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Date posted: September 30, 2009
By Britain Eakin for MIFTAH

I am one of millions of Americans who voted for Barack Obama. Like many Americans, I voted for him because the idea of change resonated with me on a deep level, particularly after eight long and torturous years of the Bush Administration. Yet Obama has already disappointed me greatly and continues to do so, particularly when it comes to Palestine.

Last week he stood before the UN General Assembly, and while he spoke of his vision of two states living side by side and ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967, he fell into the time-honored trap of calling once again on the Palestinians to end incitement against Israel. Over and over we Americans demand that Palestinians relinquish the use of violence over and over the reality of life here and the infliction of daily violence upon the Palestinian people by Israel are rendered insignificant, and even worse, invisible.

No peace process will ever succeed unless it can recognize and acknowledge the brutality of Israeli violence against Palestinians and demand an end to it. Obama will need great courage, impeccable integrity, and a single-minded strength of purpose if he is to do this, and transform his rhetoric into action. But even that will not be enough. He will need to find a way to overcome what I feel is the core stumbling block in dealing with this conflict the devaluation of the Palestinian life. I am not sure he has the political clout or freedom to accomplish this, which would require him to resist the overwhelming pressure of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Lobby. Already it appears that Obama is caving in to this pressure, as he recently declared that peace talks should begin immediately without pre-condition. This indicates that he will not, after all, demand a freeze to all settlement growth and constructions, despite the fact that the settlements are one of the biggest obstacles to his declared vision of two states living side by side. It seems there is no end in sight to Obamas disappointments when it comes to Palestine. Yet this does not surprise me; I prepared myself for it months ago.

My initial disappointment with Obama on Palestine arose before he took office as a result of his callous silence during Operation Cast Lead, the 23-day long Israeli assault on the occupied Gaza Strip. Israel undertook the operation in response to the ongoing launching of crude projectiles into southern Israel from Gaza, despite the relative success of the six-month long truce Israel had previously forged with Hamas. A truce, I might add that seemed to indicate a diplomatic solution to the rockets attacks was indeed possible.

Obamas refusal to condemn the excessive violence against and targeting of civilians by Israel in Gaza struck at the heart of what I feel is wrong with how the U.S. views, frames, discusses and approaches efforts to help resolve this conflict. His silence conveyed a strong message; the lives of the Palestinian people have been so devalued that they are simply not defendable, to the point that they were apparently not even entitled to self-defense against the onslaught of the worlds 5th strongest military power. Instead the Palestinians were largely blamed for the violence inflicted upon them, and we were encouraged to believe they deserved it.

Herein lies the crux of the dilemma of Palestine; the life of a Palestinian holds less value in comparison to the Jewish-Israeli life. The Jewish-Israeli life is always the more important, always the more deserving of security, and always the one whose use of violence under the guise of self-defense is legitimized and ultimately sanctioned, even if it is at times condemned and criticized. Yet the voices that have the power to make a significant contribution to resolving this conflict are always missing from condemning such violence the voice of the U.S. President and the U.S. Congress.

I fear Obamas disappointments on Palestine will only continue, unless he receives pressure from the American public to forge ahead in an honest manner. In fact, we must demand it of his administration because history has shown us how futile the peace process can be. Yet that will be no easy task considering that Americans are largely ignorant about the conflict, primarily because it is nearly impossible to find accurate and honest reporting about Palestine in the mainstream U.S. media.

I cant even begin to count how many times Ive been told by Americans that they dont know much about the conflict, aside from what they hear on the news. Yet, as much as I find Americans lacking in accurate information and understanding about the conflict, I have also found many of them thirsting for knowledge and explanations about the situation here, and wanting to have some light shed on this topic. I find this particularly true after Operation Cast Lead. If there was anything good to come out of the sheer horror inflicted on the people of Gaza, it might be that it was so horrendous that for the first time, many Americans realized something is not right with the way Israel behaves, and have begun to question their government's unconditional financial and military support of Israel.

In addition, the findings of the recent Goldstone Report concluded that Israel did indeed commit war crimes, with Justice Goldstone stating that a lack of accountability by both Israel and Hamas for war crimes is undermining any hope for peace. Thus we should seize this opportunity to build on this opening in the American consciousness about Palestine, and work diligently to educate the people whose government could make a very meaningful contribution in helping to end this conflict, if it only had the will to do so.

Britain Eakin is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org.

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