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PACBI-Open Letter to Obama

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The Daily Star | January 12, 2009

Open Letter to Obama

Editors note: The following is a letter addressed to US President-elect Barack Obama calling for the United States to change its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, especially in light of Israels current onslaught against the Gaza Strip. It was signed by more than 900 academics, most of them based in the United States, and made available to The Daily Star by the campaigns organizers.

Once, in what was perhaps an unguarded moment, you stated that: "Nobody's suffering more than the Palestinian people". After days of relentless Israeli bombing in the Gaza strip that has already killed over seven hundred people, most of them civilians or policemen, and injured over three thousand, many of whom may yet die for lack of medical supplies and facilities, your words have never rung more true. And yet, so far, your signal response to this latest assault on the Palestinians, that the UN Secretary General diplomatically calls "disproportionate", has been to defend Israel's right to respond to rocket attacks that, while rightly condemned, are mere pinpricks in comparison to the horrific consequences of Israeli bombardment and of the ongoing blockade on Gaza. Does this mean that on the long way to the White House you have trimmed your sails and, for the sake of securing the power you will soon assume, fear now to speak truth to power? Does this mean that, unlike Dr. King, your sense of justice is adjustable for the sake of political expedience? Those who supported you from the early days of your primary campaign did so not on account of your response to economic crisis, but because they believed in your sense of justice and your commitment to put an end to business-as-usual in Washington, and because they believed in your genuine desire to shape a new and different world order. In 1981, while you were an undergraduate at Occidental College, you were among the first of a courageous group of students and faculty who, while the cause was still unpopular or unheard of, spoke out for divestment from the apartheid regime in South Africa. You knew then that it was imperative to place pressure on a racist regime which shamefully oppressed a black and coloured population that was discriminated against, subject to pass laws and control of its every movement, parceled into Bantustans, and subject to detention, torture and extra-judicial execution. When the black population protested, like the school children of Soweto, they could be summarily shot down by police or army. The ANC, under Nelson Mandela, was proscribed as a terrorist movement, its leaders were imprisoned, tortured or killed, its guerillas faced the overwhelming power of the South African army, equipped and trained in part by the United States and its European allies. A regime that was so unafraid to use violence in the defense of its discriminatory and racist regime, and so unashamed to do so in the face of international condemnation, could only understand the language of force. The divestment movement in which you so actively participated understood that the euphemistically and cynically named policy of "constructive engagement" was a moral and practical failure and that only the non-violent force of a financial boycott on the South African regime had any hope of bringing an end to apartheid without an horrific bloodbath. Public figures as diverse as Bishop Desmond Tutu and President Jimmy Carter have recognized that Israel too maintains an apartheid regime, in practice if not in name. South Africa, now a functioning multi-racial democracy, was a white state for a white people. Israel is a Jewish state for a Jewish people. Its non-Jewish, mostly Palestinian Arab citizens are discriminated against in numerous ways, economically and civilly. The dispossessed and ethnically cleansed Palestinian populations, dispersed in the diaspora and in the refugee camps of Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon, are denied the internationally recognized right of return. They have had their lands and homes taken from them by armed and "legal" force, are subject to collective punishment, prolonged states of siege, the absolute and deliberately destructive control of their daily movements. Where South Africa instituted the pass laws, the checkpoints that have proliferated all over the West Bank and at the exits from Gaza prevent students from reaching their schools and hospitals, workers from reaching their places or work, keep farmers from their fields, the sick from the few hospitals that survive to serve them. The illegal settlements, that in contravention of all international laws