by James J. Zogby
[At last week’s Democratic Party platform drafting meeting, I introduced Bernie Sanders’ amendment to the Israel/Palestine section calling for and end to the occupation and settlements. What follows are my comments, speaking for the amendment:]
During her opening comments, DNC Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, spoke about “putting ourselves in others’ shoes.” That’s what we’ve tried to do with our amendment. We do not often see the Arab Israeli conflict through Palestinian eyes. As Senator Sanders has made clear, there are two peoples in this conflict—who need to be understood and whose pain needs to be recognized.
(While the platform calls for a “two state solution”) just using language about two states doesn’t acknowledge the reality that the Palestinians are living under occupation. Palestinian land is being taken by settlements. Palestinians are enduring check points that daily brings horrific humiliation—denying them freedom of movement, employment, and the opportunity to give their children free space in which to live. That’s the situation in West Bank and Jerusalem.
Gaza is another story entirely with 60% unemployment and even higher youth unemployment. You must understand that in Gaza, if you’re a young man under 30, you most likely have never had a job, have no prospect of a job, and therefore no opportunity to have a family or build a decent future. And so death becomes a more desirable option for some. Suicide rates are up, mental illness is up, drug addiction is up. The situation is unsustainable and it must change.
If you review our party’s past platforms, they have lagged way behind reality. I remember being in this same debate in 1988, when we called for our party’s platform to include “mutual recognition, territorial compromise, and self-determination for both peoples.” Back then, people reacted as if the sky were going to fall. It didn’t, we survived. We did not recognize a Palestinian state in our platform until 2004 after George W. Bush said it.
Now we have an opportunity to send a message to the world, to the Arabs, the Israelis, the Palestinians, and to all Americans that we hear the cries of both sides. That America wants to move toward a real peace because it understands that there’s suffering here. Suffering that is unsustainable.
The term occupation shouldn’t be controversial. George W. Bush said that there was an occupation. Ariel Sharon said that there was an occupation. Barack Obama has said there was an occupation. There is an occupation. It denies people freedom. Our President has said that. We have to be able to say in our politics what we say in our policy. We can’t think with two brains. If our policy says it’s an occupation and settlements are wrong and they inhibit peace, why can’t our politics say it? It doesn’t make sense.
The next administration will behave just as the last one, but our politics won’t change. And so I urge you to consider passing this amendment because of the message it will send forcefully and clearly. A message of hope to Palestinians, a message of hope to peace forces in Israel, and a message to the American people—that this time we’re going to make a difference. And we are actually going to help the parties move toward peace.
[The Clinton campaign spokespersons presented their rebuttal. Attempting to make the point that Israel was a tolerant democracy, one Clintonite said that she was proud as a Jewish, lesbian woman that Israel was the only country in the ME where she could walk down the streets of Tel Aviv holding hands with her wife. In my closing argument, I responded:]
Now you can walk down the street in Tel Aviv holding the hand of your wife, but I can’t get into the airport in Israel without hours of harassment because I’m of Arab descent. And I’m not even Palestinian, but because my father was born in Lebanon, I get stopped. When I was working with vice-president Gore, I almost missed a dinner at the Knesset to which he had invited me because I sat in the airport for hours being grilled by people about why I was there and what I was doing.
That was bad enough. But the treatment meted out to the people who live there is so much worse. They suffer horrific discrimination. We have to be able to call it what it is. It is an occupation that humiliates people; that breeds contempt; that breeds anger, and despair and hopelessness that leads to violence.
All that we are asking you to do is accept the reality of the situation. There’s an Israel; the US accepts it, supports it, wants to do everything for it. But there’s also a Palestinian people living under occupation, being drowned by settlements. And recognize what is happening to the people in Gaza.
There is a dynamic going that we must understand. The Israelis may be insecure about the Palestinians but they are very secure about America. Palestinians are not secure vis-à-vis Israel, and they are not secure vis-à-vis America either. We have never treated them fairly. In 1988 when we tried to call for mutual recognition; we could not get that done. We couldn’t even get the word Palestinians in the platform.
Reality has moved way beyond just recognizing Palestinians are there. We need to hear their voices, understand their pain, and say that our Democratic Party understands that this is conflict that must be resolved by respecting the rights of both peoples.
[When the vote was taken, our amendment lost–8 to 5. The debate will continue when the full platform committee meets in July.]
James J. Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute. Photo of Bernie Sanders by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.