Palestinians, like everyone else in the world, are not angels. Some among them have undoubtedly committed mistakes — for which collectively Palestinians have suffered and paid a price. Still, it is hard to think of an example of a people today who has been singled out as fair game for demonization and abuse for political gain like the Palestinians.
Nowhere is this more the case than in the United States, where the race for the Republican nomination for the November 2012 presidential election is in full swing. The US has big problems and there is no shortage of issues for the candidates to debate, from dealing with the economic crisis to extricating the country from the expanding wars that have drained its assets and potential. Yet, it seems that the Palestinians, or more precisely bashing and demonizing them, preoccupy a disproportionate amount of the candidates’ attention. Even more extraordinary is the fact that the Palestinians never sought to make Americans or the US their enemy nor did they do anything to harm the US.
It started with former speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, who told The Jewish Channel, a cable TV station, last December that the Palestinians were an “invented people.” He then blamed them for not leaving their homeland to make way for the creation of Israel. The Palestinians, Gingrich said, “had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it’s tragic.”
He also said that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, had “an enormous desire to destroy Israel.” This, despite the fact that the Republican-controlled US Congress funds the Palestinian Authority’s security forces.
Clearly undeterred by the criticism his abrasive and hostile declarations generated, Gingrich went on to reiterate in harsher terms what he had asserted earlier.
“Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes,” Gingrich said during a GOP debate a few days later, adding: “We are in a situation where every day rockets are fired into Israel while the United States — the current administration — tries to pressure the Israelis into a peace process.”
Gingrich described the Palestinians as “terrorists” who “teach terrorism in their schools.”
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney — currently the front-runner — said he agreed with Gingrich’s comments about Palestinian “terrorism,” but that the former House speaker went too far in publicly questioning Palestinian peoplehood.
The trend of bashing the Palestinians as a campaign strategy seems to be gaining currency despite the shocking impact similar comments had caused earlier. Last week, Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania who came a close second to Romney in last week’s Iowa caucus, went even further than Gingrich by insisting that “there are no Palestinians” and there is no such thing as Palestine. He also said that not only is the West Bank “Israeli,” but everyone living there is an Israeli too.
“All the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis. There are no Palestinians. This is Israeli land,” Santorum said while defending Israel’s right to colonize and build illegal settlements on the land that official US policy claims must be the site of a future Palestinian state.
“The West Bank is part of Israel,” which won it as “part of an aggressive attack by Jordan and others” in 1967, he said, adding that Israel does not have to give it back any more than the United States has to give New Mexico and Texas to Mexico, which were acquired “through a war.”
This Palestinophobia exists within a general trend in the US political debate where it is commonly accepted that the Palestinians are terrorists and unreasonable people who stand in the way of peace and stability in the Middle East. These hateful comments come within a broader atmosphere where hostility to Muslims is increasingly widespread and acceptable and few voices of objection are heard against this growing and alarming incitement.
Republicans make these extreme comments, but rarely does one hear President Barack Obama or any other senior official repudiate them.
Is it that the president is afraid that by objecting to this rhetoric he will revive the accusations that he is Muslim or that he is “anti-Israel,” despite all the unconditional support his administration has given it?
Of course, it is no mystery why Palestinians are victimised by candidates desperate for support from powerful pro-Israeli constituencies. As Philip Weiss, editor of the website Mondoweiss pointed out, Gingrich received a $5 million campaign contribution from billionaire Sheldon Adelson soon after his comments about the Palestinians. As Weiss wrote on 8 January, Adelson’s “central cause is Israel.”
And recall that more than a decade ago, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ran for the Senate in New York, she adopted similar tactics. She did not go as far as declaring the Palestinians non-existent, but she did repeat fabricated stories from pro-Israel groups about Palestinian school textbooks “inciting” hatred and violence against Israel.
Clinton ignored the fact that Palestinian children were at that time being killed and injured by the hundreds — sometimes in their classrooms — as Israel violently suppressed the second intifada using weapons provided by the US.
And though some might think it “understandable” that US political leaders choose to support Israel for any of their reasons, what really is shocking is the extent to which they go and the immoral and shameless manner with which they show their support.
It is interesting that Representative Ron Paul, considered a longshot candidate, came a close third behind Romney and Santorum in Iowa. Paul has called for ending aid to Israel. The fact that Paul got so many votes suggests that candidates could take more courageous positions if they wanted to.
Escalating calls for expulsion of Palestinians
Denying Palestinians’ existence comes as an escalation in a frenzied race in which each candidate tries to show more scorn for the Palestinians, or more hostility and warmongering towards Iran, to appease Israel.
Of course, both Israelis and their US lobby welcome declarations that the West Bank is Israeli, but certainly not with the 2.5 million Palestinian Arabs who live there, as Santorum said. The next step we can therefore expect is for US politicians and candidates to start adopting the calls of Israeli leaders who demand the expulsion of Palestinians altogether.
Even Americans who care nothing for Palestinians should be concerned about what these disturbing trends reveal about their politics. Do they really want to be ruled by people who are so ignorant, arrogant and unprincipled? Do they want to continue to ignore the large cost that unconditional support for Israel and its aggressive policies is imposing on the US?
It is remarkable, and depressing, to think back to 2008, when rightly or wrongly, the election of Obama inspired hope in peoples all around the world, especially in this region.
Yet months from the 2012 election, it is clear that Obama not only failed to arrest the decline in the American position but allowed the policies that caused so much antagonism towards the United States to continue and flourish.
Those on the Republican side who are vying to replace Obama are now promising policies and uttering words so extreme that they make president George W. Bush — who symbolized for many American arrogance — seem reasonable.
Gingrich, Romney and Santorum, and indeed many others, may say as much as they please against the Palestinians. But no matter how hard they wish it, they cannot make over 10 million Palestinians, nor their struggle for legitimate rights, disappear. There is what we know as historical imperative.
Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is republished with the author’s permission.
- 2012 US presidential election
- Republican Party
- Newt Gingrich
- The Jewish Channel
- invented people
- Palestinian Authority
- US Congress
- Rick Santorum
- Mitt Romney
- Philip Weiss
- Sheldon Adelson
- Hillary Clinton
- US Senate
- New York
- Palestinian schoolbooks
- Ron Paul
- Barack Obama
- George W. Bush