Obama’s speech at the Jerusalem Convention Centre was the culmination of an attempt to further humiliate Palestinians. The affirmation of US support to Israel was imparted in selective rhetoric focusing on the necessity of Jews to struggle for the right to a national homeland. Israel is portrayed as an inspiration to communities on a global level, with Obama invoking generations of Jews as victims of persecution who persevered; at the same time he explicitly dismissed Palestine and Palestinians’ right to memory.
The selection of religious and historical narrative, the allusion to the prophets and Martin Luther King as emblems of freedom, as well as the inclination of both the US and Israel “of finding freedom in our land” provided justification for Obama’s escalating praise of the Zionist state. To put it succinctly, rhetoric about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the feast of the Passover and Israel’s “vibrant democracy” has basically snuffed out Palestinian existence by setting the foundations which allow the US president to condone and praise Israel for its illegal presence on Palestinian land.
Applying history meticulously by re-enacting centuries and dismissing recent decades, Obama seeks to redefine the collective memory by placing Martin Luther King and biblical prophets on a pedestal as a reminder for Jews and Americans, including the present leaders, of the struggle for human rights. Unfortunately, Obama and Netanyahu don’t measure up to the invoked historical personas. King’s dream of eliminating racial discrimination and the prophets’ guidance to a land which biblical narrative determines was entrusted to Jews in return for obedience to divine decree, have been reduced to imperial propaganda justifying colonialism. Just as Obama fails to describe Israel as an oppressive coloniser, equally he fails to mention that Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America led to the genocide of the indigenous people. The implication in both countries’ narratives is that a barren land was just waiting to welcome people fraught by suffering.
US complicity in recognising Israel as a state began eleven minutes after the so-called Israeli independence. Quoting Truman, Obama praises Israel as a sovereign nation embodying “the great ideals of our civilisation”. The projection of Israel as a democracy with multiple political parties and a free press, coupled with what Obama describes as the courage of the Israeli Defence Forces and a resilient citizenry, fuels misconceptions which are necessary to Israel’s survival. As long as international leaders, especially Israel’s strongest allies, are ready to laud the illegal state as an exemplary democracy, Israel remains secure within its expanding parameters. International leaders, meanwhile, including the UN, are shielded from the responsibility of dismantling the fictitious Zionist state.
Discourse regarding security issues eclipses freedom once again as we are told that the erroneously acclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” deserves security above the needs of any other people in the world. Logically, it is assumed that security is necessary to prevent attacks upon the illegality of the colonising state. However, security discourse for Israel and the US is entrenched within imperial motives in the Middle East. Stability in the Middle East primarily obliges key political players to protect the Zionist fable of Palestine as a barren land yearning for people and cultivation. Any damage to the State of Israel would hamper the US quest for imperial power in the region. Talk of chemical weapons in Syria allegedly expected to be used by Assad’s forces are considered an urgent predicament, yet the use of white phosphorus against Palestinian civilians during Operation Cast Lead was treated as a sensational, timely news item and overlooked by Washington.
Apart from the regional interest, Obama cites security for Israeli citizens as another priority, unleashing praise upon the Iron Dome, credited with saving “countless lives” during Operation Pillar of Defence. Obama seems to draw comfort and reassurances from striking comparisons between Israeli children and his daughters, thus Israeli children are entitled to security from the fear of rockets landing in their bedrooms at night. The metaphor of fear is used within the context of darkness, implying stealth and murderous intent. However, Operation Pillar of Defence, which started with a targeted killing and culminated in a wider massacre of civilians, including Palestinian children, is disregarded. Apparently, it is legitimate to feel compassion for children assailed with fear at bedtime, while callously shunning Palestinian children who have been annihilated by Israeli airstrikes and snipers. But, as Obama said, “in Israel, security is something personal”.
It is worth noting that Obama does not address peace before going into the ramifications of security, which of course includes Iran’s nuclear programme. “People who have a living memory of the Holocaust” are faced with an existential threat. Once again, the deftness of categorising people is evident in the speech. The distinction between Israeli and Palestinian children, Jews as a “nation” and Jews who remember the Holocaust, which factions of society are entitled to security according to nationality and the distinction between which countries are sanctioned by the US to stockpile nuclear weapons are evoked throughout the speech, to the point that a discussion of peace is achieved through once again regurgitating these distinctions to allow a single entity to remain unscathed – the Zionist dream.
Peace is necessary, states Obama, to achieve security and “be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream”. Therefore, no amount of last minute, half-hearted pleas to condemn settler violence, freedom of movement restrictions, forced displacement and settlement building will ever amount to anything but insipid rhetoric. The Zionist dream is secured precisely by adhering to apartheid practices designed to exterminate the Palestinian people. In his discourse on Israeli peace and democracy, Obama defines Israel’s relationship with Palestine through the words of Ariel Sharon: “It is impossible to have a Jewish democratic state and at the same time to control all of Eretz Israel. If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all.” A more fitting comparison would have been Netanyahu and Sharon’s commitment to obliterating Palestinians – the former responsible for Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Defence, and the latter responsible for the massacres of Sabra and Shatila. If any semblance is to be extracted, it is a continuation of war crimes and impunity through decades of illegal, colonial oppression.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.