In a seeming attempt to reconcile with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama declared on October 15, 2015 that Israel “has the right to defend its citizens.” This has been a regular theme in statements by American politicians this electoral season. Another case in point is Hilary Clinton’s letter to Jewish leaders endorsing the right of Israel to defend its citizens. Add to the choir of eager politicians John Kerry’s voice, who on his recent visit to Israel stressed that Israel “has the right to defend her citizens from Palestinian terror.” Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers repeatedly and publicly state that Israel has the right to defend its citizens.
Who would deny that Israel has the right to defend its citizens? Every country in the world has the right and obligation to defend its citizens, and Israel is no exception. However, the problem with the above statements is that they stop at Israel's rights, leaving out the other part of the story. They ignore the context of this conflict that began early in the 20th century and has continued to develop since then. What part of the story is disregarded? The very backdrop that created this mess in the first place. These statements do not even hint at the fact that Palestinians have rights as well - historical, cultural, political, and human rights in this land which is their home. Nor do they offer Palestine the same “blessing” of having the right to defend its citizens. When US politicians keep whitewashing Israeli actions by saying that Israel has the right to defend its citizens, without mentioning the needs, rights, and dignity of the Palestinian people, this is what I and most Palestinians hear them saying:
1. Palestinians are obliged to continue enduring over half a century of Israeli occupation in which their rights have been consistently trampled upon.
2. Palestinians are expected to be understanding when they are attacked, arrested, and killed by Israeli soldiers on the mere suspicion that they may be armed. Since the beginning of October 2015, more than 90 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis, while approximately 20 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians. Add to that all the targeted assassinations of Palestinians that took place before October 2015.
3. Palestinians should remain passive when a family home in a small Palestinian village is fire-bombed by extremist Israeli settlers, resulting in the scorching deaths of an 18-month old child, his father and mother, and the orphaning of their 4-year-old son.
4. Palestinians have no right to defend their land from being illegally and underhandedly seized, piece by piece, by Israeli government-backed settlers and realtors.
5. Palestinians have no right to take measures against the 24-foot-high, 400-mile-long wall/fence built by Israel in the West Bank, dissecting and fragmenting what little is left of their homeland.
6. Palestinians should stand by passively as Israeli military bulldozers routinely demolish their homes and uproot their trees.
7. Palestinians are expected to watch calmly as radical Jewish settlers burn their olive orchards, poison their sheep, and pollute their farms.
Palestinians also ask:
1. Are we the only people who have no right to bear arms to defend ourselves or have an army to secure our territories while Israel, with the strongest army in the Middle East, receives 3-5 billion dollars annually in arms shipments from the US?
2. Do we have no right to protest when the bulk of our water resources are taken away from us by Israel to be used by settlements and Israeli towns?
3. Should we be content with the daily suffocations caused by inhaling tear gas when our young people nonviolently protest the occupation of our homeland?
4. Should we pretend that it is normal not to have any local or international legal recourse when our men and women are incarcerated in Israeli jails for years, many without trial and without due process of law?
5. Must Palestinian Muslims stay docile and keep quiet as Israeli settlers, soldiers, members of the Knesset and high ranking ministers threaten to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and rebuild a Jewish temple in its place?
6. Are Palestinian Christians expected to sing the praises of the State of Israel while their clergymen and nuns are spit upon in the streets of Jerusalem and their houses of worship torched and assaulted by Jewish religious extremists?
7. Should Palestinian citizens of Gaza, many of whom are refugees since 1948, be at ease with living besieged for over a decade under a choking Israeli blockade? When they protest the blockade, albeit sometimes violently, should they keep quiet as their neighborhoods are bombed to rubble?
With what they leave out, US politicians might as well be shouting from loudspeakers that Palestinians have no right to expect their hopes of freedom and independence to come to fruition. This is thanks in large part to US bias, self-serving political maneuverings and lopsided brokering of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Noteworthy is that US politicians seem to be in total denial of the correlation between this double standard and the rise of extremism among Arabs and Muslims around the world.
The inspired words of the prophet Isaiah 2800 years ago, describe well the injustices that are taking place in Palestine today:
No one calls for justice,
Nor does any plead for truth.
They trust in empty words and speak lies;
They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity.
The way of peace they have not known,
And there is no justice in their ways;
Isaiah 59:4,8a NIV.
In sum, it would appear to most Palestinians that the continuing Israeli occupation and the web of suffering that it inflicts on the Palestinian people is swept under the rug by American leaders as they go on vocally supporting Israel’s right to defend its citizens. The right of Palestinians to defend their nation and their people is quashed by the right of Israel to defend hers.
Rev. Dr. Alex Awad lived and served in Palestine for decades, including over 25 years as missionary with the United Methodist Church. Alex served as the pastor of East
Jerusalem Baptist Church, as well as Professor, Dean of Students and Director of the Shepherd Society at Bethlehem Bible College. Alex helped to organize three “Christ at the Checkpoint” conferences in Bethlehem, and is the author of two books: “Palestinian Memories: The Story of a Palestinian Mother and Her People” and “Through the Eyes of the Victims.”