Is the visit of President Bush to Israel on 60th anniversary appropriate?

Is the visit of President Bush to Israel on 60th anniversary appropriate?

President Bush travelled to Jerusalem to take part in celebrations for the country’s 60th anniversary on May 14th, the day Israel was carved out of Palestinian territory.

Mr Bush lavished praise on Israel and barely mentioned the Palestinians in his speech, which marked the 60th anniversary of Israel’s foundation.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said Mr. Bush had stood alongside Israel "like nobody else". Mr Bush said that he believed a full peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians was possible by the time he would leave office, in January next year.

Media reports indicated that the visit was partly intended to bolster an Arab coalition against Iran’s growing power in the region and partly to show solidarity with Israel on the anniversary.

Many Arab leaders consider President Bush’s participation in Israel’s 60th anniversary celebration is insensitive to the feelings of dispossessed Arabs.

This day in 1948, is considered by 700,000 Palestinians as a day of "catastrophe, dispossession, displacement, exile and occupation" who’d lost their homes, their land and, in many cases, their lives in May 1948.

Since that time their peaceful lives have been ruined, society fragmented, possessions pillaged and hope for freedom and nationhood remains unfilled as of today. Millions of Palestinians nourish their aspiration for freedom, dignified living within a free nation-state.

Arabs think there is no reason to celebrate the creation of Israel. Late Edward Said, an well-known author and a Palestinian, commenting on 50th anniversary of Israel wrote:

“Even after fifty years of living the Palestinian exile I still find myself astonished at the lengths to which official Israel and its supporters will go to suppress the fact that a half century has gone by without Israeli restitution, recognition, or acknowledgegment of Palestinian human rights and without, as the facts undoudtedly show, connecting that suspension of rights to Israel’s official policies… the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) is characterised as a semi-fictional event…caused by one one in particular”.
As earlier said, the lives of dispossessed Palestinians were forever shattered.

For example, a BBC journalist recently filed a report on the occasion of 60th anniversary how a Palestinian who was evicted from his house at 17 in 1948 became a homeless person and now he is in his 70s. He has spent almost all his life in a refugee camp at Shatila in southern Lebanon. He never went to school or learned to read and write.

Israel at 60 is a state that is illegally occupying Palestinian and other Arab lands. It is a theocratic state, meant only for Jews and treats its own Arab citizens with institutionalised discrimination. Israel is not a democratic state as is ordinarily meant because in a democratic state, multi-religious people live peacefully with equal rights and opportunities. But in Israel, non-Jews Arabs are “second class” citizens and there is conspicuous silence in Western countries about it.

Palestine was never a land without a people. Israel is persistently and grossly breaching international law and infringing fundamental human rights with impunity afforded to it through the diplomatic, economic and military support of the US.

Today those 700,000 Palestinian refugees have grown to 7 million. Four million live under illegal occupation. Three million live as non-citizens in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and other countries.

How does this homeless person feel about President Bush’s participation in celebrations of Israel’s 60th anniversary?

Can the leaders of Western nations including the US, who have expressed congratulations to Israel on its 60th birthday, not spare a moment to remember the suffering of the Palestinian people 60 years ago, and the daily consequences of their dispossession, displacement, exile and occupation?

Arabs and people who have conscience think that participation of the US President in the celebration of “Israel at 60” is tantamount to ignoring gross abuse of human rights and freedom, to which President Bush has committed himself for the region and for the world. People ask how does the participation of Israel’s anniversary reconcile with the President’s message of protection of freedom and human rights?

On 18th May, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas revealed that he had demanded an explanation from Mr Bush for his comments in Israel. "We had many things to say about it, and we told him this when we met him yesterday, because we speak with him openly, honestly and transparently. We have asked him to maintain a balanced position," Mr Abbas said.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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