‘Void of action’

Feb 11,2016 – JORDAN TIMES – George S. Hishmeh

These days, focus on the Middle East, particularly the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, has virtually disappeared. 

The position of the Palestinians, led by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, hardly makes it into the US media.

Americans are nowadays more involved in their upcoming presidential elections, with some Republican leaders regrettably sounding racist or sectarian.

Likewise, Europe has been dealing with the influx of Arab refugees from strife-torn Syria and Iraq where Daesh has challenged governments.

A headline in last Sunday’s New York Times exposed an unexpected turnaround in Israel. It read: “Israel is moving away from the vision of its largely secular founders.”

Religious Zionism, according to Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, an Israeli research centre, regards the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank where some 600,000 Israelis live as Israel’s “most important creation in this generation”. He adds that nowadays, “there is a growing sense that they are the true future of Zionism, because secular Zionism has been in decline for decades”.

A few days after this article, President Barack Obama took the unprecedented step of visiting a mosque in Baltimore, in the words of The Washington Post, “to repair the increasingly frayed relationship between American Muslims and their fellow citizens”.

This belated visit, the first by an American president, came in the midst of what the Post described as “a climate that in recent months has unnerved many American Muslims and surprised senior White House officials”, and during a presidential campaign marked by “inflammatory and anti-Islamic rhetoric” by Republican presidential hopefuls, including Donald Trump, who suggested a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US. 

For the record, president George W. Bush visited the Islamic Cultural Centre in Washington six days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, where he declared: “Islam is peace” and “the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.”

Obama’s visit, the paper noted, was “extraordinary for its contrast to a stirring address delivered in the first months of his presidency … speaking in Cairo” to more than 1 billion Muslims about a “new beginning” with the US.

But seven years later in Baltimore, Obama’s aims, the Post added, “were far more modest in [his] spare and modest speech”.

Obama, whose father is Muslim, told American Muslims that day: “If you’re ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as president of the United States: You fit in here — right here.”

“You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America, too,” he added.

Obama also attended a ceremony at the Israeli embassy in Washington a month ago to honour four persons — two Americans and two Poles — posthumously for saving Jews during the Holocaust. But regrettably, Obama failed to come up with any ideas that would help confront antagonism against Muslims, such as educating students about the three monotheistic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Coincidentally, another issue came up in Washington this week. Palestinian Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, in an op-ed sent to newspapers, complained that successive US administrations “have done very little to stop the expansion of the [Israeli] settlement enterprise”.

He charged that “Israel continues to build these settlements unabatedly, precisely because America’s position is void of any substantive action”.

“The settlement enterprise in occupied Palestine remains a major obstacle to peace because it swallows up Palestinian land, restricts Palestinian access to natural resources, destroys the social and economic fabric of Palestinian society, breeds violence similar to what has been taking place in recent months, and above all, jeopardises the creation of a viable, contiguous and sovereign Palestinian state,” he said.

Areikat also brought up the issue of American donations to Israel. 

He said that recent reports “unveiled that scores of American organisations and individuals are using US tax loopholes to subsidise illegal settlements”, adding that more than $220 million of tax-exempt money was funnelled to Israel between 2009 and 2013 by at least 50 American organisations.

The writer is a Washington-based columnist.

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