Russell O. Siler, Retired
When my mother called “Russ,” I knew I still had plenty of time to play. When her tone intensified a wee bit and she called “Russell Siler,” it was time to think about heading home. But when she commanded “Russell Oliver Siler,” believe me, I ran without another second’s hesitation. Now, hear me clearly: I am not calling either Israelis or Palestinians children. Nor do I think that a single aspect of their relationship has to do with recreational activity. But I do believe the time is now!
President Obama made it quite clear in his Cairo speech that he is committed to upholding Israel as the strong ally of the United States and doing what is necessary for that nation’s security. He also made it clear that the present status and condition of Palestinians cannot and will not continue. He spoke as no other American president has dared to speak. And I daresay that few believe that he will back away from the firm ground on which he stands. For example, I am sure that the vast majority of Americans have no idea of the difference between an outpost and a settlement as pertains to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are, by definition, violations of international law. Yet the government of Israel often makes a show of demolishing “illegal outposts.” These are the tiny rag-tag colonies of shacks and trailers, which are illegal even under Israeli law, and which will, if left unchecked, quickly morph into actual settlements. Such a new settlement will soon gain the approval of the government and, Voila!, a new community is born with full official recognition and subsidies. Every American administration has allowed this little drama to suffice as a substitute for the end of settlement expansion, while the actual settlements keep growing and growing and growing. Mr. Obama, too, is well aware that each new settlement dwelling grabs one more chunk of Palestinian land and moves the prospect for a just resolution to the occupation one further step away. The difference is that he is saying “No More!” He has made it eminently clear that Israeli settlements are a major impediment to ending the conflict and to achieving peace with justice, and that the government must stop building. Existing settlements will still have to be dealt with, but first expansion must stop.
Lots of people do not like this approach. Israelis and their supporters who believe that all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is theirs by divine fiat will not approve. Palestinians and their supporters who insist that every last settler in the West Bank and East Jerusalem must leave will not endorse it. Those who deny even the existence of a Palestinian people, along with those who deny the terrible fact of the Holocaust won’t like it. And those who see the way of war and death as the path to national self-determination–both those Palestinians who call for the destruction of Israel and those Israelis who call for the ethnic cleansing of Arabs and Palestinians from the land–will savagely resist. So it is up to the rest of us to make plain our support and cooperation. Who are “the rest of us?”
We are the realists who are sadly aware that many of the settlements built since 1967 on Palestinian land will end up as part of the nation of Israel, just as we realize that large chunks of Israel may well end up within the state of Palestine. We are the moderates and the peaceniks of a dozen nationalities who have come to understand that one rocket, one checkpoint, one death, one home destroyed only feeds the hungry mouths of retaliation and revenge. We are the ones who know that feeding those monster twins insures only that more people will lose and more will suffer and more will die. We are the ones who have learned that supporters and partisans for both peoples can never prevail by trying to prove that one side, one story, one pain is more persuasive than the other.
We are the ones who support the existence and security of Israel just as we pray for the just creation of Palestine. In spite of the shouts of the extremists from both sides, we can do both…and we do.
I am one of those individuals who contemplate with a heavy soul a future in the Middle East where oppression and death and injustice are the constant companions of those who call that place their home. The opportunity to replace that fear with a vision of two nations, dependent upon each other for security and prosperity lies before us. But it is rapidly receding. Some talk as if there is plenty of time for talk and reflection and preliminaries, but there is not. The world knows what must take place. The question is only if we have the fortitude to undertake the tough tasks.
President Obama has stepped forward courageously. We must let him know that we will stand beside him. We must also let the Congress know that we stand beside him and we invite them to join us. Now!
Russell O. Siler, Retired