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Omid Safi Headshot

The Urgency of Now -- Obama Must Act on Gaza

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The death toll from Gaza keeps rising like a morbid nightmare, from 150 to 300, to at last count 702 victims. 702 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military through massive bombings that have inflicted unimaginable violence upon some of the poorest, hungriest, and most defenseless people on Earth. Mosques have been bombed. Hospitals bombed, including a Children's hospital. Homes bombed. United Nations relief agencies bombed. Refugee centers bombed. Universities bombed. United Nations schools bombed. If the Israeli officials responded to appeals to conscience, one would cry out: "At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" These bombs are paid for through American taxpayer dollars, which makes this violence that we are supporting. What has been the response of our political leadership? A mixture of silence, racist double-standard for the dignity of human life, and inaction. The time to act is now.

President Bush finally spoke out on the Gaza atrocity in his January 2nd weekly address, and made two points: "This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas -- a Palestinian terrorist group." In other words, no accountability for Israel for its actions. And the only acknowledgement of the Israeli's murder of 700 people and the injuring of thousands more? "Regrettably, Palestinian civilians have been killed in recent days." Passive verbs, Mr. President? Can't you bring yourself to use the active verbs and say who is doing the killing? Would it hurt your gentle soul to state that it is the Israeli state, using bombs and planes and rockets paid for by our taxpayers, who is systematically killing and murdering Palestinians?

Let's get real: If we were talking about Hamas, or any Palestinian faction, killing 700 Israeli civilians, would Bush or any American spokespersons say: "Regrettably, Israeli civilians have been killed in recent days?" Of course not. We would dismiss that as a blatant terrorist act, an abomination, one which calls for immediate cessation. The groups responsible would be labeled as supporting terrorism, be prosecuted and brought to justice. But that kind of concern and urgent action apparently only applies in case of Israeli lives, not Palestinians. Why is that Mr. President? Do Palestinians not bleed? Do they not suffer? Are they the children of a lesser God?

In the conclusion to his remarks, Bush stated: "We seek security and peace for our allies, the free people of Israel. For the Palestinian people, we seek a peaceful and democratic Palestinian state that serves its citizens and respects its neighbors." What is missing from the above equation? Israelis deserve "security and peace", while the Palestinians deserver a "peaceful and democratic state." Mr. President, do the citizens of Palestine not deserve the same peace and security that you promise the citizens of Israel? Do they not deserve to live without the constant fear of having Israel drop American-made bombs drop from American-made planes on their head? What good is a "peaceful state" if you constantly live in fear of the 4th largest military force in the world--that of the Israeli regime--propped up through five billions dollars of annual military and financial aid from the United States?

President-elect Obama finally broke his silence on the atrocities being waged on Palestinians by stating: "The loss of civilian life in Gaza and Israel is a source of deep concern for me." I would say it is about time, but the truth of the matter is that it is two weeks past the time. It is time and past time to move rapidly from "deep concern" to direct action to alleviate the suffering of some of the poorest people on Earth. If the "fierce urgency of the now" that Obama promised us is to have any real meaning, now is the time. Right after the above sentence about the "deep concern for me," Obama added "and after January 20th I'm going to have plenty to say about the issue." Why after January 20th, President-elect Obama? How many more Palestinians have to die while we wait for you to act courageously and compassionately when Bush has failed us so disastrously?