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Commentary Last Updated: Jul 30th, 2008 - 11:23:24

Misery tour for foreign leaders
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jul 30, 2008, 00:14

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Western dignitaries and politicians on official visits to Israel are deliberately steeped in the historical and contemporary suffering of the Jewish people in a blatant attempt to manipulate their sympathies. It�s a familiar circuit beginning with the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem built �to perpetuate the legacy of the Holocaust to future generations . . .�

Its 2008 visit book alone reads like a who�s who of the powerful and would-be powerful, beginning with the US president in January. Hard on his heels were Sen. John McCain, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Britain�s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and, last but definitely not least, presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

For some, this wasn�t the first time they had donned a yarmulke to tour the heart-wrenching hall of remembrance or used the occasion to make uplifting speeches on good emerging from evil. It�s as though a trip to Israel requires a pilgrimage to Yad Vashem where they are sure to receive a highly emotive dose of Jewish tragedy and suffering.

Then for light relief, Israel�s prestigious visitors are taken to the Wailing Wall in the heart of Jerusalem�s old walled city which is venerated by Jews as being the last remnant of their destroyed temple. At this place of mourning and weeping, they are invited to pen a personal prayer, fold it, and insert it into one of the wall�s crannies while being assured its contents will remain confidential. Unfortunately, for Sen. Obama his prayer was shamefully filched and published in some Israeli papers. If the high-profile guest of the State of Israel stays long enough he or she is whisked off to Masada, the 400-meter high site of an ancient fortress overlooking the Dead Sea. There, they learn how 960 Jewish zealots fleeing from the Romans preferred mass suicide to defeat.

Some Jewish historians and archaeologists have disputed this story, relegating it to myth. But over the centuries it has emerged as one of the greatest Jewish symbols and, today, Israeli soldiers go there to take the oath �Masada shall not fall again.� Foreign visitors are encouraged to shout out �Am Yisrael Chai� (the people of Israel live) and listen for the echo as senators John Kerry and Al Gore dutifully did.

The newest destination on the �misery circuit� is Sderot, a tiny city in the Western Negev. Due to its proximity to the Gaza Strip, the town has become a target for largely homemade Palestinian rockets that mostly land on desert sands. However, they have caused the deaths of 13 residents over the past seven years while others have been wounded.

One thing is certain: The constant threat of attack means the city�s economy is unable to thrive and residents are unable to move away because they cannot find buyers for their homes. This is the official story. In truth, if the Israeli government wanted to ensure the safety of the city�s 10,000 families they could easily be relocated farther afield with help from government coffers and donations from the Diaspora.

Again, one can�t help suspecting that maintaining Sderot in its current location ensures that Israel has yet another symbol of suffering and victimization, keeping alive the idea that Jewish people are eternal victims and, thus, deserve special treatment by the rest of the world. The people of Sderot are being used as pawns -- as bit players in a carefully contrived scenario designed to be indelibly imprinted in the minds of foreign leaders and politicians in case they are tempted to empathize with the people struggling to survive under Israel�s boot. They know it, too. They are used to hosting famous people and didn�t bother turning out in force to greet Sen. Obama, who was duly escorted to the homes of selected residents, schooled in their propaganda duties, before being asked to pose with a rusting shard from an offending rocket.

Gideon Levy writing in Ha�aretz says, �The message is clear. �Look at how wretched we are, how weak and vulnerable and miserable we are. Would you be so kind as to come to our aid?�� Levy describes Israel �like a beggar who shows off his amputated limbs in broad daylight . . . in the hope that someone will throw a coin or bone in its direction . . .� Except Israel isn�t a beggar, he says and the difference between it and other countries is that they haven�t �turned their sighs and groans into a national anthem.�

In the end, it�s all a charade to keep Israel�s victim status alive in perpetuity. Israelis and their influential guests, who make obeisance in return for their anointing, know that far from being a disabled beggar, Israel is a military and economic powerhouse.

Nevertheless, once the dignitary has been drenched in Jewish wretchedness and soaked in anti-Palestinian propaganda he might deign to spend some fleeting minutes with the Palestinian president and then again, he might not. Tellingly perhaps, Obama did; McCain did not. They rarely, if ever, get to speak with Palestinian victims of Israel�s apartheid wall or people whose homes have been bulldozed or those forced to watch the destruction of their 100-year-old olive groves.

In the case of US politicians, in particular, once they have successfully completed the misery tour, they return home with credentials that are duly paraded before AIPAC during its annual shindig with an �Am Yisrael Chai� for good measure. If peace ever comes to this region -- and I hope it does -- Israel will be forced to abandon its victim status and adopt a new, more positive persona. It will have to stand in front of the world community as an equal. It will no longer be able to shrug off its responsibilities under international law and it will be held accountable for its wrongdoing. That day can�t come soon enough!

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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