A Tale of Two Letters: One Palestinian, One Israeli

By Dallas Darling

When President Barack Obama warned Palestinians they would face ‘repercussions’ if they voted against more Israeli settlement expansion at a United Nations Security Council meeting, even ‘demanding’ such democratic activity be stopped, it reminded me of a letter that Hanan Ashrawi wrote to President Bill Clinton during his final days in office:

“Mr. President, that most American public officials, once out of office, begin to suffer pangs of conscience and inexplicable urges to express contrition in the form of public confessions pertaining to the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people. With an honest desire to spare you the fate of other high officials who develop after-the-fact immaculate hindsight and a drive for justice, I would like to point out that there is still world enough and time to speak out and ACT now.”(1)

Meanwhile, a group of sixty Israeli professionals, including experts in education, social work, psychology, medicine, and law, have delivered a letter to Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu detailing “flagrant violations” and harsh treatment against Palestinian children. Thousands of Palestinian minors, suspected of throwing stones, have been arrested by Israeli security forces in occupied and annexed territories. The signed letter cites how youngsters have been dragged out of their beds at night and detained. Children as young as twelve-years have suffered threats, beatings and “substantial physical harm.” Others have endured harsh and severe interrogations. (In once case, Israeli police interrogated an eight-year-old for four hours and in isolation.)

Israeli professionals have also documented Palestinian children being beaten in the legs and around the face by Israeli border police coming out of schools. In one instance, a seven-year old Palestinian boy was attacked and with the help of passers-by was able to escape and run home, covered with bruises. This was witnessed by those who intervened, and by clinic officials where the boy was treated. The letter delivered to Netanyahu also spelled out major concerns over how such coercive and violent acts are impacting the psychological well-being and health of Palestinian youth, not to mention how these illegal actions and brutal tactics are influencing Israelis as a whole. The letter demands that Israeli security forces abide by the “rule of law” and treat Palestinians with dignity and respect.

While the Palestinian Liberation Organization voted unanimously to vote against Israel’s expanding settlement activities-which are illegal and could trigger another major conflict-the Obama administration continues to offer Israel a number of incentives to extend its settlement freeze. Unbelievably, one incentive is a multi-billion dollar pledge to deliver Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning fighter aircraft. With the announcement that the U.S. will no longer seek a settlement freeze, and with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressing frustration with the Israeli-Palestinian impasse and that the peace process is “just not moving fast enough‘” it might be wise to reflect on Ashwari’s prophetic words in her letter to former President Clinton.

“With the presidential elections over (pregnant or dimpled or hanging chads notwithstanding), with Hillary safely assured a senatorial seat (her turn-about politics notwithstanding), with the economy-stupid flourishing, and with historical visits (e.g. Vietnam) proudly accomplished, you have two obvious options. You can sit back and contemplate your legacy as a mathematical exercise of columns of positives and negatives…or you can roll your sleeves and take up the challenge of history in the Middle East.” Unlike President Clinton, though, President Obama still has two years left in office, possibly six. But to forge a sustainable and just and lasting peace, he will have to “shed (or, better yet, shred) the briefs and talking points prepared by the State Department underlings who have made a career out of the peace process.”

Obama will have to “discard the preconceptions/misconceptions generated by the Israeli spin machine; take a deep hard look at the peace process to discern where things went horribly wrong as a first step towards rectification; and try to listen to the Palestinian people directly.” He will have to recognize that “there is such a thing as Palestinian public opinion held by real flesh and blood Palestinians who have long been victims of war and now find themselves victims of a flawed peace process and dangerously short sighted policies.” Americans too will have to understand the Palestinians were “people who, in 1948, were subject to the dual injustice of dispossession, dispersion and exile on the one had and of occupation and oppression on the other hand.”

In truth, “These are the people whose lands were confiscated, children murdered, houses demolished, towns and villages besieged, economy destroyed, freedoms curtailed and right violated even in the course of negotiations…These are the same people who are running out of fuel, medicine, and basic food supplies while their towns, villages and camps are besieged by Israeli tanks and army checkpoints, and while their skies are being violated by Cobra and Apache gun ships relentlessly shelling their homes.” These are the people, Mr. Obama, on whom you are now calling to not exercise democracy and to not vote against Israel’s settlement expansion while their lives, rights, lands, and very humanity are being systematically violated.

“Do you think, Mr. President, for one moment that the peace process which you have so assiduously pursued can achieve a just and lasting peace if it continues to victimize the weak and accommodate the powerful? Do you think, Mr. President, that the systematic military violence of the occupier is commensurate with the oppressed peoples will to resist and reject their subjugation and their enslavement? Do you thing, Mr. President, that with persistent dehumanization of the Palestinian people and total disregard of their minimal rights any peace can be achieved (no matter how much pressure you put on their leaders)? It is time to recognize that Palestinian statehood is a right as well as an essential requirement for peace.”

President Obama: “It is time to assure the Palestinian of their right to freedom, dignity, and security in an even-handed pursuit of peace. It is time to think big, to act strategically, and to abandon the damage control, crisis management, reactive policies that respond only to the latest violation or eruption. It is not to late Mr. President.” Use your influence to intervene and change the course of history. If you do not, you will be like the other American public officials “who once out of office, begin to suffer pangs of conscience and inexplicable urges to express contrition in the form of public confessions pertaining to the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people.”

– Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John‘s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent for www.worldnews.com. You can read more of Dallas’ writings at www.beverlydarling.com and wn.com//dallasdarling. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.


(1) Ashrawi, Hanan. “Letter to President Bill Clinton,” 2001., p. 1.

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