During His Trip to Egypt, Obama Should Visit Gaza

Obama will give a major policy talk at Cairo University on June 4,
intended to start mending the rift between the United States and the
Arab world. During the Bush years, many Arabs turned against the
United States because of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as
well as the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Graib. But the issue that is
really at the crux of the tensions with the United States is the
intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine, and what many
perceive as a one-sided U.S. policy in support of Israel.

The Obama administration has taken a positive stand on the Israeli
settlements, calling for a complete freeze. "[Obama] wants to see a
stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not 'natural
growth' exceptions," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told

But the administration has said almost nothing about the devastating
Israeli invasion of Gaza that left over 1,300 dead, including some 400
children. To many in the Middle East, this is an unfortunate
continuation of past policies that condemn the loss of innocent
Israeli lives, but refuse to speak out against the disproportionately
greater loss of Palestinian lives at the hands of the Israeli

The Israeli invasion of Gaza began on December 27, 2008, when Obama
had just won the election but had not yet taken office. While he spoke
out against the November 26 Mumbai terrorism attack, he refused to
even call for a ceasefire in Gaza, saying coldly, "When it comes to
foreign affairs it is particularly important to adhere to the
principle of one president at a time."

Once inaugurated, Obama appointed George Mitchell as a special peace
envoy and immediately sent him on a "listening tour" to key places in
the Middle East--except Gaza. Mitchell returned for a second trip to
the region in late February, visiting Turkey, the United Arab
Emirates, Egypt, Israel and the West Bank but once again bypassing
Gaza. The same thing happened on his third trip in April.

Hillary Clinton has never visited war-torn Gaza. She promised $300
million for rebuilding, but the aid won't get to Gaza as long as the
administration insists on dealing only with Mahmoud Abbas and his
Palestinian Authority in the West Bank while shunning Hamas, which
controls Gaza and was democratically elected.

Obama won great support from the American people during the
presidential campaign when he said that America must talk to its
adversaries, without preconditions. But his administration now puts
ridiculous conditions on talking to Hamas: It must recognize Israel,
renounce violence and accept previous international agreements.
Israel, on the other hand, does not have to recognize Palestine,
renounce violence or abide by past agreements. Putting preconditions
on just one side of the conflict makes it impossible to move a peace
process forward.

While Obama prepares for his trip to the Middle East, more than 150
people--mostly Americans--are trying to enter war-torn Gaza through both
the Egyptian and Israeli borders. Organized under the umbrella of the
peace group CODEPINK, this is the largest group of Americans to travel
to Gaza since the siege began.

The delegations, invited by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA), are bringing medicines, toys, school supplies and playground
building materials. An estimated 1,346 Gazan children were left
without one or more of their parents as a result of the Israeli
assault and the majority were left traumatized and depressed.

That's why the peace group CODEPINK has launched an international
petition (see www.codepinkalert.org)
calling on Obama to visit Gaza and see for himself the devastation and
deprivation that continues to plague the region's 1.5 million people
almost 6 months after the invasion. Just this week, Obama just tacked
a new stop to his upcoming Middle Eastern visit: Saudi Arabia. If he
can make room for a private dinner with the King, then surely he can
find the time to go to Gaza. Isn't it more important for Obama to
visit a region where 1,300 people have recently been killed and
thousands of homes, schools and mosques destroyed? Isn't it more
important for him to see how the Israelis are using the yearly $3
billion in military aid from U.S taxpayers?

Obama should take the opportunity, during this visit to Egypt next
week, to visit Gaza. He should express his condolences for the loss of
so many innocent lives, call for a lifting of the inhumane siege that
continues to imprison an entire population, and support an
investigation of how U.S. military funds to Israel are being spent.

Those actions, more than any fine words he may speak during his talk
at Cairo University, will do wonders to repairs our relations with the
Arab world that were so tattered during the Bush years.

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