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Obama’s deadly silence
Friday, January 2, 2009 :"I would like to ask President-elect Obama to say something please about the humanitarian crisis that is being experienced right now by the people of Gaza." Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney made her plea after disembarking from the badly damaged SS Dignity that had limped to the Lebanese port of Tyre while taking on water.
The small boat, carrying McKinney, the Green Party's recent presidential candidate, other volunteers, and several tons of donated medical supplies, had been trying to reach the coast of Gaza when it was rammed by an Israeli gunboat in international waters.
But as more than 2,400 Palestinians have been killed or injured -- the majority civilians -- since Israel began its savage bombardment of Gaza on 27 December, Obama has maintained his silence. "There is only one president at a time," his spokesmen tell the media. This convenient excuse has not applied, say, to Obama's detailed interventions on the economy, or his condemnation of the "coordinated attacks on innocent civilians" in Mumbai in November.
The Mumbai attacks were a clear-cut case of innocent people being slaughtered. The situation in the Middle East however is seen as more "complicated" and so polite opinion accepts Obama's silence not as the approval for Israel's actions that it certainly is, but as responsible statesmanship.
It ought not to be difficult to condemn Israel's murder of civilians and bombing of civilian infrastructure including hundreds of private homes, universities, schools, mosques, civil police stations and ministries, and the building housing the only freely-elected Arab parliament.
The tiny Gaza Strip, with its 1.5 million people crowded into 139 square miles, has been a tinderbox since Israel’s unilateral pullout in 2005.
Israel has maintained a punitive military and economic grip on Gaza, keeping the population in what is internationally condemned as a deepening humanitarian crisis. Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) seized power there in 2007, and began its “resistance” policy of firing rockets into southern Israel. A tenuous six-month ceasefire ended in early December despite reported behind-the-scenes initiatives to extend it, and now we have the horrible spectacle of a massive aerial bombardment of this densely populated strip by Israel, with the civilian toll mounting daily (currently nearly 500 Gazans dead and approaching 2,000 wounded, including children). Hamas has continued rocket attacks on Israel, killing 4 Israelis as of this week, and is threatening suicide bombings and other attacks in Israel.
Israel says its assault is a defensive operation, yet also says it intends to physically wipe out the Hamas leadership. Other objectives appear to be to intimidate the Palestinian people, further weaken Palestinian civil society and promote disunity, and reassert Israeli power.
There is growing international condemnation of Israel’s disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population, both violations of the Geneva Conventions.
It’s possible a temporary truce may emerge in the next few days, but, more than ever, the underlying issues will at long last have to be resolved. And the incoming Obama administration will have the challenge, and the opportunity, to lead the way to peace.
Who benefits from the crisis that has erupted in Gaza?
The election of Barack Obama brought with it the real possibility for a just solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict based on two states, as long ago envisioned by the United Nations.
During his campaign Obama told Jewish leaders on a number of occasions that his support for Israel did not mean he would support the policies of Israel’s Likud Party. This was a courageous stand by Obama, but it also reflected the growing awareness in influential U.S. circles that a peaceful two-state solution is in U.S. interests, including the long-term global interests of U.S. capitalism, not to mention the interests of the Israeli and Palestinian people.
When he announced his naming of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and other top national security appointments, Obama singled out a lasting solution for Israel and the Palestinians as one of his four top foreign policy priorities.