This is the front page of our Sunday newspaper. The magnified excerpt reads, in its entirety:
"Letter to Barack Obama
Dear Mr. President,
In just over a month, you will receive the world's most prestigious honour, the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian committee made it very clear that it was hoping the prize would encourage you to fulfill your promise of promoting multilateralism and peace.
You have a historic opportunity today to make your mark, bring justice to the long-suffering people of Palestine and pave the way for a real and enduring peace in the Middle East. An internationally acclaimed jurist has placed in your hands what can be considered a key to finally deliver to the Palestinians "dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own", which you promised in your historic Cairo speech. It is called the Goldstone Gaza Report.
The report has been endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council, which has referred it to the Security Council. But your administration has for the past few weeks been lobbying to bury the report. Today, the future of peace in the region rests on the willingness of your administration to declare that Israel must be held accountable for its crimes in Gaza. Today you have a chance to right a wrong, pave the way towards peace and actually earn the Nobel."
The letter continues on pages 12-13; here are some other noteworthy passages:
"As you rightly and 'humbly' commented after the Nobel committee's announcement, there are in fact people more deserving. By your own admittance, you have yet to achieve something that could warrant such an award."
"Just a reminder, Mr. President, this promise [to promote multilateralism and peace] was made by you on your first day in office-- it was prominent in your inaugural speech. You said, 'America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.'
"One need not have actually been there to speak of the relief the Palestinians must have felt as they listened to that speech in their besieged homes in the West Bank and Gaza. They probably felt, for the first time in a very long and bloody six decades, a glimmer of hope. A flicker at the end of the tunnel.
"To be honest, the majority of Arabs experienced a similar feeling. . . . We still cherish your words in Cairo, when you addressed the Arab and Muslim nations. 'So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achiever justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end,' you proclaimed.
"But what really defined that moment for this region, troubled and stressed by six decades of wars and tension, was when you declared that 'America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.'"
"Judge Goldstone has understandably come under attack by the Israeli government [for the Goldstone Gaza Report], which had refused to cooperate with the UN team from the outset. But what is perplexing is the scathing attack that came from your administration, which called the report 'deeply flawed.' A few days ago, Judge Goldstone said he was shocked by this comment and challenged you, Mr. President, to identify the 'flaws.' . . . By the way, Judge Goldstone, who has been called in your country a 'Jew-hater' and an 'anti-Semite,' is a Jew and a self-proclaimed Zionist. Thus, he cannot be accused of bias."
"Today, the future of peace in the region rests not on the much-appreciated and well-intentioned efforts of your envoy, Senator George Mitchell, but on the willingness of your administration to declare that war crimes will not stand; to declare that oppressive occupation must not be tolerated; and Israel, which has enjoyed international impunity, must be held accountable for its crimes in Gaza."
"Your moral responsibility compels you to put the Goldstone report on the table, to debate it and act on it. This is the justice the Palestinians have long been waiting for.
"Today you have a chance to right a wrong. This is your chance to pave the way for peace in the Middle East. This is your chance to address the long-entrenched Arab belief that America is just as guilty of atrocities in Palestine as Israel."
* * * *
In reading this op-ed piece, I was once again struck by the editor's suggestion that the prospect of peace in this entire region hinges upon an age-old dispute over a parcel of land about the size of New Jersey. Particularly because I am 99% atheist, I find the idea that so many thousands of people are driven to kill-- or willfully die-- in the name of this theological dispute utterly confounding.
Living here for almost a year now has certainly been an education in my own prejudices. When we first arrived, I was astonished to hear people casually referring to themselves as "Palestinian," or to see a Palestinian flag being marched in the elementary schools' International Day events... just as I was taken aback to realize that on the majority of maps here, "Palestine" is labeled in the space where I had instinctively assumed I would see Israel's name. And it still leaves PopPop gobsmacked (to borrow an expression from our Supernanny) when he reads a newspaper article that states, as its origin, "Occupied Jerusalem."
But over time, the shock has worn off. I have stopped unconsciously scanning the lineup for an Israeli flag during the kids' International Day festivities, just as I have stopped doing the reflexive double-take when a mother at school says that her family is from Palestine. Of course living in this region has made me more sympathetic to the "Palestinian" point of view; the gory newspaper images published here during the Gaza conflict will probably cause me to forever second-guess the integrity of both the American and the Israeli media machines. Why is it that, before we moved here, I had been programmed to always take the Israelis' side? And why, before we moved here, had I never been substantively exposed to the very real suffering endured by Palestinian mothers, fathers, and children?
Surely my own ignorance is partly to blame. Being Jewish, I took it as a given that I was always supposed to defend Israel's actions, regardless of the circumstance: If Israel attacked, I believed, then it went without saying that someone else had attacked it first, and it was simply acting in self-defense. So I never truly educated myself as to the Palestinian cause, and to this day I remain largely uneducated in this regard (though I intend to change that, because what good are political views if they have no foundation other than an emotional one).
But now, I am finding it harder to convince myself that Israel is, in every instance, the white knight, the hero. I read UAE newspaper articles on a regular basis describing what appears to be Israel's disproportionate military response to unsophisticated Arab uprisings; for example, yesterday the front page reported that Israeli soldiers "stormed" a holy Muslim site with tear gas after some Arabs had thrown rocks at them. Even if this journalism is overtly biased against Israel and doesn't at all reflect what actually took place that day, is there really any doubt that this *could* have happened? Isn't it true that Israel rarely shies away from an opportunity to showcase its military prowess? Does my growing distaste for Israel's military conduct make me a bad Jew??
I hope not; for anyone who knows me will tell you that being Jewish is a big part of my identity, and that passing this cultural and historical legacy on to my daughters is of utmost importance to me. And yet I am coming to see that taking pride in my Jewishness does not necessarily equate to Zionism, nor does it mean I think that Israel is always in the right. Families are families, and children are children, and at the very minimum, all of them (American, Israeli, Palestinian, whatever) *deserve* to lay down their heads at night knowing that it is safe to close their eyes. That's not too much to ask, is it?
[Coincidentally, today's paper ran a piece on Amnesty International's report, "Thirsting for Justice: Palestinian Access to Water Restricted," in which it is alleged that Israel's water policies have deprived Palestinian families of "an adequate standard of living" while Israeli colonies boast swimming pools and well-watered lawns.]
Of course I don't know the answer to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis; if I did, surely I would be hosting an all-hands meeting with President Obama right now instead of sitting here at the dining room table in my pajamas. But I believe that each of us needs to put our religious and emotional reflexes aside just for a moment and remember that we are ostensibly rational adults, not tempestuous children who cannot control our impulses. It seems obvious to me that if Israel misbehaved, as the Goldstone report alleges, then Israel should be punished. And if the Palestinians are laying claim to the same stretch of land as the Israelis are, then we must figure out a way to divide the space so that both sides get a little of what they want and lose a little of what they want. Because even if you believe that your personal politics are dictated by the Divine, I'm relatively certain that, if there is a God, he would not want for innocent children to die, regardless of their ethnicity.
And so, President Obama, it's time for you to embody fairness and objectivity, even if it means defying the all-powerful Israeli lobby. You have been handed what is likely a once-in-a-generation opportunity and you are intelligent and driven enough not to squander it. The whole world truly wants you to succeed; now put your Harvard smarts to use and go make history, wouldja?
On behalf of all of us living here in the Middle East: Thanks.