Yes We Can If We Will It

By William A. Cook

"That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another. The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christians and Muslims and Jews, cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down." (Barak Obama, Berlin, July 24, 2008)

Two hundred thousand Germans stood in rapt attention as our President-elect spoke these stirring words of hope and commitment while millions watched via television, witness all to impending change, a world without walls of anger, hate, vengeance, racism and fear, a world where empathy, compassion, tolerance and hope reign. Four months later, seventy thousand stood in Grant Park election night, hope visible on every face, to hear “This is our time … to promote the cause of peace.” In Europe and America, indeed in virtually every nation in the world, the desire for peace, for an America that truly desires and works for peace, rings like the Liberty Bell, a clarion call for change for a changed America. Obama’s warning that no walls must divide the people of the world rests on recognition of the highest justice known to humankind – the justice that “uplifts human personality” in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. No wall can stand that humiliates, depersonalizes, or denigrates another because such a wall is out of harmony with the moral law.
Clearly, while President –elect Barak Obama stood at the commemoration site of a wall that had been torn down, a wall created to divide two political and ideological camps, the wall he refers to “now” is the 400 mile wall that imprisons the Palestinian people physically while it psychologically enslaves them in despair and hopelessness. The wardens of this vast open-air prison are IDF soldiers, wards themselves of the occupying army. On the other side of this wall is a land of enormous wealth, its people ranked the 16th wealthiest in the world, a land that advertizes world wide the luxuriousness of its sea side hotels that cater to the whims and waists of the pleasure seeking as they frolic on the beaches and wander through the shops, newly renovated, that line the Via Dolorosa of ancient Jerusalem. “These now are the walls we must tear down.”

Races and tribes, natives and immigrants are indeed separated by this wall — Eastern Europeans, Americans, Ethiopians, Moroccans, French, Germans, any and all who can be enticed come to their side of the wall, immigrants all – while the Semites and Natives are locked behind gates unable to walk the hills and valleys of their native land, unable to travel highways designed and built for those who imprison them, unable to move without ID cards and colored license plates and forced stoppage at militarized check-points. Christians are indeed separated from Jews by this wall, a wall that surrounds the birthplace of Jesus and locks the natives in his former home in Nazareth. “These now are the walls we must tear down.”

How? How does a President of the United States “tear down” these walls? Everyone in America knows now that those who seek the Presidency of the United States and those who run for Congress are obligated to acknowledge their allegiance to the State of Israel if they expect to attain or stay in office. That reality has been documented by scholarly studies and attested to by AIPAC and sundry other Jewish organizations as well as Ha’aretz in Israel.  Indeed, President-elect Barak Obama, like all candidates running for President, with the exception of Congressmen Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul and former Congressman Gravel, appeared before AIPAC to acknowledge their allegiance. How then “tear down” these walls if Israel and AIPAC demand that they stay in place?

Let’s recognize the moral imperative that President-elect Barak Obama has placed on himself, “These now are the walls we must tear down.” Obama knows Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” He knows “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.” He knows “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He knows the 13th amendment requires that enslavement of anyone within the jurisdiction of the United States cannot stand. He knows he is “compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond his home town.” He knows “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny, it is the higher law.” He knows “… freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.” He knows “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” He knows no people should be forced to abide by laws they had no say in creating. He knows, as Martin Luther King stated so clearly, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers.” He knows he cannot escape his conscience or the expressed conscience of millions across this globe that stand with the words of Martin Luther King. “One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most scared values in our Judean-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” The words only need be changed to meet the reality of today: “One day the world will know that when these disinherited children of God are freed from their prison and from their oppressors, the ‘sacred values of our Judean-Christian heritage’ and the rights of all now expressed in the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ will be fulfilled.”