regarding occupation have proliferated across the West Bank, are designed to be permanent "facts on the ground" and have divided recognized Palestinian territory into segmented islets, into besieged Bantustans, with the intent of preventing a contiguous Palestinian state. A so-called security wall, illegally built, as even the Israeli Supreme Court recognized, on Palestinian territory, has cut farmers from their lands and turned formerly prosperous villages into isolated prisons. Regular Israeli military incursions into Palestinian cities and refugee camps, and bombings from the air, have killed innumerable civilians, many of them children. Since the election of Hamas, in fair and open elections, Israel has subjected the civilian population of Gaza to a prolonged state of siege, designed to suffocate them into submission, depriving them at will of water and power, medical supplies and food, and of access to the outside world. The most recent, all-out assault on Gaza, the disproportionate and bloody use of excessive force, is no act of self-defense, but the dramatic extension of an insidious policy of extermination of a people that refuses to disappear. Every one of these acts is a crime against humanity. In their ensemble, they constitute one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times. Almost alone among nations, Israel acts in flagrant violation of international law and UN resolutions and does so with impunity. That it can do so is in large part the consequence of the uncritical support offered to Israel by a succession of American administrations. Without the military and economic aid of the United States, which amounts to more than a third of all US foreign aid, Israel could not have mounted its violent offensives against the Palestinians or Lebanon, could not maintain its security apparatus, could not afford the illegal settlements that seek to expand Israel into what remains of Palestinian territory. The United States has supplied the F-16s that are bombarding the Palestinians, their schools, police stations and mosques, and the cluster bombs that continue to kill and maim children and farmers in southern Lebanon. America continues to support Israel to the tune of billions every year at the expense of US taxpayers and at the expense of its moral standing in the world. You will continue to do so, according to your own web page, because "our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America's strongest ally in the region." You and your Vice-President, Joe Biden, not only "defend and support the annual foreign aid package that involves both military and economic assistance to Israel", but moreover "have advocated increased foreign aid budgets to ensure that these funding priorities are met." In doing so, you lend your support, in the name of the United States, to a regime no less criminal in its acts and in its policies towards its own minority population and its dispossessed Palestinian neighbors than South Africa was in the 1980s. Then, it was argued, South Africa was our strongest ally in the region, a bulwark in the war against communism, a crucial supplier of uranium and other minerals, a prosperous Western-style democracy, if not the only democracy on the continent. To bring down the South African apartheid regime, it was argued, would be to create chaos in southern Africa, unleash a bloodbath in which whites and blacks alike would suffer, and pave the way for a communist or dictatorial postcolonial regime. The divestment movement, a non-violent coalition of students and academics, union members and churches, came together in the spirit of the Civil Rights movement to challenge those self-serving assumptions. It changed the direction of US foreign policy, disgracing its support of a racist regime, and placed effective pressure on the apartheid regime to begin serious negotiations with the ANC. Through a combination of diplomacy and divestment, we did end apartheid, making way for a functioning multi-racial democracy that confronts its challenges, indeed, but has not dissolved into chaos or tyranny. It is time for the United States to place a similar pressure on Israel. That Israel has been America's beneficiary, unchallenged in its war crimes and in its acts of terror, uncontested for its racist civil constitution and illegal occupations, has not been to the United States' advantage. On the contrary, such unquestioning support of Israel has fuelled the legitimate anger of the Islamic world, supplied the justification for terrorism, and continually tarnished the United States' reputation among the democracies of the world. That the United States has stood so often alone in defending Israel before the court of world opinion in the United Nations is not a sign of its virtue, but of the obstinacy and arrogance