On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western leaders are full of self-congratulation. But their paeans to universal freedom ring hollow, when they bear large responsibility for another wall constricting human freedom: the apartheid wall dividing the Palestinian West Bank.
Israeli authorities refer to it as a "separation barrier," but that's misleading. The wall doesn't separate pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank. If that's all it did, it would be an entirely different political object. Instead, the wall cuts deep into the Palestinian West Bank, separating Palestinians from each other and from their land, and signaling to the Palestinians that Israel intends to annex territory that Palestinians want for an independent Palestinian state. The fact that Western countries that support the Israeli government - above all the United States - say nothing about the West Bank wall signals to Palestinians that Western support for Palestinian statehood is merely rhetorical.
Today, AFP reports, Palestinians tore down a chunk of the wall near Ramallah.
AFP notes that 85 percent of the planned wall is inside the West Bank, and it would leave 9.5 percent of the West Bank and 35,000 West Bank Palestinians between the barrier and the Green Line that marks the 1967 border with Israel.
The World Court issued a resolution in 2004 calling for those parts of the barrier that are inside the West Bank to be torn down and for further construction in the territory to cease. Israel and Western countries have ignored the World Court resolution.
Two years ago Israel's own High Court ruled against the route of the wall near the Palestinian village of Bilin, but the Israeli government ignored the ruling of its own highest court.
A theatre near me is putting on a production of the play, "My Name is Rachel Corrie." As elsewhere, the local production has drawn vigorous hassle from those who dedicate themselves to trying to punish any criticism in the U.S. of human rights abuses committed by the Israeli government.
Tonight there is a "talkback" after the performance. Some people are bringing handouts, and I was asked to write something.
In 1996, I was a volunteer for Christian Peacemaker Teams in the Palestinian city of Hebron. Shortly after I arrived in Hebron, 2 of us were arrested and threatened with deportation when members of the CPT sat on the roof of a Palestinian home that the Israeli army intended to demolish. In addition, friends of mine teach at Evergreen and had Rachel as a student. So when I was asked to write something, of course I said yes. Rachel's story is close to my heart, not just as a symbol of human rights abuses carried out by the Israeli government with the acquiescence of the United States, but as a symbol of Americans putting themselves on the line for international solidarity. John Reed is buried in Red Square; veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade have been granted Spanish citizenship. When the Palestinians regain sovereignty over Al-Aqsa, I hope they do something there for Rachel.
Rachel Corrie, a 23-year old student at Evergreen State College and volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, was killed in 2003 by a bulldozer operated by the Israeli army while attempting to prevent Israeli forces from demolishing the home of Palestinian pharmacist Samir Nasrallah in the Rafah area of Gaza near the border with Egypt.
A United Nations fact-finding inquiry has found that Israel committed war crimes during its attack on Gaza last winter, Al Jazeera reports:
A group of female former Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli jails have accused prison guards of carrying out "humiliating" internal body searches in violation of Israel's prison code, Al Jazeera reports:
President Obama has the opportunity to make history in Cairo on Thursday, the kind of history that President Eisenhower made when he rebuked the 1956 invasion of Egypt by Britain, France and Israel. Eisenhower's stand won tremendous goodwill for the U.S. in the Arab world. If Obama stands firm on his policy differences with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, he can win tremendous goodwill for the U.S. in the Arab and Muslim world.
In the run-up to the speech, Obama has opened space between U.S. policy and Israeli government policy on relations with the Palestinians and on relations with Iran. The degree to which Obama can meaningfully differentiate the U.S. from the Netanyahu government in terms of policy will be a key determinant of whether he can convince Arab and Muslim audiences that the U.S. genuinely wants a different relationship with the Muslim world than it had during the Bush Administration. In Cairo, Obama will have the podium in the Arab and Muslim world in an unprecedented way. If Obama highlights his strong opposition to Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, his support for Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, his sustained diplomatic engagement with Iran, and his willingness to work with whoever wins the upcoming Lebanese and Iranian elections, he can change perceptions of the United States in the region.
On opposition to Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, Obama has staked out a clear position. Last week, Secretary of State Clinton said that President Obama:
There have been hints in the press that the Obama Administration has been considering conditioning U.S. aid to Israel on a real freeze of Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. There’s a conventional wisdom that suggests that doing this would touch a “third rail of politics.” But the conventional wisdom might not have been accurate; if it once was accurate, it might not be accurate any more.
WorldPublicOpinion.org has just released a poll showing that three-quarters of Americans oppose Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. This number is up 23 points from 2002.
Even among respondents who say they sympathize with Israel more than the Palestinians, 64% say Israel should not build settlements in the West Bank.
Opposition to settlements is found among majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Those who followed the issue closely oppose settlement expansion by the same margin as those who don’t.
Some may say: public opinion doesn’t matter. What matters, they may say, is that the so-called “Israel Lobby” will effectively punish any politician who tries to shift U.S. policy towards Israel and the Palestinians.
But the Obama Administration has already proved that this isn’t necessarily so.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
The administration has asked Congress for minor changes in U.S. law that would permit aid to continue flowing to Palestinians in the event Hamas-backed officials become part of a unified Palestinian government.
Secretary of State Clinton defended the administration’s position before Congress. She noted that