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Published on Sunday, December 24, 2000 in the Contra Costa Times
US Must Address Mideast Bias
by Sarah Waheed
 
U.S. POLICY IN the Middle East is biased against the Palestinians. The United States has vetoed, or abstained from, numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions that have criticized Israel on various issues.

A recent notable U.S. abstention was on October's Security Council Resolution 1233. The resolution found Israel's military guilty of "excessive force against Palestinians" and deplored the "provocation carried out at Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem on 28 September 2000," a reference to the visit of Israeli leader Ariel Sharon to the shrine. That visit sparked the current conflagration in the region.

Apart from the United States, the resolution passed unanimously.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the principle victims have been Palestinians, who make up 85 percent of the 320 dead. Minors comprise 25 percent of Palestinian fatalities. A report by Physicians for Human Rights conducted last month confirmed Israel's shoot-to-harm policy, evident in the large numbers of fatal injuries to upper bodies, heads and eyes of Palestinian demonstrators.

Amnesty International has condemned Israel's actions as those that "constitute war crimes."

Despite the fact that Israel has violated human-rights norms and international law, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reversed reality in her statement to the press in early October. She said that "those rock-throwers are laying siege on Israel."

But the Israeli attacks on Palestinians constitute a massive collective punishment that violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 33 of the convention states that "no protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation and terrorism are prohibited."

Israel has shot rockets into Palestinian apartments and has used live ammunition, as well as tanks and helicopters, against demonstrators. These attacks, as well as those conducted in retaliation for the car bombs in early November, are gross violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Yet another recent example of U.S. bias concerns a U.N. General Assembly resolution passed on Dec. 1. It said that Israel's decision to impose "its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem is illegal and therefore null and void and has no validity." The United States was one of five countries (others are Nauru, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands -- states that depend heavily on U.S. aid -- and Angola) that abstained from the resolution, which passed 145-1. Israel was the only country that opposed it.

Congress, for its part, passed a House resolution by a margin of 365-30 in late October that "expresses its solidarity with the state of and people of Israel at this time of crisis" and said not a word of Israel's excessive use of force. It condemned only the Palestinians for the violence and offered no solace for the hundreds of Palestinians dead and thousands wounded.

Palestinians are now the targets of Congress' newest legislation. A bill under consideration, the Justice for American Victims of Terrorism Act of 2000 (H.R. 5500), would "require the attorney general to establish an office in the Department of Justice to monitor acts of international terrorism alleged to have been committed by Palestinian individuals or individuals acting on behalf of Palestinian organizations and to carry out certain other related activities."

The bill says that the Justice office will "offer rewards for information on individuals alleged to have committed acts of international terrorism ... including the dissemination of information related to such rewards in the Arabic-language media."

Not only is the bill unjustifiable because it targets one ethnic group but it is also dangerous because it could very well lead to the silencing of nonviolent critics of Israel.

Today, as millions of Palestinians suffer at the hands of brutal Israeli military occupation, our Congress continues to blame the victim. And it is attempting to target people simply because they are from a particular religious or cultural group, even if they are U.S. citizens.

This is a shameful stain on American democracy.

Waheed is a free-lance writer living in Chicago.

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