of its stance. But it is not for the sake of the reputation or advantage of the United States that you should take a new path in relation to Israel. It is in the name of justice. It is not just to support the territorial ambitions, realized settlement by settlement, of a Zionist minority in the region. It is not just to continue to supply Israel with the most advanced weapons and the most deadly arms in order that it may murder civilians, children and policemen. It is not just that we should support Israel with all our diplomatic force and financial aid, while leaving Israel's victims to die slowly for lack of food, medicine, water and power. It is not just that we should sacrifice a dispossessed people for the security of a state that discriminates and expropriates, continually and violently ignores UN resolutions and international appeals, collectively punishes those whose right to resist occupation is recognized in international law. There is no road to peace through such injustice. It may be that the compromise in the end will be the establishment and security of two separate states. Almost certainly, the only hope of a lasting solution is a single state in Israel/Palestine, committed to the civil and human rights of all peoples within its boundaries, irrespective of religion or ethnicity. That is, after all, the standard to which we hold all other states in the world, Israel alone excepted. But no solution at all will be possible until we hold Israel accountable for its criminal violence and its illegal acts, until we cease to supply it with the means to pursue a course of domination and expansion, with arms and warplanes, with finance and diplomatic support. In wake of the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, your recent expression of "deep concern" is not enough. It is time for constructive disengagement from Israel, financial, diplomatic, military. What worked in the case of South Africa, divestment and pressure, may finally work in the Middle East. Without such justice, there will be no peace. David Lloyd University of Southern California Los Angeles January 1, 2009 Maher Abdelqader, St. Johns University Butool Abdullah, University of California (UC), Riverside Khadeeja Abdullah, UC Los Angeles Wadad Abed, Palestine Aid Society Diana Abouali, Dartmouth College Thomas Abowd, Wayne State University Matthew Abraham, DePaul University Raed Abughazaleh, Hennepin County Medical Center Janet Abu-Lughod, Northwestern University Lila Abu-Lughod, Columbia University Fida Adely, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Dorothy Aguilera, Lewis & Clark College, Portland Sanjam Ahluwalia, Northern Arizona University Barry Aidlin, UC Berkeley Andrew Aisenberg, Scripps College Daniel Alarc—n, UC Berkeley Lisa Albrecht, University of Minnesota Linda Mart’n Alcoff, Hunter College/CUNY David Alderson, University of Manchester Hamid Algar, UC Berkeley Kimberly Alidio, University of Texas at Austin Dina Al-Kassim, UC Irvine Amany Al-Sayyed, American University of Beirut Evelyn Alsultany, University of Michigan Abbas Al-Tonsi, Georgetown University Andrew Altounyan, Concerned citizen Atif Alvi, Lahore University of Management Sciences Candice Amich, Rutgers University T.R. Amsler, June Jordan School for Equity Sriram Ananth, University of Minnesota Patrick Anderson, UC San Diego Gil Anidjar, Columbia University Sinan Antoon, New York University Nausheen H Anwar, Harvard University Ibrahim Aoude, University of Hawaii Juan Manuel Arbona, Bryn Mawr College Stephen Carl Arch, Michigan State University Elizabeth Archuleta, Arizona State University Jacqueline Armijo, Zayed University Anjali Arondekar, UC Santa Cruz Nadim Asrar, University of Minnesota Mohamed G. Atta, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Robin Attfield, Cardiff University Elsa Auerbach, University of Massachusetts Boston Tim August, University of Minnesota Idelber Avelar, Tulane University Sufia Azmat, Noor-Ul-Iman School Paola Bacchetta, UC Berkeley Gabeba Baderoon, Pennsylvania State University Susan Bain, Promenade Elementary School Amit Baishya, University of Iowa Jennifer Bajorek, Goldsmiths College, University of London Christine Bacareza Balance, UC Irvine Ian Balfour, York University Wanda S. Ballentine, Retired Asma Barlas, Ithaca College Tani Barlow, Rice University Barbara Barnes, Brooklyn College Lynne Barnes, Colorado State University Ryan P Barone, University of Connecticut Valerie Barr, Union College Harry Bastermajian, Lake Forest College Angela Ixkic Duarte Bastian, Universidad Aut—noma de Mxico Edward Batchelder, SUNY, Buffalo Janet Bauer, Trinity College Anis Bawarshi, University of Washington Rosalyn Baxandall, SUNY, Old Westbury Moustafa Bayoumi, Brooklyn College, CUNY Toby Beauchamp, UC Davis Michael Beck, Queens College Adam H. Becker, New York University Joshua A. Bell, Smithsonian Institution Jonathan Beller, Pratt Institute L. 