Monday, June 30, 2008

A response to Los Angeles Mayor's visit to Israel

Don’t worry America, Israel is behind you
Shakeel Syed

In my recent travels to the cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron, Haifa, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and my meeting with peasants and politicians, cab drivers and academics, occupiers and occupied, victims and victimizers, refugees and settlers, people of Abrahamic faiths and agnostics, I did learn one simple reality … “Ending Israeli occupation of Palestinians and their land is a mandatory prerequisite to any form of peace.”

Having missed the opportunity to accompany the Mayor Villaraigosa, who had so graciously invited me to visit Israel with him, I thought I might write about some questions I would have liked to have asked some of the leaders whom the mayor wanted us to meet.

Mr. Prime Minister Olmert: Will Palestinians ever be free of Israeli occupation in their lands? Do you believe the 500 miles long apartheid wall that separates families from their loved ones and farmer from their lands is helpful for peace? Why do you allow Jewish-only illegal settlements to continue to usurp Palestinian land? Can you please explain your policy of demolishing homes and uprooting orchards? Do you agree with UN monitors who say there are 607 road blocks (as of April 2008) in the Occupied Territories? Is it true that your prisons have held more than 5,000 Palestinians who have been jailed without charges for years?

Mr. Shimon Peres: As a Nobel Peace Prize owner do you think Israeli’s nuclear arsenal is helpful or harmful to the regional and to world peace? The oft repeated claim that Israel is a role model for democracy in Middle East is , I believe, like looking to South Africa for racial equality and justice. Do you agree with this, Mr. Peres? Is it true that the Zionist aspiration is to keep usurping “maximum land” (for Jews) with “minimum people” (Palestinians)?

Ms. Tzipi Livni: Just as the law-of-return grants automatic Israeli citizenship to Jews born anywhere in the world, is it too utopian for more than a million Palestinian refugees to have the right-to-return to their homeland? Can I please get a line item breakdown of the annual $3 billion plus US aid, which includes my tax dollars to your country?

Mr. Uri Lupolianski: I, a Muslim from America was able to argue my way into the Al-Aqsa Mosque on a Friday, but I witnessed many native Jerusalemites denied the right to pray – why? Do you know the number of checkpoints and special permits a Palestinian needs to travel for medical care between Ramallah and Jerusalem?

While I am happy to wait for the answers from Israeli leaders, I would like my mayor to consider the following while signing agreements with the Ben Gurion Airport Security and the International (Israeli) Institute for Counter-Terrorism.

How would Los Angelinos feel if they were interrogated for carrying United Nations material (explaining the consequences of Israeli occupation) as I was leaving Ben Gurion Airport last week?

How could the Los Angeles Police Department benefit from the Israeli Police and Military who indiscriminately shoots children and fires teargas during peaceful protests, such as in the village of B’lin each Friday? I am now an owner of few of these empty teargas shells, perhaps bought by Israel with your and my tax dollars.

I urge my Mayor to add the besieged Gaza to his itinerary while touring Sderot and visit with the starving mothers of Palestinian children killed by the Israeli military.

I await my mayor’s return so that I could give him a T-shirt with the slogan “Don’t worry America, Israel is behind you,” that I bought for him from a store in the old quarters of Jerusalem last week.

(This op-ed was submitted to but not accepted by LA Times. I am also aware of another activist writing her response that LA Times chose not to publish it.)

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