Friday, January 20, 2006
An Invitation to Barak Obama
An Invitation for Barak Obama
January 15th, 2006
by Katie (ISM)
The morning of Thursday, January 12, Palestinian and other international activists and I were invited to the branch of Jerusalem
University in Ramallah for a conference that Barak Obama, the US
senator from Illinois, was holding with students. The others were
skeptical about him, but I assured them that he was a very progressive
politician and he would be supportive of the Palestinian cause.
Barak Obama began the conference by saying how surprised he was that it
was cold and raining in Ramallah, that it went against his preconceived
notions about the climate in the Middle East. He spoke about his
background and how he was the underdog in his race for the Senate. He
explained to us that even though the US has made many foreign policy
mistakes, that he believed in our system of checks and balances. He
then offered to start a dialog with the audience.
One student asked how Arab governments could create a paradigm shift and
improve relations with the US. When he answered the question, I tried
not to give in to frustrated laughter because, I kid you not, this is
what he said (I am paraphrasing and my comments are in parenthesis):
The Arab governments need to embrace democracy, not theocracy. When you
allow the will of God to influence the laws of your country, you will
not win the support of the US (what about Israel claiming they have
the God given right to rule this land?. The Arab governments need to
renounce violence against civilians(What about 100,000 dead Iraqis,
were all of those people terrorists, Baathists, foreign fighters or
were some of them civilians?. The US is opposed to theocracy and
terrorism and if the Arab governments want to create a paradigm shift,
they need to address these concerns of ours.
So then I asked him, "You say the US is opposed to theocracy and
terrorism, how can you explain to the Palestinian people how the US can
be opposed to these things but still supports a state that has racist,
oppressive, unjust and apartheid policies. And do you see how this
paints an inconsistent picture to the people of the Middle East?"
He began his answer by saying he would not accept the assumptions I
made and therefore was not going to address that part of my question. He
said he could understand the Palestinian view that the policies of the
US were one sided but he said the relationship with Israel was not
going to change. My high hopes for Barak Obama's foreign policy ideas
were shot down!
Obama said this was his first trip to the Middle East, that he had just
come from Qatar and Jordan. I imagine he stayed in some pretty fancy
hotels. I'm not sure that if you are a powerful American politician
on your first ever trip to the Middle East that you can really get a
good idea of what things are like here.
So Barak Obama, I would like to send you an invitation. I invite you to
consider that maybe your preconceived notions about the weather in the
Middle East are not the only notions that were incorrect.
Barak Obama, I would like to invite you to stand in line at Qalandia checkpoint, I
would like you to witness the humiliation Palestinians face there,
I'd like to invite you to take part in a peaceful demonstration in which
Mohammad Mansour was engaged when his friend was shot and killed, or
Roni, who was shot in the neck and who is now paralyzed from the waist
I'd like to invite you to acknowledge that there are families
on the Palestinian side of the wall who cannot travel 5 minutes away to
the next village to see their families on the Israeli side of the wall.
I would invite you to meet Ahmad, a five year old boy I met on the way
back from Jenin whose father was killed by Israeli soldiers.
I would like you to consider that if a Palestinian wants to leave the country
by plane , he or she cannot leave via Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv,
he or she must travel by land to Jordan and leave via the airport in
Amman. This is the Middle East's only democracy, Mr. Obama !
I would invite you to consider how the unconditional support for Israel with US
tax dollars affects 4 million Palestinian people who just want to live
their lives and be free from oppression.