On Monday, November 19th, the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee once again voted for an international moratorium on capital punishment. The fourth draft resolution was adopted, with 110 states voting in favor, 36 abstaining, and 39 voting against the resolution. Although not legally binding, the U.N. General Assembly’s resolutions signify international moral and political advances.
Among those who voted against the moratorium was, not surprisingly, the United States, along with other such bastions of human rights as Iran, North Korea, Syria, and China.
On November 30th, the U.N. General Assembly passed another great measure with overwhelming international support to grant Palestine non-Member Observer State status. The vote was tallied at 138 votes in favor, nine against, and 41 abstentions. Once again, the U.S. fell on the wrong side of history as one of the nine states who voted against the measure, along with Israel. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said that the measure would “do nothing to advance positive relations between the two parties to the conflict” and that it placed “further obstacles in the path to peace.” She said that these “grand pronouncements would soon fade” and that the Palestinian people would soon find that “little about their lives has changed.”
Again and again, it seems, the United States continually moves to sacrifice human rights and human dignity in the name of expanding our hegemonic empire around the world. What Ambassador Rice missed in her statements is the dignity that a nation and its people receive simply by being recognized. In gaining their non-member status, Palestinians may not find that their lives are suddenly transformed. They continue to be under an occupation by Israel. They continue to live in what can only be called an open air prison, unable to leave and unable to receive aid from outside of their borders. They continue to be terrorized by the Israeli military. In these respects, Ambassador Rice was correct. And yet, the simple nod of recognition from the rest of the world – a nod that says that they are visible and legitimate and have a right to be heard by the international community – will make a change in their lives. It will mean that Palestinians now have the common dignity to be recognized as human beings with the same inalienable rights as the rest of us. It means that the international community has heard them and, with the exception of Israel and its allies like the United State, is willing to act upon their behalf.
What’s more, President Obama, when speaking about the recent escalation in violence between Israel and Palestine, made this statement:
“Let’s understand what the precipitating event here that’s causing the current crisis and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated, and there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”
He furthered this by saying that the United States will support any attempts of Israel to defend itself and its citizens.
What is continually left out of this conversation by U.S. government officials is Palestine’s right to defend itself against occupation and repeated aggression by Israel against the people of Palestine. The question of “who started it” is sort of irrelevant. What is relevant is looking at the irrefutable figures. Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip this November ended with a death toll of around 170 Palestinians killed and over 700 wounded, many of them citizens. Up to 34 Palestinian children were reported to be among the dead. Meanwhile in Israel, six deaths were reported; four civilians and two soldiers, along with a few dozen wounded in attacks by Palestine.
While any death is a tragedy, the numbers are , nevertheless, quite clear. A cease-fire will not heal the region if the core policies of Israel are not changed. To borrow President Obama’s words, “there’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” And no country on earth would tolerate decades of an occupation without some retaliation. Palestinians cannot be expected to keep their heads bowed and obediently follow orders from Israel as it confines them to the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip. In a piece by Noam Chomsky on the Israeli Occupation Archive, he said, “The US and Israel could end the merciless unremitting assault and open the borders, and provide for reconstruction – and if it were imaginable, reparations for decades of violence and repression.” A cease-fire is not enough. The Palestinians must finally get the respect and dignity they deserve if there is to be any lasting peace in the region. Chomsky continued, “Some day, and it must be soon, the world will respond to the plea issued by the distinguished Gazan human rights lawyer Raji Sourani while the bombs were once again raining down on defenseless civilians in Gaza: “We demand justice and accountability. We dream of a normal life, in freedom and dignity.””