes to the Palestinians struggle for independence. In the American press, we view Chairman Arafat as a rogue figure who masterminds all of the riots in Jerusalem and the occupied territories, and condones the actions of the Hizbolah in Southern Lebanon. Mention the word "Palestinian" in the media, and people think of an uncontrolled terrorist group or a mob of angry young men rioting. We Americans watched on TV as Israeli gunships pulverized civilian targets with American-made weapons, used against a bunch of young men throwing rocks. Yet, in reality, those rioting mobs are a minority and most Palestinians are just like most Israelis and Americans: They want to lead an honorable life, determine their own destiny and live in a safe place to raise their families.
The next time you hear President-elect George W. Bush talk of our 'true friend' Israel, think of the cost that friendship comes with: seven million Palestinians who have no homeland, billions of American dollars in Israeli aid, distrust of American intentions by Arab nations and most importantly, a double standard in some of our strongest values -- defenders of the oppressed, and the helpers of people who are struggling to create their own destiny.
& & & lt;i & Ted Barnwell recently returned to Spokane from the Middle East, where he taught at a private school in Jordan for five years. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &