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The First Mistake: Barack Obama’s Silence on Gaza

In seven days, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the forty fourth president of the United States. The UK Telegraph reports today that people have been willing to pay $2000 for one of the 240,000 tickets, most of them standing, to the inauguration. The streets of Washington DC are flush with cash, the Kuwaiti Ambassador's wife, Reema Al-Sabah, is throwing one of the flashiest parties in the Diplomatic Circle, every hotel room is booked, every couch taken, every ball-gown picked.

Meanwhile, the skies over Gaza, already lacking in any silver-lined clouds, is now thick with leaflets stating that Israel plans to escalate its war, and will begin a new phase in the aggression it launched, with cruel irony, on Christmas Day. As Glenn Greenwald recently observed in, there has to be a particularly horrific and inhumane intention behind such an action: to warn people already imprisoned in their shelters - for there are no homes we in the so-called civilized world would recognize as such inside the occupied territories of Palestine - that death is imminent. The refugee camps in Palestine and the deprivation within them are not different from the camps and deprivation that people pretended did not exist in Hamburg, Nordhausen and Munich, and the forefathers of today's Israeli citizens were once given those same intimations of death with the same macabre regularity. We remember the names of those camps, Dora-Mittenbau, Sanchsenhausen, Dachau, even as we do not know how to pronounce the names of today's iterations of those same camps: Nuseirat, Deir el-Balah, Khan Younis.

Over the weekend I was offered tickets to the inauguration including space in a hotel room close to the parade route. The offer came with the promise of chauffeured transport from my Philadelphia home to the hotel and back and the company of good friends. I have one day to make what ought to be an easy decision for someone who worked for twenty solid months by spoken and written word, by physical and ether-based deed, by personal and financial sacrifice, for the election of Barack Obama.

The inauguration of America's first Black president is a notable event. The millions who worked on this campaign and the millions who never thought they would see the day should celebrate an achievement that was as unexpected by our natural tendency toward pessimism as it was pre-ordained by the march of history. No doubt the eyes of the world will be watching on the 20th of January with the same attention with which they watched his victory on November 4th.


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But what does an activist like me say to that same world of a man who has refused to comment on the massacre of the Palestinian people including children who are the age of his own daughters, because there can be "only one President at a time," but who has been front and center stage in flagrant disregard of the current Commander-in-Chief with regard to the American economy? Is this our first intimation that the change we can believe in is really an unbelievable continuation of the policy of America first, the rest be damned?

The German newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung no less, scorned Obama for his stance, stating that "Gaza is burning, and Israel's bombs are causing daily casualties, but the world can only expect change at twelve noon sharp on January 20." And, all the way in the Philippines, Randy David writes thus: "By any measure, this is not a war but a slaughter, not a retaliatory response but an outrageous massacre. The Jewish nation's transformation from colossal victim to callous aggressor is complete... As Israelis and Palestinians stared menacingly at each other on Christmas Day, the rest of us stared indifferently, forgetting that, in the last analysis, we are all Gazans."

Is it, then, only our future president who has not understood the situation? Is it, then, only us Americans who have the power to intervene in this monstrous day-light butchery of an entire tribe of people, who feel that good work must wait until the partying is over? Seven years ago, another American president took the sympathy of the world and transformed it into hatred. Just two months ago, Barack Obama won it back on the backs of ordinary Americans. Today he stands on the brink of repeating the biggest mistake of his predecessor. As a man with Barack Obama's upbringing, his global reach, his demonstrated intelligence and humanity, and his oft-repeated commitment to justice for all, that will be unforgivable. We do not expect great vision from fools, but we demand it of our heroes.

Ru Freeman

Ru Freeman

Ru Freeman's creative and political writing has appeared internationally. She is the author of the novels A Disobedient Girl (Atria/Simon & Schuster, 2009) and On Sal Mal Lane (Graywolf, 2013), a New York Times Editor's Choice. Both novels have been translated into several languages including Italian, French, Hebrew, and Chinese. She blogs on literature and politics, is a contributing editorial board member of the Asian American Literary Review, and has been a fellow of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is the 2014 winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award for Fiction by an American Woman.

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