Mitt Romney’s Remarks on Israeli Cultural Superiority Ignore the Criminal Reality of Occupation
Mitt Romney’s recent remarks about Israel’s economic success being attributable to its cultural superiority border on bigotry and completely ignore the decades of Israeli ethnic cleansing, occupation and apartheid against the Palestinian people.
These crushing conditions imposed in the name of Israeli security have made economic prosperity a near impossibility for Palestine.
After offending half of London with his criticism of that city’s Olympic preparedness, the GOP presidential hopeful jetted off to Israel to show how much better of a friend he’d be to the Jewish state than the White House’s current occupant.
Romney had conservative Israeli heads bobbing in approval when a senior campaign aide said he would back an Israeli strike on Iran
He made even more Israeli friends when he declared that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and vowed to move the American Embassy there from Tel Aviv.
And he earned even more Israeli respect by not meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas or even mentioning the peace process, although he did briefly sit down with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, site of a celebrated 1946 Jewish terrorist attack against British civilians led by future Prime Minister Menachem Begin that killed 91 people.
But what really won Romney glowing reviews among Israel’s more reactionary circles were his remarks about Israel’s economic success at a fundraiser attended by dozens of wealthy Jewish American supporters in Jerusalem on Monday. Noting that Israel’s per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) was more than double that of Palestine’s, Romney attributed the glaring disparity to the Jewish state’s superior culture.
“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney said.
“Culture makes all the difference,” he added. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”
Those “few other things” include the innovative business climate, Jewish resiliency in the face of adversity and “the hand of providence.”
Romney did not mention the billions of dollars in annual aid and loan guarantees given to Israel by the United States, nor the devastating effects of Israeli occupation on Palestine.
Saeb Erekat, Palestine’s chief negotiator in the moribund peace process, called Romney’s remarks a “racist statement.”
“This man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” Erekat is quoted in the Israeli daily Haaretz. Erekat accurately pointed out that not even any Israeli official has boasted about Israeli cultural superiority.
Whether Romney’s comments were the result of ignorance or carefully calculated to win support in all the right circles is not certain. What is certain is that Israeli actions and policies over the past eight decades have made it all but impossible for Palestine to flourish the way the Israel has.
Israel was built upon a foundation of terrorism and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. More than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their homes, often violently, to make way for the Jewish state. More than 400 Palestinian villages and towns were destroyed during the 1948-49 ethnic cleansing campaign known as the ‘Nakba,’ or catastrophe. Another 200,000 were uprooted following Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. According to the United Nations, there are now some 5 million Palestinian refugees as a result of Israeli ethnic cleansing and illegal occupation.
In the name of security, Israel has made life a living hell for Palestinians living under the crushing humiliation of occupation. The Palestinian economy is completely at the mercy of Israel’s leaders and Palestine literally lives or dies by decisions made by a hostile Israeli government. Access by air, land or sea to and from Palestine is controlled by Israel, and that access is always severely restricted and sometimes completely choked off when the Israeli government wants to punish the Palestinians for resisting the internationally-condemned occupation.
Israel’s policy is one of collective punishment of innocent men, women, children, babies, the elderly and the ill. Following the brutal 2008-09 Cast Lead invasion of Gaza, in which some 1,400 Palestinians (including 429 women and children) and 13 Israeli troops perished, Israel prevented the Gazans from rebuilding and banned candles, matches, shoes, clothing, blankets, eating utensils, salt, tea, chocolate, books, music, sanitary napkins, diapers, toilet paper and scores of other items from entering the devastated land that British Prime Minister David Cameron called a “prison camp.”
In the West Bank, a ‘security wall’ (often called an ‘apartheid wall’ by its many opponents) not only cuts Palestinians off from economic opportunity in Israel, it also separates many of them from their farms, schools, and medical facilities. The wall has come between farmers and the land they’ve worked for generations, and hundreds of thousands of olive trees— the very symbols of Palestinian attachment to their land and the economic lifeblood of the people– have been bulldozed or uprooted to make way for Jewish settlers illegally occupying and building on Palestinian land. Once-thriving families have been reduced to charity cases and once-fertile trees that sustained them for generations have wilted and died as farmers have been denied permission to water them.
In the occupied West Bank city of Qalqilya, 40,000 besieged residents have been completely encircled by Israel’s apartheid wall. Not only are Qalqilya’s Palestinians cut off from the rest of the West Bank, Israelis are also barred from shopping there as they once did, a prohibition that has ravaged the local economy. Qalqilya’s farmers depend on Israeli soldiers to allow them onto their own fields. One farmer lost more than 15,000 chickens because he was denied access to his coop. He was then forced to obtain a permit to work on
Those who live in the ‘seam zone’ between Israel and the wall need special permits to cross through gates. But they can’t always get the permits, the gates aren’t always open, and when they are, there are often long lines. Imagine the humiliation of being invaded and occupied by a foreign army, having a wall built across your land, and then being told you need a permit to travel to and from your home while hundreds of thousands of foreigners, thoroughly convinced that God deeded your land to them, illegally build homes of their own while attacking you, your crops and your property on a regular basis– such is the daily hell that far too many Palestinians must endure.
Palestinians lucky enough to have jobs in Israel must endure wasted days of waiting for hours at ‘security’ checkpoints at which proud Arab men are reduced to groveling serfs before their Israeli masters. This humiliation is nearly as bad as death to an Arab. Some people have literally died; some 60 women waiting to cross over for medical care gave birth at checkpoints between 2000 and 2005, and 36 of their babies died for lack of adequate medical care. Without irony, Israeli soldiers refer to the long periods Palestinians are forced to wait at checkpoints as “taking time off from life.”
In Walajeh, which is also completely strangled by the Israeli wall, one villager’s home is encircled by an electrified fence. Dozens of other homes have been demolished on the absurd grounds that they were built without permits, which are often impossible to obtain. Again, imagine the indignity of having your nation, including your personal property, seized by foreign occupiers and then having to beg permission from them to build on your own land! In what some consider the ultimate humiliation, economic despair has driven many Palestinian men to take jobs building the very wall that is causing their people so much suffering.
This is the superior “power of Israeli culture” that Mitt Romney has so enthusiastically hailed.
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