Netanyahu at the Congress: What a Show
Sisyphus’ battle is a piece of cake compared to the uphill trudge the Palestinians will have to make in trying to convince the US of their cause. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress on May 24, the effort seems almost pointless.
Where should I begin? The 25 or so standing ovations? The emphatic nodding and smiles of Congress heads at almost each and every word Bibi said? The ridiculous welcome that looked more like the entrance of a demi-god than of a controversial head of state? If Netanyahu’s address were not so dangerous - and frankly, insulting – the entire episode would have come across as simply absurd.
I’ve come to think that perhaps the Palestinians are not the party that should be most insulted, however. US President Barack Obama, visiting friends on the other side of the Atlantic, probably shook his head in resignation when he heard Netanyahu slight him before his own lawmakers.
But back to the Palestinians, since that is the battle in which I take personal interest. There are actually two battles we must wage: one with Americans who have a sense of foreign politics in this region and one who have no idea whatsoever.
Most of those who do have a sense unfortunately share the sentiments of the overzealous Congress. Pro-Israel is as popular as pro-American in this group of people, maybe even more. Seriously, where else would a foreign leader get such a warm welcome for a speech that clearly rejects the policies of the country’s own leader? And with such absurd arguments to boot.
“I recognize that in a genuine peace, we will be required to give up parts of the Jewish homeland. In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. We are not the British in India. We are not the Belgians in the Congo,” insisted Netanyahu.
Right off the bat, Palestinians were pushed to the side as the unlawful squatters on “Jewish land.” The congressmen and women, no doubt, praised Bibi with a round of applause. “No distortion of history can deny the four thousand year old bond, between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.” Four thousand years? Hmm...
The bottom line is, the moment Benjamin Netanyahu stood up before the Congress, it was a losing battle of epic proportions for the Palestinians. I mean, if they weren’t happy with President Obama’s speech – which by the way the Palestinians were hardly jumping for joy about – just imagine the level of empathy this Republican-majority Congress had for the Palestinian cause. That’s right – just below zero.
Which brings me to the second battle – the one with the “less-than-informed” American people. As demonstration of the actual level of some Americans’ basic knowledge of the conflict, let me offer a small personal experience.
“So, where are you from?” I am often asked by some friendly salesperson, waitress or random neighborhood dog walker on my trips back to the US.
“I’m from Palestine,” I answer, almost always preparing myself for the follow up explanation.
“Oh, Pakistan? That’s so far away.”
“No, Palestine; you know, Jerusalem,” I correct.
“Oh, you mean Israel?”
“No, I mean Palestine. I am Palestinian, not Israeli,” I make sure to clarify.
Of course, not all of my interactions with average Americans are so trying. But the common belief is that Israel is a land for the Jews and that the Palestinians are naturally inclined to violence and just won’t take Israel’s outstretched hand in peace.
Nobody likes being put on the defensive, but that is exactly the position Palestinians are put in time and again, especially in the United States – whether at the official level or even among the people.
Still, after listening to President Obama and then to the patronizing speech Netanyahu gave before Congress I am convinced now more than ever that our work is among the American people, a people with compassion and opinions of their own, who just might change their minds if they would only get to know us and hear us out. A bit of education goes a long way and I for one am ready to offer anything I can that would give the Palestinians even the slightest chance at being understood.
Lesson number one: Benjamin Netanyahu, regardless of his little American-jokes made in his deep-voiced American accent, is no man of peace.
Joharah Baker is Director of the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at email@example.com.