By Hasan Afif El-Hasan*
In their attempt to win the Jewish vote and money, the presidential candidates from the US major parties typically pledge their affection and support for Israel. While Israel is the one that has been dismantling Palestine, demolishing the Palestinians’ homes and destroying their lives, the political Presidential contenders constantly intone that the Palestinians are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. The US government, the media and the candidates virtually maintain their unilateral support for Israel’s policies and its rejection of the international consensus. Israel made the decision to choose expansion, apartheid and the Palestinians’ human rights abuse over abiding by international laws for enduring solution to the Palestinian issues.
The norm in Israel is to continue the illegal construction of settlements and infrastructure in the West Bank and Jerusalem, integrate into Israel whatever might be of value, denying the refugees right of return, consigning Palestinians to unviable cantons and subjecting them to repression. And in Gaza, the norm is insuring a miserable life for its residents under cruel siege that permits no more than bare survival. The relentless siege and the many savage devastating attacks that are normally followed by cease-fire agreements where Israel maintains its siege and the Gazans observe the cease-fire that is punctuated by regular “mowing the lawn” to borrow Israel’s definition of the regular shootings of the Gazans.
Israel and its supporters claim that its military is “the most moral army in the world,” because it informs residents in Gaza that their homes would be bombed ten minutes before it is bombed and their lives are shattered. The Israeli journalist Amira Hass describes the recorded warning demanding hundreds of thousands of civilians to leave their already targeted homes, for another equally dangerous place, eight miles away as “an act of sadism.” There is no place in Gaza Strip safe from Israel’s savagery and sadism. When the attacks on Gaza are called off and Israel pursues its expansion and confiscation policies in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the Gazans who survive the attacks are free to return to the norm in their Israeli-controlled big prison.
When Republican and Democrat presidential candidates debate Middle East foreign policy, they rarely mention the Palestinians except as a threat to Israel and they usually support the Israeli hard-line policies and downplay any compromises that might be necessary for Israel to live in peace. Ironically, the first Jewish presidential candidate from a major party, Senator Bernie Sanders, dared to be also the first to express his sympathy with the Palestinians in his speeches and in debating Hillary Clinton. The journalist Zack Beauchamp wrote that “Bernie Sanders just shattered an American taboo on Israel.” Sanders “did something previously unheard of in last night’s CNN debate. He stood up for Palestinians’ humanity.” He suggested that the US policy toward the Palestinians is wrong and should be changed. He argues that the US should take a more active role in championing Palestinian rights. He dared to say “we cannot continue to be one-sided [on dealing with the Palestinian issue]. There are two sides to the issue.”
Sanders told the moderator and the nation something never had been told before in a presidential debate, that “in the long run, if we ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.” He supported his argument by describing Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2014 as “disproportionate and led to the unnecessary loss of innocent lives.” He added that “in Gaza-not very large area-some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed.” Senator Sanders is a liberal Zionist but he spoke against anti-Muslims rhetoric, likening it to the prejudice his Jewish parents faced in Europe before the Holocaust.
According to the American journalist and author Harry Jaffe, when Sanders was a younger man in the 1980s, “he would occasionally take the position that Palestinians deserve their own state and for achieving that end might require that the US withhold arms from Israel.” Who is Bernie Sanders, the seventy-four-year-old New Yorker who wants to be a president and change the course of history by putting economic, racial, and social justice into the spotlights?
Sanders biographers describe him as unlike the typical American politicians running for president who try to write autobiographies that give voters rosy glimpse of their past. He wrote one book, “Outsider in the White House” only describing his political life. He practiced and promoted radical politics before running for public office while studying in the University of Chicago and at work in Israeli kibbutz. When he is campaigning among “brothuhs and sistus”, his mostly young audience, are thrilled to his call for a “political revolution” that he would commandeer if elected as president. The two words that best describe Sanders’ personal and political history are “surprise” and “shock” according to Harry Jaffe. His audience likes him because of his message and being who he is: just a Brooklyn man on a crusade.
Dearborn, whose population is 40 percent Arab, voted overwhelmingly in Michigan Democrats primary elections for Bernie Sanders, a Jew, over his rival Hillary Clinton. The story of Sanders winning in Dearborn made big national news. Many presumptuous political commentators including Brian Lehrer, Chuck Todd and Lawrence O’Donnell wondered how a predominantly Arab group, mostly Muslims, supports a Jewish candidate. The News Week wrote it is “just one more strange data point in an election overflowing with them.” Wrong!
If there is a strange data point, it is the US racist media that has been wrongly stigmatizing the Arabs of hating Jews because of their Jewish faith. Arab-Americans want justice for the Palestinians and they support political, social and economic reforms that Sanders calls for, but the media has been treating them unfairly as a group with presumed prejudices and one issue rather than individual citizens exercising their civic duties each based on his/her interests. The next question is what the media will say if Sanders loses the vote in Brooklyn.
<em>*Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.