April 27, 2023
While the House of Representatives was only able to pass its approach to avoiding a national credit default by a narrow, strictly party-line margin, there was a resolution passed just the other evening, that was approved with an overwhelming and bipartisan vote. What was the issue that could bring together this body that otherwise cannot find ways to legislate in a bipartisan fashion?
The answer to this quiz: Pledging fealty to the State of Israel and, and in the process, skimming over the reality that there are millions of Palestinians who live as non-citizens under the thumb of the Israeli government and its military might.
RES. 311, “Encouraging the expansion and strengthening of the Abraham Accords to urge other nations to normalize relations with Israel and ensure that existing agreements reap tangible security and economic benefits for the citizens of those countries and all peoples in the region,” was able to pass House by a 411 to 19 margin.
419 Representatives were able, despite the grim reality of the situation on the ground, the ongoing violence, the ongoing destruction of homes, and the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements, to tell the world that there is a bi-partisan agreement that from their perspective the Palestinian people just do not matter. The Palestinian people, who have lived through the deadliest year in decades are just part of “all peoples in the region;” they are so invisible to our Congress that the entire resolution does not specifically make any mention of their plight or of once esteemed dream of a “two-state” solution.
For 75 years, from the very moment that the modern state of Israel was created, the Israeli government has done its best to wipe out the reality that another people, Palestinians, were living on the land they called Israel. Their biblically based, historic claim to the land along with a pressing need for a refuge for the survivors of the horror of the Holocaust were justifications for the ongoing effort to minimize the reality of Palestinian life and the tie of another people to the land where the new state would plant its flag.
Expulsions of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes began before Israel issued its Declaration of Independence. Expulsions of Palestinians have continued throughout these 75 years since 1948. Jewish Israelis and Palestinians have been in conflict, peacefully at times and violently at others, throughout these decades.
The United States has through most of these years stood with its thumb on the scales supporting the claims of the Israeli Government. But, even with that bias, the reality of a Palestinian people and the need for their future to be at least given verbal recognition was part of US Policy. At times the US Government even played a role in bringing the two sides into a negotiating room and pressing them to reach a deal that would end the state of conflict and recognize the basic human rights of both peoples, the essence of the “two-State Solution.”
Year by year the status quo of a non-existent political process that respects the national aspirations and human rights of both peoples has taken its toll. For Israel, their power has corrupted their morality. Politically, the country has shifted to the right, and it has little interest in finding a settlement with the Palestinians whose lives they control. So today, Israel’s government has as its policy the quiet, functional annexation of all of the lands they occupy. It has as its policy the taking of more and more land from Palestinians. And it is comfortable keeping millions of Palestinians without civil and political rights, living as non-citizens under Israeli control.
Peter Beinart recently observed that decreasing, even eliminating, a Palestinian presence in all of the land that Israel now controls remains front and center for many leaders of past and current governments. “Expulsion is deeply rooted in Zionist history, and the sentiment pervades Israel today, including among politicians and commentators generally viewed as centrists. Israel’s current defense minister, national security advisor, and agriculture minister—members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party—have all alluded to removing Palestinians from the country. While the pace of Palestinian expulsion has waxed and waned in the 75 years since Israel’s war of independence, there is reason to worry that the radicalism of Israel’s current government, combined with rising violence in the West Bank, could turn the current trickle into a flood.”
While some of this Israeli government’s attempts to reform the country’s court system and its desire to bring Israeli law and policy more in line with Jewish religious law have proved to be controversial, what they are doing and wish to do about Palestinian lives is not. The hundreds of thousands of protestors who have taken to the streets week after week have not recognized that the democracy that they are trying to save is a flawed democracy because it excludes the Palestinian people.
This willful blotting out of an unpleasant reality now, as demonstrated by this week’s overwhelming Congressional vote, has taken over the mindset of our political and Jewish communal leaders.
At a time show a growing recognition of the need to protect and support the Palestinian people in the face of Israeli oppression. Those who make decisions on our behalf, who wield the levers of power, have acceded to the Israeli government’s longstanding effort to create a one-state reality, a state that is only a Jewish homeland and in which Palestinians may either choose to live as non-citizens without basic rights or leave their homes and migrate to another place.
The text of the Resolution is chilling evidence of this erasure:
“ Whereas the United States and Israel have a close and robust bilateral relationship marked by strong people-to-people ties and close cooperation on a wide range of issues including defense, diplomacy, energy, cybersecurity, agriculture, science, and space;
“Whereas the United States and Israel have signed three 10- year memoranda of understanding, in which the United States committed to provide $26,700,000,000 between fiscal year 1999 and fiscal year 2008, $30,000,000,000 between fiscal year 2009 and fiscal year 2018, and $38,000,000,000 between fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2028…reflecting the two countries’ shared priorities in the region…
“Resolved, That the House of Representatives— 1 (1) encourages the United States and Israel to continue to deepen and expand bilateral cooperation across the full spectrum of economic, security, and civilian issues…expresses continued support for security assistance to Israel as outlined in the United States-Israel Memorandum of Understanding to ensure that Israel can defend itself by itself; and supports Israel’s robust involvement as an active member of the community of nations to benefit Israel and the United States as partners who share common values and a commitment to democracy.”
President Biden followed the same script when he issued a statement honoring Israel on its 75th Anniversary: Without a mention of Palestinians and the 75 years they have suffered without basic human rights, Biden can say “Today, we are still proud to be counted among the first of Israel’s friends and allies. And the United States recognizes the resilience of Israel’s democracy—the bedrock for our robust and special relationship. “ He has bought into this curious redefinition of what democracy means.
Sticking our heads in the sand will not make a very difficult reality go away. The confrontation between the visions of those who wish a Jewish state that keeps those Palestinians that remain as a non-citizen underclass and the aspiration of millions of Palestinians for the same basic rights that you and I claim will not be pretty. It will be violent and nasty.
For some of us it may be possible to blot out the pain of this moment by blaming the victim for their victimization, for seeing those who see violence as their only way to stand up to the power of those who oppress them as an evil that has no excuse and the cause of the oppression itself.
But this is to ignore everything we should have learned from our own national history. We must embrace the reality of those who are oppressed and challenge the oppressor. We must reject the rationalizations of the oppressor and elevate the call for all people being entitled to equal rights. We must recognize that there are two peoples who have ties to one land and find a way to live together. This will require the powerful to give up power.
And if you are not ready to relinquish power, whether you are the President or one of the 411 Representatives who voted for a biased resolution, you have given up your right to speak about democracy or claim that you believe in it.
*I edited the original title of this piece, “In Honor of Israel’s 75th Anniversary Let’s Erase the Palestinian People”, when it was pointed out to me that some might not know me well enough to recognize my sarcasm.