January 13, 2009
Dear President-Elect Obama:
My prayers are with you as you prepare to assume the Office of President of the United States one week from today. May God give you wisdom and courage for the many difficult challenges you will face.
Obviously, one immediate foreign policy test will be the current military and humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
I am a U.S. citizen working for a Christian humanitarian organization in the Middle East. The state of affairs in Gaza is urgent. It has immense implications for the region and for the United States. Today is the 10th day of my fast for peace, which I began at the time of Israel’s ground incursion into the Gaza Strip. I plan to continue fasting until this unconscionable situation ends.
Hopefully, by the day you take office, a ceasefire will be in place. But even if it is, there will be much work ahead to assure a just and durable peace that will lead to long-term security for both Palestinians and Israelis.
You campaigned on a theme of change. I plead with you to change the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
For too long, the United States has looked at this issue primarily through the lens of terrorism – specifically, that Israel is the victim of Palestinian terrorism. For example, with the current crisis in Gaza, the Bush administration has taken the position that Hamas is the sole provocateur and that, if Hamas would only stop firing rockets into southern Israel, peace would prevail and all would be well.
Israelis should not need to live in fear. Acts of terror by Hamas and other groups are unacceptable and should be soundly condemned. Still, Hamas is not the whole picture or the sole problem. Ironically, Israel once supported the development of Hamas as a counter-balance to the PLO.
It is time to re-frame this issue. I encourage you to read American-Israeli author Jeff Halper’s book, An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel.
One cannot understand the current reality in Gaza without understanding Israel’s 18-month-long suffocating economic siege of Gaza; or Israel’s 42-year-long occupation of the West Bank; or Israel’s dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 and again in 1967; or Israel’s ongoing violation of international law by constructing settlements, by-pass roads and a massive separation wall on Palestinian lands. And yet, the United States seemingly turns a blind eye and continues to heap praise on Israel as a shining democracy.
I beg you to take a fresh look at this issue and chart a new course. The current approach is not working. It is making Israelis less secure. It is causing Palestinians to suffer. And it is badly damaging the U.S. image throughout this region.
Failure to constructively resolve this issue will make it impossible to address other issues in the region that I know are important to you — Iraq and U.S.-Iranian relations.
Of course the United States will remain a strong friend of Israel. But what good friend fails to challenge behaviors that are self-destructive and harmful to others?
There will be powerful forces that seek to stop you from altering the U.S. approach to this conflict. I pray that God will give you courage to do so in spite of strong opposition.
J. Daryl Byler
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