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Thursday, April 21, 2005


Letter to President Bush

Outside View: Letter to President Bush

By Bouthaina Shaaban
Outside View Commentator

Damascus, Syria, Apr. 19 (UPI) -- The mother of 15-year-old Khalid Ghannam, one of three teenagers killed on April 9 by Israeli soldiers in Gaza, asked Bouthaina Shaaban, Syrian Minister of Expatriates, to send this letter to President Bush. In an article first published in al-Shark al-Awsat, Shaaban addresses the mother's wishes.

Dear President Bush,

On the eve of (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon's visit to your ranch in Texas, my son Khalid was playing football (soccer) near our doorsteps. In less than an hour, he was brought back in a bundle of blood. The Israeli soldiers have killed him and two other playmates of his.

While you were receiving your visitor, Mr. President, we were preparing for the children's funeral. I hoped you would condemn the killing, first as a father, and second as president of the world's greatest power.

The three children were guiltless, except for being born Palestinian in Palestine. And there I was, another bereaved mother, joining the ranks of thousands of Palestinian mothers who lost their children to the bullets or prisons of the occupation.

In spite of the grief we live, thanks to your unconditional support to the Israeli occupation, I cannot find it in my heart to wish you, or any other mother or father, the pain of loosing your child. The loss is too grave to be endured; it shatters your soul and heart, it could drive one insane.

Your discussions of the "issues" were irrelevant to my pain. The issue, Mr. President, is not withdrawal from Gaza, or evacuating the settlers from Gaza. Once (former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak) Rabin said it all loud and clear -- as you might remember -- when he wished he would wake up one day "to find that Gaza had been swallowed by the sea."

The core issue, Mr. President, is occupation and settlement. Two roads towards one goal: depriving us of our lands and waters, after killing some and forcing the rest out. When you describe our struggle for freedom as terrorism, and Israeli crimes as kin to your war on terrorism, you are entrapping Americans in an unjust war. You are abolishing the legitimate Palestinian rights to state and freedom. You are allowing Sharon to kill Palestinians wherever and whenever he wants, even if they were only few children playing football.

I watched on hoping for a stand against the settlements, where immigrants are being imported to consume Palestinian space. I hoped you would ask for dismantling -- not freezing -- them, as the U.N. Security Council Resolutions demand. Incidentally, Mr. President, there are no legitimate and illegitimate settlements. Settlements -- i.e., Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands -- are only illegitimate, as all international norms dictate. Occupation is a breach to the human rights and freedom you proselytize for media consumption when other countries are concerned.

I hoped you would express anger at the Israeli apartheid wall (the separation barrier). Do you not in your speeches call for "building bridges" between people?

I hoped for more anger at the Israeli tampering with the identity of Jerusalem. Is it not the holy city of all three monotheistic religions, where no one can exclude the other?

I wished the walk around your ranch would inspire an objection to Israelis uprooting our olive trees, poisoning our water wells, or shooting our livestock. We live on those things Mr. President; you only take pleasure in your ranch.

I swallowed my pain, hoping for a word to set the hearts of Palestinian mothers at peace, and reassure them that Sharon will no longer assassinate their children. The longer I watched, the more it seemed that I wouldn't be the last Palestinian mother to loose her child to an Israeli bullet, just as I was not the first.

I wondered if you had seen the assassination of the child Muhammad al-Durra on TV five years ago. Ever since, the Israeli troops have assassinated hundreds of Palestinian children and thousands of Palestinian men and women. You can't have seen any of those killings, otherwise you would have condemned the crimes.

Consumed in my wishful thinking, I woke up to your cordial grin presenting Sharon with a box of chocolate wrapped up in an Israeli flag. Sharon has deprived my child of life, myself of joy, and my fellow Palestinians of freedom and independence. Why do you still furnish him with financial and political support, Apache helicopters, and now chocolate?

Mr. President, I hear you calling for freedom and democracy, why don't you call for Palestinian freedom and democracy too? What prompts your indifference? Our human tragedy, Mr. President, is one of the cruelest in the 20th century.

Khalid, my son, and his friends were killed just because the Israeli government wanted the lands of their fathers and forefathers. They were not even resisting; they were just playing football.

(Bouthaina Shaaban is Syrian minister of expatriates.)

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