Time to Speak Openly and Freely

By George S. Hishmeh

The historic conference of Fateh, the Palestinian Liberation Movement, held in Bethlehem earlier this month, generated widespread optimism in the region, including Israel, due to the dethroning of the old guard that has been blamed for tolerating the cruel status quo imposed by Israel and its ineffectiveness since signing the inconclusive peace accord with Israel in 1993.

What was sorely missing from the conferees? Exchanges and the subsequent coverage by the various correspondents, regional and international, including some Americans who were in the region, is any mention of the consequences of the harsh Israeli policies.

Mazen Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian professor of biology at Bethlehem University, wrote in his blog (http://qumsiyeh.org) about the failure to expose the miserable conditions in the birthplace of Jesus Christ. He pointed out that the Bethlehem district lost more than 85 per cent of its land to the Israeli colonial settlements and the apartheid wall that snakes  around us and captures most of the good natural resources, the agricultural  lands, the water and more?

The professor, who had previously served on the faculties of the University of Tennessee and Duke and Yale universities, added that more than half of the "residents in this shrinking ghetto of Bethlehem are refugees or displaced people (and) nearly 35,000 are the refugees from the original frenzy of ethnic cleansing that happened between 1947-1949 and their descendants."

Another 30,000, he underlined, represent displaced people who moved into  the remaining shrinking enclave when their lands were stolen by colonial settlements since 1967 or are the security and other Palestine Liberation Organization people that came to Palestine after the Oslo accords.
Unemployment, he noted, was 30 per cent. All eyes during the 10-day period were understandably focused on the Fateh conference, held for the first time in  20 years, but the disregard of the situation there was unpardonable – and, I dare say, typical of many reporters who neglect to take Israel to task over its condemnable actions.

I was struck by Qumsiyeh’s comment when I read in The New York Times two columns by Thomas L. Friedman, probably the most prominent and influential American columnist who had earlier served as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. He wrote two columns from Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government,  where he found ‘some good cheer’ in the praiseworthy efforts of Palestinian  Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to build ‘quality institutions’. He stressed: ‘Something quite new is happening here. And given he centrality  of the Palestinian cause in Arab eyes, if Fayyadism works, maybe it could start  a trend in this part of the world – one that would do the most to improve Arab  human security – good, accountable government.’

But his columns, published on August 5 and 9, were void of any criticism of Israeli policies. Hopefully, he sounded off in his lecture, which the Israeli daily Haaretz said he gave to a number of the members of the Israeli Defence Forces general staff… about his impressions of his recent visits to Arab countries.
The paper revealed that he met with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and his deputy, the head of military intelligence, the head of the Home Front Command and the head of the planning branch. Criticism of Israel, or what may appear as criticism of Israel, comes at a high price, especially for American Jews, as has especially been the case with  Rahm Emmanuel, the chief of staff at the White House in the Obama administration.

A writer for Politico.com, a popular political website, reported that Israelis across the political spectrum were skeptical of Obama’s commitment to the Jewish homeland during the presidential campaign but many viewed Emmanuel as a guarantor of their interests, the best hope for continuing the US government’s favorable treatment of Israel.
He added: ‘Today, however, widespread unhappiness with their treatment at the hands of the Obama administration has led to feelings of betrayal – and Emanuel is bearing the brunt of it.’ He has been described as a ‘self-hating Jew’ or, nastier, as a ‘Kapo Jew’ – the name for Jewish police officers in Nazi concentration camps.

Robert Malley, former special assistant to President Bill Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs, whose father was an Egyptian Jew, was compelled to explain himself sheepishly for an op-ed that he co-authored last week with Hussein Agha in The New York Times. The column was titled ‘The two-state solution won’t solve anything’ and was interpreted by some ‘as an epitaph for the two-state solution and for the peace process’, David Halperin wrote in his blog. 

‘Absolutely not,’ Malley wrote in reply to Halperin. ‘Our work over the years has consistently been about the two-state solution.’ He explained: ‘We are seeking to understand why, despite years of efforts, attempts to achieve it have failed. And we are suggesting that his has less to do with disagreements over the precise territorial boundaries than with something deeper that must be grappled with rather than ignored.’
But as criticism of Israeli policies is increasing nowadays in the US, even within some liberal segments of the American Jewish community, the interview that Fareed Zakaria, the American-Indian CNN anchorman and editor of Newsweek International, had with the new Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, hit a new level this week. Zakaria had sharp exchanges with the evasive ambassador on many issues, ranging from Jerusalem to ethnic cleansing, and ended his interview with the pointed remark to the ambassador: ‘I am sure you are taking notes, because you  are also a great historian and one day you will tell us what you really think  when you were sitting here.’

It is about time that all will speak openly and freely. Certainly President Obama when he delivers his much-awaited statement on the Middle East next month at the opening session of the UN General Assembly.

 – George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: hishmehg@aol.com.

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