- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

As Serbs stormed and torched their parliament in an outburst of violence encouraged and cheered on by the Western powers, President Clinton proclaimed: "The United States stands with people everywhere who are fighting for their freedom."

It would, of course, be wonderful if this were true, but, as with every other principle which Americans purport to hold dear, Palestinians, who have also been fighting for their freedom in recent days (at far greater human cost), are a glaring exception. It seems that, in American eyes, Palestinians are not considered "people."

Indeed, no one who believes that Arabs are human beings could consider the transformation of the Arab land of Palestine into the Jewish state of Israel, necessarily requiring the dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people, to be a good thing, as almost all Americans do. Holding both views simultaneously is logically and intellectually impossible.

History cannot be erased. Israel exists, and Israelis are also human beings. Yet it is inconceivable that a true peace, for both Palestinians and Israelis, will ever be achieved unless the peoples of Palestine's only enemies, Israel and the United States, recognize in their hearts and minds the enormity of the original sin that the dispossession, dispersal and continuing oppression of the Palestinian people constitutes a grave injustice, probably the gravest injustice inflicted on one people by another since the Second World War and that Palestinians are not simply a problem to be coped with but human beings entitled to basic human rights.

Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli soldiers usually die in numbers but namelessly at least in the Western media. Thanks to the presence of a French television cameraman, 12-year-old Mohammed al Dura did not die namelessly at Netzarim junction on Sept. 30. To most of those who watched him die from the comfort of their homes around the world, he probably looked like a human being. If so, are not all Palestinians human beings? If so, are they not entitled to basic human rights? If so, why should Israel continue to be permitted to defy international law and U.N. resolutions and to deny them their basic human rights? Indeed, why should Israelis wish to do so and why should Americans, alone, wish to support them in doing so?

If Americans and Israelis viewed Palestinians as human beings, they might also be capable of seeing through the propaganda fog and recognizing that every Palestinian position and objective in the peace negotiations is in full compliance with international law and relevant U.N. resolutions, while virtually every Israeli position and objective in the peace negotiations is in total defiance of international law and relevant U.N. resolutions. Even for countries as notoriously hostile to international law and U.N. resolutions (except when, as a matter of convenience, they can be used as a stick with which to beat a particular, usually Arab, adversary) as Israel and the United States, this is a fundamental reality which, if recognized, could not easily be brushed aside.

Middle East peace will clearly require a moral and ethical transformation on the part of Americans and Israelis. However, as the "South African miracle" has demonstrated, moral and ethical transformations can occur abruptly, and it should not be forgotten that Americans and Israelis have high moral and ethical aspirations and that most of them genuinely believe that they and their countries act morally and ethically in the world.

If the death of Mohammed al Dura provokes such a moral and ethical transformation and helps a critical mass of Americans and Israelis to recognize that Palestinians are human beings, with all the consequences that inevitably flow from such a recognition, then this poor child will not have died in vain and a durable peace, necessarily requiring some measure of justice for Palestinians and some measure of contrition and repentance by Israelis, will, at last, be possible.

John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who writes frequently on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

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