Time to Call Out Israel's Bad Behavior

by James J. Zogby Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of the Arab American Institute 03.06.2010

The Obama Administration's equivocation over Israel's outrageous deadly assault on humanitarian ships headed for Gaza ,while not surprising, is nevertheless unacceptable. Once again Israel's bad behavior has dug a deep hole for itself, and we're left debating whether or not to jump in with them. Responsible governments behave responsibly. In its dealings with Gaza over the past 43 years, Israel has been anything but responsible, and we need to clearly distance ourselves from their actions.

For decades Israel occupied Gaza reducing its people to total dependency as day-laborers in Israel. No infrastructure was built (no sewage, no paved roads, no sanitation system, no modern power grid etc). During the Oslo years, Israel remained in control of Gaza, allowing no independent Palestinian commerce to develop with the outside world. When Israel evacuated Gaza, they did so unilaterally and yet retained total control over all access and egress, thus insuring that the strip's economywould remain stunted -- with more than 65% of the population living below the poverty level and youth unemployment averaging 80% since the mid 1990's.

The on-going Israeli blockade of Gaza is illegal and immoral. Gaza is one of the poorest places on earth (I've been there and been overwhelmed by what I experienced). Israel blames the Palestinians for their own plight, but Israel is the occupying power that has de-developed and/or strangled Gaza for over four decades. What they are doing now, I believe, amounts to racially motivated collective punishment against an entire population.

The punishment of Gaza is extreme. People there (including U.S. NGO's) are unable to import basic materials needed to rebuild the thousands of homes that were destroyed in the January 2009 war. In addition there are severe shortages of potable water, power, fuel and medicines. Israel's argument that "there is no crisis" owes to the fact that Gaza's population are maintained at bare subsistence -- which can only be acceptable if you view Palestinians as less deserving of consideration than other human beings.

This naval assault was unnecessary, brutal and heavy handed -- a crude and disproportionate use of power done to prove a point. What Israel will do now is display the same heavy handedness in their propaganda efforts: they will deny, they will intimidate opponents and they will portray themselves as victims (it helps that they are still holding the ships and many passengers -- thus giving themselves time to craft an uncontested response).

The US has too much at stake to play Israeli coat-holder or cheerleader in this fight. This week the White House was hoping to give a boost to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks -- forget that for now. They were also hoping to build international support for sanctions against Iran -- forget that, too. And the White House was looking to mark the year anniversary of Obama's Cairo speech -- failing to criticize Israel's behavior on the high seas, will dampen those Cairo+1 celebrations.

So what should the US do with Israel? If they are a friend and an ally we value, we tell them the truth. Tell them that their behavior is unacceptable and is only making the world more dangerous for us all. Demand that they submit to an independent investigation (since the attack was on a Turkish vessel in international waters). Demand that they end the blockade of Gaza (since this is something the White House has called on Israel to do since the President's second day in office). And demand that they recognize the consequences of their reckless behavior, not only for their interests, but ours as well.

Or we can, as we have done too many times in the past, jump in the hole they've dug and wallow around with them, until we're both a mess and then spend the next year or so trying to clean up.

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