As an immigrant who thrived in every way in the US for 29
years having arrived with nothing but my will to learn, I know that indeed
anything is possible in the land of change.
I have now relocated to the occupied West Bank, my
birthplace, to help achieve other dreams of change I always had for other
lands. We desperately need change here after 41 years of military occupation, 60
years of dispossession, and countless futile and destructive wars. Millions
here and in forced exile hope and pray that a President Obama fulfills his
pledge and immediately starts to work to bring peace to our tormented land and
that he does it based on international law.
Others also pin their hopes on Obama -- African Americans,
Arab-Americans (Muslims and Christians) and Muslim-Americans who suffered
significant prejudice that only increased after September 11, 2001. We looked
with dismay as many took the wrong lessons from the events of that day and
supported disastrous and self-destructive policies. Instead of looking at US
foreign policy and the havoc it was reaping, especially in the Middle East,
neoconservative Zionists took charge of our foreign policy deciding that might
makes right and that endless wars are the answer.
A majority of Americans do not agree that we continue to
give Israel $3-$5 billion of our taxes unconditionally and support its wars of
aggression (for example on Lebanon in 2006) while ignoring international law as
we push for endless wars that serve special interests (e.g. on Afghanistan, Iraq,
and perhaps soon Iran). Most of those people voted for Obama even as they saw
that his first speech after clinching the nomination was to the powerful
Israel-first lobby, AIPAC, and he surrounded himself with Israel-first people
including Dennis Ross, a long-term lobbyist for Israel (Washington Institute
for Middle East Affairs, an offshoot of AIPAC). More ominously, Obama recruited
Congressman Rahm Israel Emanuel (an important fundraiser and organizer) as his
chief of staff.
Emanuel, the son of an Israeli terrorist, Benjamin M.
Emanuel who was a member of the Irgun, an underground terror organization in
Palestine under the British rule, is someone who volunteered with the Israeli
(not the US) army in 1991. It is not clear to what extent Emanuel will
influence foreign policy as Obama�s chief of staff and thus keep the �special
relationship� that gave Israel a blank check for endless wars.
Obama does have the popular mandate, the clout, and all the
attributes to do what Democratic and Republican presidents before him failed to
do: change US foreign policy to defend human rights and democracy around the
world, instead of defending special interests. But does he really have the
will? Changing this policy is the key that will unlock the doors suffocating
the US economy.
Many people do believe with good reason that our
entanglements in Afghanistan, Iraq, and perhaps soon Iran are directly related
to the power of these special interests. The trillion dollar war on Iraq that
Obama promised to end can really end only when, as Obama once said, we end the
mindset that got us into that war. His insistence on sending more troops to
Afghanistan is not a good sign of ending that mindset. Or was that merely
election season rhetoric to lure in moderate voters? Will Obama listen to US
and British generals who are suggesting talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan? Will
Obama also abandon the electioneering slogans and also talk to the Islamic
forces in Palestine and Lebanon? His curve of education will be rather steep.
Yet, we also have to remember that grassroot movements
pressuring political leaders are what achieved civil rights, women�s rights,
and labor rights. Such movements are what ended the genocidal war on Vietnam,
ended the US support for Apartheid South Africa, and, yes, elected Obama. We
must remember that freedom is never freely given and that it must be demanded,
and we must remind President Obama every day he is in office that the people
Mazin Qumsiyeh, Ph.D, is chairman of the Board
of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between
People and a professor, Bethlehem
University. His web site is located at