As President-Elect Barack Obama vacationed in Hawaii on December 26, stopping off to watch a dolphin show with his family at Sea Life Park, an Israeli air raid besieged the impoverished Gaza Strip, killing at least 285 people and injuring over 800 more.
It was the single deadliest attack on Gaza in over 20 years and Obama’s initial reaction on what could be his first real test as president was “no comment”. Meanwhile, Israel has readied itself for a land invasion, amassing tanks along the border and calling up 6,500 reserve troops.
On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Obama’s Senior Adviser David Axelrod explained to guest host Chip Reid how an Obama administration would handle the situation, even if it turns for the worst.
“Well, certainly, the president-elect recognizes the special relationship between United States and Israel. It’s an important bond, an important relationship. He’s going to honor it … And obviously, this situation has become even more complicated in the last couple of days and weeks. As Hamas began its shelling, Israel responded. But it’s something that he’s committed to.”
Reiterating the rationale that Israel’s bombing of Gaza was an act of retaliation and not of aggression, Axelrod, on behalf of the Obama administration, continued to spread the same misinformation as President Bush: that Hamas was the first to break the ceasefire agreement, which ended over a week ago, and Israel was simply responding judiciously.
Aside from the fact that Israel’s response was anything but judicious, the idea that it was Hamas who broke the six-month truce is a complete fabrication.
On the night of the U.S. election, Israel fired missiles on Gaza that were aimed at closing down a tunnel operation they believed Hamas was building in order to kidnap Israeli soldiers. The carnage left in the wake of Israel’s bombing of Gaza over the past six weeks has killed dozens of Palestinians.
“The escalation towards war could, and should, have been avoided. It was the State of Israel which broke the truce, in the ‘ticking tunnel’ raid … two months ago,” the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom wrote in a press release. “Since then, the army went on stoking the fires of escalation with calculated raids and killings, whenever the shooting of missiles on Israel decreased.”
Over the last seven years only 17 Israeli citizens have been killed by Palestinian rocket fire, which makes it extremely difficult for Israeli politicians, which are in the midst of an election, to argue that their response has been proportionate or defensible in any way.
The asymmetry of the conflict leaves an opening for harsh criticism from soon-to-be president Barack Obama. He has every right to oppose Israel’s belligerence. The international community and public opinion are on his side. Certainly he knows Israel’s disproportionate response has inflicted pain on Palestinians beyond what the blockade has done by keeping vital medical and other supplies from reaching Gaza, where hundreds have died as a result of inadequate medical treatment.
While bombs fall on a suffocating Palestinian population and Israeli forces prepare for a ground invasion, Obama is monitoring the situation from afar after a talk with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials. This isn’t leadership; it’s a continuation of a policy that has left Palestinians with little recourse, let alone hope for lasting peace.
“The president-elect was in Sderot last July, in southern Israel, a town that’s taken the brunt of the Hamas attacks,” David Axelrod told Chip Reid on Face the Nation. “And he said then that, when bombs are raining down on your citizens, there is an urge to respond and act and try and put an end to that. So, you know, that’s what he said then, and I think that’s what he believes.”
If Axelrod is correct, and Barack Obama does indeed support the bloodshed inflicted upon innocent Palestinians by the Israeli military, there should be no celebrating during Inauguration Day 2009, only mass protest of a Middle East foreign policy that must change in order to begin a legitimate peace process in the region.