Dear Mr Obama
I supported you when you ran against Clinton for the Democratic nomination and when you ran against McCain for president, not merely because it was refreshing to have an African American president, but also because you struck me as bright, progressive, and intent on making the US and the world a better place. I was impressed with your promises to close Guantanamo Bay Cuba, end American involvement in Iraq, and with your apparent determination to bring about a solution to the question of Palestine.
But then came the bombing of Afghanistan, the ongoing chaos in Iraq, the failure to close Guantanamo Bay, and your reluctance or inability to stop Israeli aggression. During the Gaza war, as president elect, you kept silent.
I suppose the penny finally dropped with the extra-judicial assassination of Osama Bin Laden. You and the Americans – and even our Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore (who once listed ‘socialism’ as one of his passions) – kept speaking about the travesty of 9/11. But why are you willing to bomb, destroy and assassinate as revenge? Like so many others who were impressed with you during your elections campaign and after, I was expecting that ‘we’, the enlightened west, won’t stoop to killing without trial, in the mistaken hope that killing the leader would end his followers’ terror. Like many others, I was expecting you to understand that state terrorism is more brutal than non-state violence, and that you cannot kill an idea. As Gary Younge reminds us: ‘If you shoot a man twice in the head you don’t find him guilty. You find him dead. Americans have a right to grieve and remember victims of 9/11. But they have no monopoly on memory, grief or anger. Hundreds and thousands of innocent Afghanis, Iraqis and Pakistanis have been murdered as a result of America’s response to 9/11. If it’s righteous vengeance they’re after, Americans would not be first in line’.
But let me return to Palestine. When US-backed Israeli forced attacked helpless Gazans in December 2008 you were still not president, so playing golf was, I suppose, legitimate. That the attack was meticulously planned for six months (according to the Israeli press), that it left 1,300 dead and thousands of homeless Palestinians, and that a large number of children were killed seems to have made no difference to your ongoing financial and military support for Israel, even as your own citizens are struggling with one of the worse recessions in recent times.
In one of his trenchant columns, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy was asking you not to be a friend to an Israel that continues to dehumanise the Palestinians, disregard their democratically elected representatives, build the separation wall which increasingly closes off West Bank Palestinians from reaching their fields, their relatives, and a variety of services. Levy asked that you become a different, truer sort of friend, a friend who realises that Israel needs critics, not blind supporters.
You seem to share your predecessor’s ‘vision’ of a two state solution but without saying what you mean by the term ‘Palestinian state’. Even though you have said you do not recognise the legitimacy of Israeli settlements, when it came to the crunch, you did not stop them. And most recently, when the Palestinians finally decided to unite Fatah and Hamas (to Israel’s great chagrin), you fumbled. Even though your response to the Palestinian unity deal will be a major test of your administration’s handling of the Arab spring and the moribund peace process.
I would like to ask you again – please do not be Israel’s uncritical friend, and please suspend the US financial support to the Israeli military. In the wake of the Arab spring and the Bin Laden assassination, let me end by quoting Noam Chomsky: ‘There should be little difficulty in understanding why those whose eyes are not closed tight shut by rigid doctrine dismiss [your] yearning for human rights and democracy as a joke in bad taste’.