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
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!
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.