Mr. President, Why are you silent?

An open letter to President Barack Obama as “Pillar of defense” gets under way. 

Dear President Obama,

I write to you on behalf of my sons, as a mother of Palestinian children, who are in turn the sons of the son of a Palestinian refugee from El Bass and Rashadiyeh camps in South Lebanon. I write to you as an author who has written about and studied postcolonial relations, culture, and the politics of belonging.  I write to you as a teacher and a social activist who believes that a man who wins the Nobel Peace Prize should do something to deserve it.

I just finished watching your first press conference since you were re-elected for a second term as President.  I was waiting to hear what you would have to say about the illegal Israeli assassination of Ahmed Al Jabaari and the facts released by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ (PCHR) report on Sunday November 11, 2012.  This report indicates that five Palestinian civilians including three children have been killed in the Gaza Strip in the previous 72 hours, in addition to two Palestinian security personnel. Four of the deaths occurred as a result of Israeli military firing artillery shells on youngsters playing soccer. Moreover, 52 civilians had been wounded, of which six are women and 12 were children.[i] As the death toll climbs, Mr. President, why are you silent?

President Shimon Peres has already told the media that he briefed you fully on these events, [ii] thus confirming your implicit agreement and making you an accessory to more Israeli war crimes. It is evident that we are now in the midst of Israel’s follow-up to Operation Cast Lead, this time endearingly named “Pillar of defense”.  Where will you stand this time, as a Nobel Peace prize winner, President Obama? Why are you silent? 

The recent visit of the Emir of Qatar with $250 million for Gaza promised that Hamas would be loosening its ties with Syria and Iran, and could be brought into the group of Islamists arising from the Arab revolutions which are acceptable to your government. With the Palestinians finding new partners with your allies such as Qatar, you, too, have gained another ally, against your arch-nemesis Iran.  Isn’t this what you want? Surely, you can see that Israel’s actions will destroy any trust you have built in the region and break the alliances you are trying to forge.  Why are you silent?

The Israeli political leadership has warned that they will “go crazy” if Palestinian rights are given limited recognition at the UN. [iii] You, of course, have threatened to veto any resolution that would even edge towards limited recognition for Palestinians. Is that why you are silent today? Have you agreed to sit quietly and twiddle your thumbs as Israel goes “crazy” ?  For how long will my sons and their children have to accept being the victims of this lunacy?

Today the Israeli government released a video of the assassination of Ahmed al Jabbari, followed by warning tweets such as “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”[iv]. Has Israel now entered the universe of cyber bullying?  Not even you, President Obama, allowed the release of the video of the assassination of bin Laden, though you used this illegal act to your advantage in drumming up the support of the weary, terrified and hopeless. Do you agree with the signs on the NYC subway that describe the Palestinians as “savages” or do you feel embarrassed that world leaders who converged on NYC for the 2012 General Assembly were greeted with such a flagrant display of hatred and bigotry?  Do you, Mr. President consider the Palestinians savages? Is that why you are silent? 

Shortly you are off to Asia to travel to countries such as Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia and to attend the East Asia summit and meet with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).This tour reminds me of your trip to Cairo early in your first term where you assured the Arab world that you would seriously pursue a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. It’s now your second term and the whole world is waiting. Do you not feel brave enough yet? Are you waiting until January 23 to see if Netanyahu returns to power?  Will you feel braver if the bully is safely out of your corner? Why are you silent?

A few days ago I saw the tweet of you hugging your wife Michelle, and putting my postmodern cynicism aside at the convenience of such a humane photo-op, for a few minutes you looked like a real person. You looked like my father, my brother, my son, my husband - a man - not merely the President of the world’s most powerful nation.  You looked like a man who had the capacity for love and gratitude, a man who just might have the guts to alter his nation’s role in a narrative of racism, oppression and torture which is the story of America’s friendship with the state of Israel. Your silence over the last few days’ events in Gaza is not becoming for a man of distinction. It is not becoming for a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Will you stay silent, Mr. President, or will you do something to deserve the Prize which was so generously bestowed upon you as a MAN of Peace?

Sincerely,

Jacqueline O’Rourke


[i] http://www.alresalah.ps/en/index.php?act=post&id=1358

[ii] http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-rt-palestinians-israelviolence-obamal5e8medfj-20121114,0,4040224.story

[iii] http://www.alresalah.ps/en/index.php?act=post&id=1344

[iv]http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/11/14/idf_announces_gaza_assault_death_of_ahmed_al_jabari_via_twitter.html

About the author

Jacqueline O'Rourke is an independent consultant, writer and activist. Her recent book, Representing Jihad: the Appearing and Disappearing Radical is available from ZED Books.