That is the moral imperative; now we must ask how he and we can tear down these walls. Given the marching orders he has given himself, given the climate he must operate within, I’d suggest that our President-elect can bring peace to Palestine by talking to the dissidents in Palestine using this moral imperative as his argument and his defense. Three initiatives have taken place that provide opportunity for peace: Hamas has removed from its charter the clause that calls for the eradication of Israel, both Hamas and the PLO have accepted this week the Saudi Prince’s 2002 peace plan that would bring full recognition of Israel by all Arab countries and a viable Palestinian state built on the 1967 boundaries, and Hamas and the PLO have accepted the need to speak as one. These initiatives address the demands made by Israel that violence against Israel cease, that Israel be recognized, and that prior agreements be accepted. This last would be superseded by the 1967 plan. Even as I write this there is word that Barak Obama recognizes the potential of this plan as the basis for peace in Palestine. (, November 16, 2008). What would be accomplished? Boundaries would be established, walls would be removed, right of return would be recognized by compensation or return, and, to ensure that all abide by this agreement, the United Nations would install a Peace Keeping force along the green line to make unnecessary the continued occupation of Palestinian land by the Israeli army.

But Obama would also have to talk to the Jews, the Jews in Israel, in America, in England, in Europe, Jews that support the Zionist Israeli Government’s attempts over these seventy years to access as much Palestinian land as possible to create “greater Israel” and those who object to a government that has, in their eyes, eroded the very core of Judaism. The above initiatives provide opening arguments, the moral imperative provides not only an incentive but a force that is greater than the desires of those who have openly declared that their rights supersede the rights of the Palestinians. And in America as in Europe the majority of Jews, 64% in the United States, object to the policies of the Israeli Government against Palestinians. 

Listen to the moral imperative from the words of Avarham Burg, former speaker of the Israeli Knesset: “I cannot be an accomplice in such a way of life (i.e. looking backward, held hostage by memory to the ‘shoah’), with no spiritual compass or moral direction. Never – or so I’ve been taught from infancy – have the Jewish people existed only for the sake of existence; never have we survived only in order to survive; never have we carried on for the sole purpose of carrying on by itself. The Jewish existence was always directed upward. Not only toward our king and father in the heavens, but also our gaze upward was an answer to the great call of humanity; an answer of liberty in the times of enslavement in Egypt, an answer to the need of a righteous and egalitarian law in the days of Sinai when we wandered through the desert, an answer to the call of human universalism manifest in the scriptures of the great prophets, and, finally, an answer to the cry opposing unjust and imperial occupation throughout late antiquity.”

How like the words of Martin Luther King: a cry from the soul, a cry for justice, a cry for a people to recognize their higher aspirations, to join with others to fulfill self, to be one as a people and one with all other people. “I have a vision,” Burg continues, “of Israel as the driving force behind a global peace process and worldwide reconciliation and as a society guided by a deep sense of responsibility to world justice, but it’s difficult to accept this vision when we are confronted every day with the hardship and perpetual bloodshed reflected in the newspapers. My hope is for a Jewish people that insists ‘never again’ – not only for Jewish victims but for anyone who suffers around the globe today.”

Should Obama bring before the Jews of Israel and the people of the United Nations, a peace plan erected on the moral imperative that recognizes the equality and rights of all as opposed to a peace plan built on political and religious ideologies, there should be little objection except by those who would willingly stand alone as racist and superior in their self-righteousness. And who would believe them or accept them? Rejection of such an approach would negate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it would the jurisdiction of those rights as adjudicated by the International Court of Justice to which all in the UN accede. There could be no greater accomplishment than this, to bring to the world the gift of peace in Palestine, a true blessing for both the Jews who look upward in the words of Avraham Burg and the diverse people of the United States that have acknowledged the equality of all in the election of Barak Obama. Yes we can if we will it.

-William A. Cook is a Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California and a senior or contributing editor at a number of Internet liberal publications. His most recent works (September 2008) include The Chronicles of Nefaria, a political novella, and The Rape of Palestine, both available at Amazon. He contributed this article to

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