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Diaz, University of Michigan Colin Dickey, USC Linda Dittmar, University of Massachusetts, Boston Naazneen Diwan, UCLA Tayyab S. Diwan, Mayo Clinic Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, St. Olaf College Sharon Doetsch-Kidder, UC Santa Barbara Thomas John Donahue, Saint Joseph's University Andy Doolen, University of Kentucky Roxanne Lynn Doty, Arizona State University Simon Doubleday, Hofstra University Roberta L. Dougherty, University of Texas at Austin Anne E. Duggan, Wayne State University Lisa Duggan, New York University Kevin C. Dunn, Hobart and William Smith Colleges Bud Duvall, University of Minnesota William Duvall, Willamette University Robert Ellis Dye, Macalester College Andrew Edgar, Cardiff University Eduardo Cadava, Princeton University Ben Ehrenreich, Otis College of Art and Design Kaveh Ehsani, De Paul University Mushira Eid, University of Utah John Eisele, College of William and Mary Zillah Eisenstein, Ithaca College Muhammad S. 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Robinson, Clarkson University Stphane Robolin, Williams College Howard A. Rodman, USC Dylan Rodr’guez, UC Riverside Eleanor Roffman, Lesley University Clarissa Rojas, California State Long Beach Patricia Romero, Towson University Sonia M. Rosen, University of Pennsylvania Marsha Rosengarten, Goldsmiths, University of London Andrew Ross, NYU Robert B. Ross, Syracuse University Natalie Rothman, University of Toronto Aleya Rouchdy, Wayne State University John Carlos Rowe, USC Laura E. Ruberto, Berkeley City College Susan Ruddick, University of Toronto Ann Russo, DePaul University Kanchana N. Ruwanpura, University of Southampton, UK Rashmi Sadana, Columbia University Jeff Sahadeo, Carleton University G. S. Sahota, University of Minnesota Lily Saint, Baruch College, CUNY Christa Salamandra, Lehman College, CUNY Josefina Salda–a, New York University Arun Saldanha, University of Minnesota Murad Salem, Wayne State University Saad Samaan, University of Cincinnati Ranu Samantrai, Indiana University Khaldoun Samman, Macalester College Nicholas Sammond, University of Toronto Benita Sampedro, Hofstra University Sajay Samuel, Penn State University Shirley Samuels, Cornell University Rosaura Sanchez, UC San Diego Marlena Santoyo, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Dean Saranillio, University of Michigan Mary Sari, High School for Law and Public Service Bhaskar Sarkar, UC Santa Barbara Mahua Sarkar, Binghamton University Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, Point Pedro Institute of Development Karen Saunders, Putney Central School Aseel Sawalha, Pace University Sabina Sawhney, Hofstra University Simona Sawhney, University of Minnesota Zeina Sayegh, Hofstra University James R. Scarritt, University of Colorado at Boulder Justin Schell, University of Minnesota Paige Schilt, Soulforce Research Fellow Freya Schiwy, UC Riverside Gerald W. Schlabach, University of St. Thomas Cathy Schlund-Vials, University of Connecticut Abigail Schoneboom, LaGuardia Community College Malini Johar Schueller, University of Florida Mark Schuller, York College, CUNY Anna Schultz, University of Minnesota Zachary Schwartz-Weinstein, NYU Joan W. Scott, Institute for Advanced Study Sarita See, University of Michigan Timothy Seidel, Mennonite Central Committee May Seikaly, Wayne State University Ellen Seiter, USC Caroline Seymour-Jorn, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Rowan Shafer, New Orleans Sholeh Shahrokhi, Butler University Khanum Shaikh, UC Los Angeles Omnia El Shakry, UC Davis Kate Shalvoy, Council on International Educational Exchange Anton Shammas, University of Michigan Aradhana Sharma, Wesleyan University Stephen Sheehi, University of South Carolina Sunil Shende, Rutgers University, Camden Alison Shepard, College of Mount. St. Joseph Eric Sheppard, University of Minnesota Naoko Shibusawa, Brown University Catherine Shields, Park Day School Setsu Shigematsu, UC Riverside Magid Shihade, UC Davis Laurie Shrage, Florida International University Steve Shreefter, NYC Teacher, Retired Sussan Siavoshi, Trinity University Irene Siegel, Hofstra University Audra Simpson, Columbia University Brad Simpson, Princeton University Alan Singer, Hofstra University Judith Y. Singer, LIU-Brooklyn Julietta Singh, University of Minnesota Nikhil Pal Singh, NYU Adam Sitze, Amherst College Ajay Skaria, University of Minnesota Fadi Fayad Skeiker, University of Texas at Austin Rachel Slocum, St. Cloud State University Ageeth Sluis, Butler University David Whitten Smith, University of St. Thomas Neil Smith, CUNY Graduate Center Samuel Smith, Messiah College Kobi Snitz, Technion