President Obama must recognize the illegal occupation of Palestine

June 04, 2009
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(CHICAGO, JUNE 3, 2009) - President Barack Obama is touring the Middle East this week outlining his administration’s plans for peace in that region. It’s ironic that his speech to the Muslim world on Thursday in Egypt occurred on the eve of the 1967 Six Day War, which many point to as the cause of the current conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. 

Obama has been leaning on Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to cease settlement expansion in the West Bank. It’s a promising stance, but it doesn’t go far enough to address all the issues Palestinians face on a daily basis. 

To adapt a phrase from the Clinton administration, “It’s the occupation, stupid.” 

The United States has to recognize and articulate the truth that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is illegal and is in violation of United Nations resolution 242, which firmly states Israel was not allowed to gain territory through war and that it must withdraw from the occupied territories. 

For more than four decades, Palestinians have been paying a heavy price because of Israel’s expansionist policies. The Six Day War displaced more than 350,000 Palestinians, adding to the already staggering number of people who were made refugees in 1948. Today, refugees and their descendents number more than 7.8 million; 40 percent of the world’s refugees are Palestinians. 

The Israeli Defense Force, on several occasions, has waged indiscriminate attacks as a form of collective punishment against innocent civilians, such as in the 2002 massacres in Jenin and Beit Hanoun and most recently in Gaza, where more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,300 were wounded. For nearly three years, Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza, brining the region’s economy to a standstill and causing major food and medicine shortages. More than 400,000 people have no access to potable water. 

A May 27 report, “West Bank Movement and Access Update,” by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, offered other grim statistics about the realities Palestinians face because of the occupation:

  • Since 1967, Israeli authorities declared more than 30 percent – 676 square miles – of the West Bank – as closed military zones or nature preserves, prohibiting access to Palestinians, according to the United Nations.
  • In a six-month period ending in March 2009, UN officials counted 634 checkpoints and other obstacles impeding Palestinians’ free movement in the West Bank.
  • Since 1967, 150 Israeli settlements have been constructed on 3 percent of the West Bank, further fragmenting the area to which Palestinians have access. In the last quarter of 2008, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reported the new or ongoing construction of nearly 4,000 new housing units in West Bank settlements, a 28 percent increase over the same period in 2007. The Israeli Ministry of Housing has plans for an additional 73,000 settlement units.
  • The majority – 87 percent - of the West Bank Barrier, which Palestinians refer to as the Apartheid Wall, snakes through the West. Furthermore, Israel has closed to Palestinians the land between the Wall and the Green Line (1948 boundaries). Palestinians, whose homes lie in the newly closed areas, must obtain permits from the Israeli Defense Forces in order to remain. The permits are largely denied.

The trends seen in the last year alone have “resulted in a contraction of the overall space available for Palestinian development and a decrease in the degree of control that Palestinians have over that space,” the report concluded. “The movement of Palestinians within the West Bank remains highly constrained.” 

Obama is urging Israel to freeze settlements, because "part of being a good friend is being honest,” he said this week. The American Muslims for Palestine applaud Obama for his stance on settlements. However, AMP believes honest dialogue must also include heavy pressure on Israel to end the occupation or risk losing their U.S. funding. Without the financial incentive, Israel will continue to ignore Obama’s requests as it has ignored international law for the past 42 years. 

Kristin Szremski
Director of Media and Communications
American Muslims for Palestine
10101 S. Roberts Road, Suite
Palos Hills, IL 60465
708.598.4267 office 
708.717.4180 cell 

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