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June 04, 2009

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I agree with a lot of what Saifedean Ammous is saying, although I do think that Obama announced a break with the Bush Administration's handling of Israel in the speech. In addition, Obama's tentative extension of a hand towards Iran (and Cuba for that matter) is significant.

I too was sceptical about Obama's remarks about non-violence. We pay attention to Arab nations because they spawn violence and have oil. Without the threat of violence, Israel and Egypt, which do not possess oil, would slowly drift off our radar map.

Thanks Leila for providing the many links to analysis of the speech. I have read abu-khalil's and of course, the eloquent and deeply insightful Ali Abunimah, and look forward to the others you have here.

I found the speech to be a confirmation and re-iteration of past and ongoing policy. People seem to be making much of Obama's words which appear to humanize Palestinians and their suffering, yet there is nothing new in that either:
GW Bush, Rose Garden, 24 June 2002: "It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation. And the current situation offers no prospect that life will improve... My vision is two states, living side by side in peace and security."

BH Obama, Cairo University, 4 June 2009: "They endure the daily humiliations, large and small, that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable... The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security."
(that is from the AngryArab blog.)

The point is we don't exactly go around in state speeches saying we hate Arabs.

We have a "special relationship" with Israel, we are upping aid to Israel, we don't say a word about the assault on Gaza, the endless Israeli brutality and violence in the West Bank, or getting rid of the settlements. We lecture Palestinians about violence and maintain the fiction that this is an equal conflict. How on earth is any of this going to lead to change for the besieged people of Palestine?

best to you and thanks again.

I am shocked at the number of commentators who've taken Obama to task over his words on violence. He didn't mention it in isolation but within the much wider context of other similar struggles against oppression and discrimination. Detail aside, he was saying "look you have a legitimate cause, but you need to re-think the methods". Dismissing his words as nonsensical or taking the "oh yeah, well what about . . . " tack is self defeating and misses the point entirely. On the subject of Holocaust denial, so long as nobody knows what the Palestinian discourse on that actually is, there will be plenty of people more than willing to step in and put words in their mouth.

Nadia, if I understand you-and perhaps I don't-you articulate perfectly why Obama's words are so frustrating and downright offensive to those of us who support justice, truth, and human rights. It is not that we miss his point-we don't like it. It is Israelis, not Palestinians, who commit the overwhelming majority of violent acts in the region-and ALL of the land and water theft. (Note that there has not been a suicide bomb since 2004. Note the number of deaths of Palestinians compared to Israelis. Etc.) Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust, nor is there is a substantive denial of the Holocaust by Palestinians.

Anne, I am not an American citizen, so perhaps on that score I have fewer expectations of what an American president can or cannot (or should or shouldn't) say in a public speech. I don’t need Obama to tell me who commits the overwhelming acts of violence in the region – yes it would be nice if he had said all the things that As’ad Abu Khalil accused him of not saying, but I don’t see that happening any time in the near future, do you? The Palestinians are far and away the weakest party in the Arab-Israeli conflict, politically and militarily. But they are fighting an enemy that is morally bankrupt, and I think what Obama was trying to do was to ask the Palestinians to engage the Israelis and the world with their cause on a different and more sophisticated level than just rocket firing. I don't hold out much hope of the Israelis suddenly dropping their arms and saying they reject violence. Many Israelis have turned to fascism, with all the dangerous attitudes that implies, and it is the Palestinians’ responsibility to challenge those attitudes at every turn, in words and in deeds.

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