Jody Sokolower, UCSF AIDS Health Project Jon Solomon, Tamkang University, Taipei Kathryn Sorrells, California State University, Northridge Emilio Spadola, Colgate University William V. Spanos, SUNY, Binghamton Robert Spencer, University of Manchester Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia University Aletha Stahl, Earlham College Erin Stalcup, Yeshiva University David P. Stein, Yale University Rebecca L. Stein, Duke University Vicky Steinitz, U Mass/Boston Christopher Stone, Hunter College, CUNY Shelley Streeby, UC San Diego Brian Stross, University of Texas at Austin Charles Sugnet, University of Minnesota Seung Hye Suh, Scripps College Kevin N. Summers, Traverse City Area Public Schools Kathleen Howard Sutherland, University of Southern Maine Ted Swedenburg, University of Arkansas Paige Sweet, University of Minnesota Brynnar Swenson, Butler University Kristin Swenson, Butler University Adeel Syed, Unaffiliated Kerry Sylvia, DC Public Schools David Szanton, UC Berkeley Neferti X. M. Tadiar, Barnard College Molly Talcott, Arizona State University Alessandra Tanesini, Cardiff University Christine Tardy, DePaul University Michael Taussig, Columbia University Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Theological Seminary Ty P. Kwika Tengan, University of Hawaii Erica Tesdell, Saint Paul Public Schools Lee Tesdell, Minnesota State University, Mankato Omar Tesdell, University of Minnesota Rebecca Tesdell, Seattle Central Community College Mary Ann Tetreault, Trinity University Jonathan Thomas, University of Minnesota Valorie Thomas, Pomona College Charis Thompson, UC Berkeley Shirley Thompson, University of Texas at Austin Barrie Thorne, UC Berkeley Emily Thuma, NYU Miriam Ticktin, New School for Social Research Primrose Tishman, Duke Ellington School of the Arts Sarra Tlili, University of Pennsylvania Rolando B. Tolentino, University of the Philippines Fereshteh Toosi, Columbia College, Chicago Sanna Towns, University of Minnesota Corbin Treacy, University of Minnesota Red Vaughan Tremmel, Evergreen State College John Trimbur, Emerson College Lucia Trimbur, John Jay College, CUNY Anna Tsing, UC Santa Cruz Meredeth Turshen, Rutgers University Deepika Udagama, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka Benjamin J. Urmston, Xavier University Yohana Valdez, UC Los Angeles Dimitris Vardoulakis, University of Western Sydney Deborah R. Vargas, University of Texas at Austin Sherry Vatter, California State University, Long Beach Antonio Y. Vazquez-Arroyo, University of Minnesota Gina Velasco, Bryn Mawr College Jen Vernon, UC San Diego Kamala Visweswaran, University of Texas at Austin Sophie Vlacos, Cardiff University Pamela Voekel, University of Georgia Elizabeth Vogel, University of Minnesota Mary B. Vogl, Colorado State University Sam Canh Vong, Yale University Emily Wachsmann, University of North Texas Joel Wainwright, Ohio State University Richard A. Walker, University of California Dorothy Wang, Williams College Jane Ward, UC Riverside John Warner, Hunter College, CUNY Robert Warrior, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Dorothy Jean Weaver, Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg,VA Devra Weber, UC Riverside Elizabeth Weed, Brown University Alys Eve Weinbaum, University of Washington, Seattle Cornel West, Princeton University E.A. ("Tony") Whelan, London School of Economics Roger T. Whitson, University of South Florida Faith Wilding, School of the Art Institute of Chicago Johnny E. Williams, Trinity College Randall Williams, UC San Diego Jennifer Denise Williams, NYU Mary-Sherman Willis, George Washington University Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, UC Irvine Ann Wilson, SUNY, Duchess Community College Kate Wilson, CUNY Graduate School Jessica Winegar, Temple University David Wittenberg, University of Iowa Ellen Wolpert, Cambridge Community Partnerships for Children Kristina Wong, Solo Performer and Writer, Los Angeles Jolie Wood, University of Texas at Austin John E. Woods, University of Chicago Tryon P. Woods, Sonoma State University Daryl Wright, Springfield College of Human Services-Boston Elvin Wyly, University of British Columbia Nanette Yannuzzi-Macias, Oberlin College Umeyye Izra Yazicioglu, St. Joseph's University Seval Yildirim, Whittier Law School Lawrence M. Yoder, Eastern Mennonite Seminary Susan Yohn, Hofstra University Theodore Jun Yoo, University of Hawaii Mari Yoshihara, University of Hawaii June Zaccone, Hofstra University Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, Brown University Kathryn Zamora-Moeller, UC Berkeley Ahmed Zildzic, UC Berkeley Catherine Zimmer, Pace University Lee Zimmerman, Hofstra University Madhvi Zutshi, Rutgers University

Posted on 03-02-2009

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