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Why America is losing support in the Middle East—and how to get it back

For now, the carnage in Gaza has come to a halt.


Let’s not mince words.    This was no “war.” 
This was a frontal assault on 1.7 million Palestinian civilians held captive and in bondage by Israel.   
This was not a war between states, not a war between armies, but the sheer arrogance of the Israeli hardline knowing that as long as they have the United States behind them, they can murder civilians and no power on Earth would dare to stop them.  
This was Israel bombing schools, homes, hospitals, and mosques, killing 162 Palestinians—almost all civilians, including many children.  
This was HAMAS firing their pathetic rockets into Israeli territories, causing three Israeli fatalities. 
This was a bloodbath.  

What do we call the deliberate bombing of civilians?
It is called terrorism. 
It is called murder.   
It is murder no matter who does it, whether Hamas does it or the Israeli state. 
It is murder, and there is blood on the street. 
It is murder, and there are children in graves.

So now we have a truce, a fragile truth negotiated by Egypt.

Look at this photo to see why the US is losing support in the Middle East (and far beyond), whereas Turkey, Egypt, and Iran are rising as regional superpowers.   
Egypt negotiates the truce.


The Turkish minister flies to Gaza, to put his arms around the victims of the Israeli assault.  
Here is a picture of two grieving men:  the Turkish foreign minister and a Palestinian father crying in Shifa Hospital.   
There were many Palestinian fathers and Palestinian mothers holding their babies over the last eight days. Some of those babies were alive, others wrapped in shrouds.   Images like this do not often circulate on American media, because we like to imagine Muslims as being capable only of rage, not of the full spectrum of what makes us human:  hopes, dreams, loss, love, yearning, grief, joy, ecstasy.    When these photos are posted, as the Washington Post recently did, it also has to write a lengthy column about why the loss of life on the Palestinian side is actually depicted.

Ask yourself:  have you ever seen an American politician—or a non-Muslim religious leader—express human sympathy for the human grief of the Palestinians?   
For every little-advertised action of a few congressman urging compassion for Palestinians, we get many more examples of hundreds of congressman genuflecting before AIPAC, or the Republican and Democratic Presidential candidates competing over who loves Israel more in Presidential debates.

What was the response of the President of United States?  The United States, who vetoes every United Nations Security Council condemning Israeli atrocities, the country which has paid over a hundred billion dollars in outright military aid to Israel?   Obama said:  “There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”   
 

Wonderful logic, Mr. President—stripping aside all context, 60 years of occupation, a 1948 ethnic cleansing, and an inconvenient truth of Israel having initiated this latest carnage.  

But while we are at it, if no country would condone missiles raining down on its citizens, Mr. President, how exactly are the people of Yemen and Pakistan supposed to respond to your drones dropping bombs on them?     Are they also allowed to protest and fight back against the American death machines?    Or does the right to protect oneself only apply to the privileged few of the Earth:  the United States and Israel?

The response of the US legislative branch was equally morally bankrupt. Republicans and Democrats, who can’t seem to agree on what day of the week it is, lined up to unanimously pass resolutions through the House and Senate condemning Hamas and remaining silent on the much more vast Israeli atrocities:

“Expressing vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizing and strongly supporting its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism.”

The mantra is repeated again:  “Jewish and democratic state.”   Is this how a democracy acts, by bombing civilians?   How exactly is a “Jewish and democratic” state a democratic state if it means that non-Jews have fewer rights than Jewish citizens do?  Would any of us ever accept the description of the United States as a “Christian and democratic” state?   Would we accept an India that insisted its non-Hindu citizens were doomed to being second-class citizens?    Do we not rise up against a Pakistani (or Saudi or Iranian) state that treats its non-Muslims as second-class citizens?  Do we not insist on the full equality for all of our citizens no matter what their religion, their ethnicity, their race, their gender, their sexual orientation?   Why the special treatment, yet again, for Israel?  

Eight times in this resolution the word “Gaza” shows up.    
The context is never, not once, dealing with the civilian population of Gaza who were ethnically cleansed in 1948, have lived under occupation for sixty years, are literally being starved to death, and have a 50% unemployment rate for their men.  
No, the American political discourse about Gaza in this resolution consists of the following:  Gaza=HAMAS.  
Gaza is where rockets come from, not the land populated by human beings.

