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Obama Ignores the Ugly, Brutal Reality of Occupation and Colonization on His Israel Trip

The president promptly set the tenor of his trip in his first speech, where he did not mention the word Palestine or Palestinian.

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Round after round of tear gas was shot by a group of Israeli soldiers on a hill overlooking a protest of about 100 Palestinians in support of a hunger striking prisoner. The smell of rubber tires filled the air, and the fired tear gas made protesters’ eyes water as they ran back on a road in the central West Bank town of Beitunia after throwing stones at the soldiers. The demonstrators, most of them young, were there to show their support for Samer Issawi, a Palestinian prisoner reportedly close to death after being on hunger strike for well over 200 days in protest of being held in jail on secret evidence. Issawi’s hearing was scheduled to be held at Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank on March 21, but he was too sick to show up.

Hunger striking prisoners, angry youth protesters living under a nearly 46-year-old grinding occupation, and tear gas and rubber bullets fired at abandon that injure and maim Palestinians--this was the part of occupied Palestinian life that President Barack Obama avoided. The president arrived in Israel on March 20, and promptly set the tenor of his trip by giving a speech at Ben-Gurion Airport that did not mention the word Palestine or Palestinian.

While he did eventually speak of the “indignities” Palestinians suffer under occupation during his big speech in Jerusalem to Israeli youth on March 21, the words, for many Palestinians, rung hollow. Barack Obama’s visit skirted the reality of what occupation and an institutionalized set of unequal rules based on ethnicity means to ordinary Palestinians living within Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The big Obama visit to Israel, his first as a sitting president, cemented the “unbreakable alliance,” as the official slogan for his trip put it, between the U.S. and Israel--an alliance that comes at the expense of the human rights of Palestinians.

The scene at Ben-Gurion Airport as Obama first arrived was a sign of things to come. Israeli and American flags waved everywhere you went. An Israeli military band launched into a song that said a lot about the trip. The song “Jerusalem of Gold” echoed through the air, a tune that celebrates the so-called unification of Jerusalem under exclusive Israeli rule--a unification that has meant expulsion and illegal settlements for the Palestinians living in what Israel considers its capital, though the international community has not recognized the Israeli annexation. The Israeli military band also played the American and Israeli anthems back to back, another sign of the closeness between the U.S. and Israel.

“Thank you, Mr. President, for upholding the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state in our historic homeland,” crowed Israel’s right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, whose previously frosty personal relationship with Obama was nowhere to be seen. That frostiness was certainly absent from Obama’s effusive praise of Israel at Ben-Gurion Airport.

“I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds between our nations,” said President Obama at his official welcoming ceremony at the airport. “The United States of America stands with the State of Israel because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel.”

Nobody in Israel wanted to mess up the careful choreography planned for the Obama visit. In a VIP room set up at the Israeli airport for Obama’s arrival, American and Israeli officials mingled with one another and traded niceties. Nobody would grant an interview--not U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, and not Yair Lapid, a former television journalist and the new star of Israeli politics. Lapid, whose surge in the recent Israeli elections surprised everyone and is the finance minister in Israel’s new government.

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