by Linah Alsaafin
US President Barack Obama arrived in the West Bank city of Ramallah by helicopter yesterday and gave yet another insipid speech. The Palestinian Authority’s security forces, collaborating with US forces, designated a huge security perimeter with the PA compound — the Muqataa — in the middle. Some of the city’s busiest streets were closed off and inaccessible to those not living there. As helicopters filled the skies from the morning up until late afternoon, I was stuck at home working during the nine-hour lockdown, all too aware of the soldiers stationed on the rooftops around my building.
Protestors tried to march from Manara Square in the city center to the Muqataa yet again yesterday morning, but were stopped by hundreds of policemen and riot guards. The speech Obama gave at the compound was not littered with Arabic phrases (a speech he delivered the previous day was littered with Hebrew phrases) and gave the usual empty and irrational rhetoric of the US supporting an independent sovereign Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state that will only come into fruition through direct negotiations with Israel.
He also tried to play down the Jewish-only settlements by mentioning that the US does not consider them as “constructive” or “appropriate” for the advancement of peace, but refused to call for their dismantlement or use strong language to call out their illegal nature, which prompted Mahmoud Abbas to uncharacteristically interject and describe them as illegitimate and more than an obstacle to peace.
Obama’s next stop was at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, where he gave a long-winded sycophantic speech to more than a thousand Israeli students and academics from different universities. It was during this speech that Obama laid out his formula for peace: Palestinians, who have shown a willingness to renounce violence — as if violence is inherent to Arabs — should accept Israel, their colonizer and occupier, as a democratic and Jewish state. In return, Israel should halt its illegal settlement building.
Twenty-five-year-old Rabeea Eid, a student activist and member of the National Democratic Assembly, had heard and had enough. He stood up in the middle of Obama’s speech and called him out on three issues that summarized the flaccid nature and flagrant inefficacy of Obama’s visit to occupied Palestine.
“Did you really come here for peace or to give Israel more weapons to kill and destroy the Palestinian people? Did you happen to see the apartheid wall on your way here?”
What is the point of Obama’s visit? It is to bribe the PA to maintain its repression of Palestinian protests and “unrest” to uphold Israel’s security and to pressure it to re-enter bilateral negotiations with Israel without any pre-conditions?
The unnecessary bit is the Israeli side to the question. Obama wants to fall short from supplicating himself fully on the ground to an extremist government, in which the defense minister has likened Palestinians to cancer and the housing minister has pledged to construct more settlements and the minister of trade, industry and labor wants to annex more than half of the West Bank. US foreign policy has always favored and strongly supported the Israeli occupation and rewarded it with billions of dollars in military aid annually — that is nothing new. From 1949 until the present day, the US has given Israel more than $115 billion.
The level of groveling, the cringe-worthy speeches and recycled propaganda and lies of depicting Israel as a small pioneering country that started off with its back against the wall amid a sea of hostile enemies alternates between tedium and sarcastic amusement. Even David Ben Gurion recognized that Israel is a colonial enterprise, nothing more and nothing less. Is it necessary to out-Zionize even the most ardent Zionists just to reaffirm support for Israel?
Of course, Obama didn’t see the apartheid wall on his way from Ramallah to Jerusalem; he was too busy reveling in orgasmic pleasure at Israel’s innovative technology (with bases set up on occupied lands), its vibrant ancient history, and the mighty brave “Israeli Defense Forces” (who by the way arrested 30 schoolchildren on Wednesday in the old city of Hebron.) Eid continued:
“There are Palestinians sitting in this hall. This state should be for all of its citizens, not a Jewish state only.”
Ah, the conundrum of being Jewish and democratic. Twenty percent of Israel’s population, more than 1.5 million Palestinians, are citizens of Israel. Where exactly do they fit? Surely not as third class citizens battling an institutionalized racist and discriminatory society on a daily basis, or the more than 60 laws issued by Israel since 1949 that discriminate against Palestinians in the education, public services, and civil rights sectors, to name a few. Eid also said:
“Who killed Rachel Corrie? Rachel Corrie was killed by your money and weapons!”
Not a word
Some could say this is the nub of the relationship between Israel and the US. Rachel Corrie, an American citizen, was killed ten years ago by a bulldozer as she tried to protect a Palestinian family’s home from being demolished in Rafah, Gaza. Nine years after her murder, an Israeli court ruled that she was to blame for her own death. The US administration didn’t say a word.
Does the US allow Israel to continue with its impunity and grave violations of human rights and give it unconditional support because three thousand years ago, Jews were exiled from the holy land? Or — as Obama correctly noted in his opening speech on Tuesday — because of the similarities between the US and Israel: both colonizing entities that committed (in Israel’s case, continues to commit) massacres and ethnic cleansing of the population indigenous to the land they settled on?
“I couldn’t stand listening to the speech any more,” Rabeea Eid, who writes for the Arabs48 website, said. “It was a very Zionist speech that made other speeches by Zionist figures pale in comparison.”
Rabeea was dragged out of the hall by security guards, who handed him over to the police. They handcuffed him, threatened him, and attempted to intimidate him. They told him he was under arrest. A Fox News journalist had followed the security guards outside and wanted to know what Rabeea had said to Obama. Soon afterwards, other journalists and reporters followed suit, asking him questions.
“You can say that the media circus is what got me released,” Rabeea told The Electronic Intifada a few hours later. “I felt it was important to show Palestinian voices within the ’48 territories do not welcome Obama.
“[Obama’s visit] in its entirety clearly shows the bias the US has towards Israel. I obviously wasn’t expecting Obama to talk about the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the discrimination against them. Yet I’m baffled that even after his pro-Israel speeches, the Palestinian leadership continues to welcome him, thus supporting the US hegemony in the Middle East and its policies around the world.”
(Speaking of bafflement, Mahmoud Abbas presented Obama with a painting of Abraham Lincoln and Obama. Was it a cunning message that Obama wouldn’t be where he is today if Lincoln didn’t “free all the slaves” back then?)
In response to Rabeea’s interruption of his speech, Obama laughed and made fun of the situation, to raucous applause and standing ovations from the audience.
“No, no — this is part of the lively debate that we talked about,” he joked. “This is good. You know, I have to say we actually arranged for that, because it made me feel at home. I wouldn’t feel comfortable if I didn’t have at least one heckler.”
“A friend showed me a clip of what he said after I was taken outside,” Rabeea said. “It wasn’t very clear because the video was on a cell phone, but it tells you a lot about how Obama decided to make fun after I mentioned Rachel Corrie, the contradiction of being a Jewish and democratic state, and the weapons the US funds Israel with.”
For Rabeea, he considers the most crucial thing is for Obama’s visit not to go by without further “heckling.”
“The most important part is for this visit not to go on in a normal manner,” he said.
Protestors in Bethlehem already set fire to tires last night and burned the US flags hung at the entrance to town where Obama is expected to pass tomorrow.