Hamas stands in for all Palestinians. 
It’s as if there are no mothers, no children, no fathers, no young people in Palestine.  
Fulfilling the Zionist myth of early 20th century, it is as if in the eyes of the American politicians, Palestine is a land without people (save HAMAS). 
We convince ourselves that all of Palestine is populated by HAMAS terrorists, and therefore deserve whatever urban genocide we can wage on them.

Here are the only mentions of Gaza in the US congressional resolutions:
*“Whereas terrorists in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip”
*“rocket attacks from Gaza”
*“President Barack Obama condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel”
*“Hamas must end Gaza-linked terrorist rocket and missile attacks against Israel”
*“urges the United Nations Security Council to condemn the recent spike in Gaza-linked terrorist missile attacks against Israel which risk causing civilian casualties in both Israel and Gaza”
*“prevent Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist organizations”

The word Palestine never shows up, either.   And as for Palestinians, yes, the ones who have been bombed again and again over the last eight days, the ones that the Israeli deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai said would have a “bigger Holocaust” unleashed upon them, they only come up in the context of “accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.” 

Palestinians seem to matter to the US government only in light of previous political agreements.
They—so it would seem from the perspective of the American government—have no lives, no identity, no human rights, no humanity.   

So there you have it.   Israel and Israeli citizens are entitled to peace, security, human rights, the support of the United States and the international community.   
“Gaza” is apparently Hamas-istan, the place where rockets shoot from, not the home of 1.7 poor, starved, grieving, proud human beings who deserve the exact same human rights and dignity as the rest of us, by the virtue of being human.

A Turkish minister puts him arms around a grieving Palestinian father.
The US Congress issues unanimous and unequivocal support for the superior military that uses US-tax payer money to bomb Palestinian civilians day and night.

And that, in a nutshell, is why the US is losing support in the Middle East.   
No, they don’t hate our freedoms.
No, they don’t hate our values.
No, they don’t hate our “civilization.”
They hate our hypocrisy.
They hate our support of brutality.

This is why we are losing support.

To restore the support, we need not turn on Israel, or begin a one-sided support of Palestinians in as brutal of a way as we have done for Israel.  
What it takes is something bold, something courageous, something—dare we say—moral.  

It would be to state, unambiguously and clearly, that the lives of Palestinians and Israelis carry the same worth, the same dignity, the same honor.  

It would be to stop playing favorites and deal as a genuine peace-broker by insisting that Israel functions the way other democracies do:  

*End the occupation,
*End the segregation policies,
*End the military humiliation at checkpoints,
*End the Jews-only illegal settlements,
*End the exile. 
*Tear down the segregation wall.

*Set up Jerusalem as a city shared among Jews, Muslims, and Christians, a type of neutral international corridor.  
*Begin a one-state solution where every Palestinian and every Israeli will have exactly and identically the same set of rights and privileges.   
*Have Palestinians and Israelis live together, go to school together, work together.   Have Palestinian and Israeli children sit side by side in the same schools, learning the multiple narratives of all sides.   Have Israeli children learn about the Nakba (the Catastrophe of 1948 and the lives of three generations of Palestinians under exile and occupation).  Have Palestinian children learn about the centuries of anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Holocaust. 
*Open all organizations in proportional numbers to Palestinians and Israelis.

No, it wouldn’t satisfy the Christian evangelical Zionists and their insane eschatology.
No, it wouldn’t satisfy AIPAC.
No, it wouldn’t satisfy HAMAS.
But it would give a voice to those Jews, those Christians, and those Muslims who want to see the Holy Land yet again become a land of peace, a land of reconciliation, a land of Abraham, a land of God.   And I dare dream that a majority of people in Palestine and Israel would welcome and work for this kind of a just peace.

And to think that the United States, rather than being despised for our one-sided and fanatical support of a brutal militaristic state, might be seen as the peace-maker of the thorniest political conflict of the 20th and 21st century.  

Some of us dare to dream the dream, that Jerusalem would yet again become the city of Peace.

We have a truce now.
But truce is not the same as peace.

Peace (salam, shalom) has to be grounded in justice.
We have a fragile truce now.
Let us march purposefully, compassionately, boldy, towards a just peace.

About the author

Omid Safi

Omid Safi is a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion, the largest international organization devoted to the academic study of religion.

In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume "Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism," which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works "Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam," dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and "Voices of Islam: Voices of Change" were published 2006.

His last book, "Memories of Muhammad," deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media.

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