Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Needed in Gaza: US inspectors, peacekeepers, and aid workers

By Timothy Rieger - Miami Beach, Fla. – At a recent forum of the New America Foundation, scholar Walter Russell Mead reminded the audience that Israelis – and by extension all Jews – and Palestinians are the two peoples most betrayed by the history of the 20th century, albeit in vastly different scales.
The US response thus far to Israel's military operations in the Gaza Strip suggests that this double dose of human betrayal will be every bit the geopolitical phenomenon in the 21st century as it was in the 20th.
The politics are different from the past, as are the weapons, but the human willingness to shaft the lives of innocents in the name of realpolitik hasn't changed a bit.
President Bush has reflexively sided with Israel in the first days of this latest battle as he has for all of his presidency. President-elect Obama has indicated he will react according to the rules of the same domestic realpolitik playbook: giving the imprimatur of the US government to Israel's operations in the Gaza Strip, increasing casualties notwithstanding.
The message the entire Arab and Muslim world takes away from the US government is this: Dead Palestinian children are, in the larger scheme of things, an acceptable price to pay for Israel's security.
Through his senior adviser David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's response to the current crisis appears to be a reiteration of the point he made while on a trip in July to Sderot, an Israeli town often besieged by Hamas rockets.
Namely that he can understand, as the father of two girls, how besieged he would feel if Katyusha rockets were raining down on his neighborhood, threatening his own children as they sleep at night.
This raises the question: Can Obama similarly empathize with Palestinian moms and dads whose children have been killed in the violence?
Authentic empathy, and especially empathy for children killed and maimed with rockets or bombs, has no moral double standards. Well-rehearsed empathy has plenty.
No 7-year-old boy or girl, Israeli or Palestinian, should live in a universe where they are to blame for the destruction of their own little bodies. And yet that is precisely the implicit dictum, gussied up in political rhetoric soothing to some, macabre to others, that is and has been guiding American foreign policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly at moments when tensions ratchet up, as they have over the weekend.
If the US is to have any positive impact on finding a resolution to this conflict, we must stop lecturing Israelis and Palestinians about "ending the cycle of violence" and take stock of our own failures. We, the American people, need to end the cycle of abandoning all the innocent people of that region.
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