Obama Must Join Global Condemnation of Israeli Flotilla Assault
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Just one day after Israeli commandos stormed civilian boats that were bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza, leaving nine dead, a group of Nobel Peace prize winners put out a statement condemning the attack. South African president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose lives have been indelibly shaped by a cruel apartheid system, were joined by other Nobel laureates, including former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, former US president Jimmy Carter and detained Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi. They called Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza illegal under international law and “one of the world’s greatest human rights violations.”
Conspicuously absent from the Nobel Peace prize signees was President Barack Obama. Instead of expressing outrage at an attack on civilian ships in international waters, Obama issued a tepid statement saying he "deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained."
All over the world, government representatives are condemning the Israeli government’s action. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa labeled the assault a “terrorist act.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the disproportionate use of force and addressed his condolences to the families of the victims. European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton called the blockade of Gaza “unacceptable and politically counterproductive.” Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said, "There is no excuse. The level of violence cannot be excused.”
But at the United Nations, Deputy Permanent U.S. Representative Alejandro Wolff seemed to be doing just that: making excuses for Israel’s actions. His statement read as if the problem was not the Israeli government and its inhumane siege of Gaza, but the humanitarian effort of the Free Gaza Flotilla. “Direct delivery [of aid] by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective,” he said, while railing against Gaza’s governing Hamas and referring to Israel’s security concerns.
On no other foreign policy issue is this administration so out of touch with the majority sentiment worldwide. When President Obama visited Cairo just a year ago, he promised a new era in U.S. relations with the Muslim world where there would be a sustained effort to “listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.” The voice of the Muslim world—indeed the entire world--is speaking right now. You can hear that voice at demonstrations from Ankara to Beirut, from Rome to Sydney, from New York to San Francisco.
People the world over are calling for an end to the siege that since 2006 has made life miserable for the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza, most of whom are under 18. They are calling for accountability for Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 22-day military assault of Gaza in 2009 that left over 1,400 dead, thousands wounded and countless homes, schools and businesses destroyed. They are calling on Israel to open the borders so that people can get medical treatment or import the building materials they need to rebuild their shattered lives.
This is why efforts like the Freedom Flotilla are so critical. They not only bring aid, but they show that the world has not abandoned the Palestinians in Gaza. UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, noting the world governments’ failure to help the people of Gaza, cited non-violent grassroots campaigns such as the flotilla as "the only meaningful current challenge to Israel's violations of its obligations as the Occupying Power of the Gaza Strip under the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Charter."
The killing of humanitarian aid activists must mark a turning point in U.S.-Israeli relations. President Obama must join other Nobel Prize winners and world leaders in condemning Israel’s abuses. Verbal condemnation must be accompanied by action: an immediate cut off of aid to Israel. Currently, Congress is in the process of appropriating a record $3.2 billion in military aid to Israel. This aid must be frozen while the investigations of this crime move forward.
President Obama is a constitutional lawyer. He must understand that the blockade of Gaza is illegal under international law. So is attacking civilian boats in international waters. The Israeli government must be held accountable for its actions. Global leaders, including its most revered members such as Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, have come out on the side of justice and law. So must President Obama.