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A Letter to the President

Nikki Hodgson | PostedJuly 26th, 2011 | Middle East

In a recent post, I mentioned drafting a letter to Obama in my head. A few of you expressed a wish to read that letter so I decided to include it in this post:

President Obama,

In many respects it feels futile to write this, mostly because I know this will never reach your hands, but also because it’s all too easy for me to sit here and comfortably criticize everything I feel powerless to change.

There was a time when I wanted to work for the U.S. Department of State. Just prior to my second visit to Israel and Palestine, I applied for an internship position with the Conflict Prevention Office, my dream job. Though I was a staunch critic of U.S. Foreign Policy, the ideals of my country burned brightly within me and I felt sure I would find some small glint of those ideals within the political spectrum of U.S. involvement. Mid-way through my stay in the region, I was offered the position. I had just come home from visiting the sites of recently demolished Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.  I turned down the internship. It was a matter of conscience.  I could not in good faith pour my energy and soul into a government that sacrifices democracy for diplomacy and allows its ideals to become tattered remnants under the banner of an allied force.

Bethlehem Separation Barrier
Bethlehem Separation Barrier

As the international community is preparing itself for the next chapter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a chapter which the United States is decidedly against, I am sitting in Beit Sahour watching the Israeli settlements expand before my very eyes, gazing in disgust at the wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem. This wall, built by American tax dollars,  has successfully kept Palestinians from entering Israel, but it has not been as successful at keeping Israeli settlers out of the West Bank.

Last week I sat on a rock in the Hebron Hills watching a Palestinian boy no older than my little brother drive his family’s sheep onto a piece of land they had not been able to access for 10 years because of the insensibility and fickleness of Israeli military law. While my brother is playing Dodgeball at recess, this boy is ducking the rocks and gunfire of aggressive and violent Israeli settlers. When the Israeli Defense Forces show up to escort us off the land, I look at him over my shoulder and my heart heaves. He can’t be more than 12 and already he has seen the very worst of human nature, every humanitarian law has failed him.

palestinian boy
palestinian boy

In my moments of frenzied emotion, I question why the U.S. supports these atrocities or why they even happen at all. Settlers attack Palestinian children, the IDF responds violently to nonviolent protests, human rights activists are imprisoned, homes are demolished under unscrupulous legal pretexts, land is seized, water is denied, children are arrested and imprisoned, and throughout it all the U.S. stands hopelessly by, warning Israel with one hand and handing over weapons with the other.

U.S. politicians like Mike Huckabee and pundits such as Glenn Beck come to Israel and declare in noble tones of the struggle Israel faces. They say nothing of the struggle on the other side of the wall. They see only the imperfect picture painted by the hands of Israel’s right-wing politicians. The dust from the demolition of Palestinian homes never mars their perfect vision of Israel’s “struggle.”

The U.S. repeatedly succumbs to Netanyahu’s obstinate refusal to cease and desist with illegal settlements. It stands alongside Israel as it curbs the basic human rights of Palestinians and tramps doggedly upon the efforts of Israeli, Palestinian and international activists trying to promote some semblance of justice and reason.

Mr. President, Palestinian civilians and international activists, your own citizens included, are being abused by an oppressive force and your response is to tell them to leave well enough alone? I will not. I cannot. Imbibing citizens with an education that promotes thoughts of freedom, equality, and compassion has its repercussions.


The U.S. and the international community encourage tolerance. Would you have asked the same of the U.S. slaves in their shackles? Would you have asked Martin Luther King Jr. to beg his fellow countrymen to tolerate the lynching, the discrimination, and the violence? Would you have asked the Native Americans to tolerate the brutal massacres and marches that tore them from their land? Do not speak to me of tolerance, Mr. President. Speak to me of justice and something more worth tolerating.

The Israeli government allows construction materials into Gaza only to destroy the infrastructure these meager supplies provide. Gazans spend 8 hours of the day without power, hospitals have not received supplies since February, and the promised Rafah crossing is still impossibly shut. This is a situation which calls for radical action and yet those ready and willing to do so are treated as culprits, accused of aiding and abetting terrorism against Israel.

The U.S. Department of State requests those wanting to send humanitarian aid to use the appropriate channels–as if a blockade were an appropriate situation–and then warns the Palestinians not to undermine the peace process by applying to the UN for membership and recognition. The corpse of the peace process is rotting on the negotiation table and still you insist there is a way to revive it. But you will not call a doctor. You stare at it, suggesting things that might be done, but no action is taken and now it is  much too late. If the U.S. is truly concerned about peace, it should remove itself as mediator and place a more objective and accountable force in its stead.

As a political analyst I fully understand the implications of upsetting an ally such as Israel and I understand the diplomatically sensitive position of the U.S.,  but as someone who grew up declaring daily allegiance to the ideals of “liberty and justice for all,” I cannot ignore the injustice here simply because it falls in line with U.S. political interests. In his famous speech, Arafat implored the international community to choose the olive branch over the gun. At the rate Israel is demolishing Palestinian olive groves, the extension of the olive branch will soon be as physically impossible as it is metaphorically.

The apathy of good men is a terrible thing, but it seems far worse to know what is right, to declare yourself in accord with it, and yet to persist in actively supporting the actions which undermine everything of which you have spoken. As long as the U.S. persists in endorsing unjust Israeli policy, it is endorsing the violation of both humanitarian law and democratic principle.

Bethlehem Separation Barrier
Bethlehem Separation Barrier

Mr. Obama, the U.S. has declared itself as keeper of the peace process, but the lamb has been left to the wolf’s care, and would-be shepherds are beaten away by American-made guns. How much longer will we have to wait for the U.S. to take a stand that is not directly inbetween what needs to be done and those trying to do it?


2 Responses to “A Letter to the President”

  1. Thank you, Nikki, for writing this strong and moving letter. I have forwarded it on to my Maine Senators Collins and Snowe, and to my congressman,neighbor, and friend Chellie Pingree, whom I’ve already approached by e-mail earlier to take an interest. She’s not on any committees useful to this topic, but I intend to keep after her so long as you keep sending out fuel!

    Continue to be forceful, reasonable, and persistent. (With perhaps just a tad of observation from the opposite point of view – if you can find it – to help substantiate your objectivity?)

    Best, Herb

  2. Melanie Jones says:

    Thank you Advocacy Project for the exceptional work you are doing on behalf of many unfortunate people in this world. Excellent “Letter to the US President” by Nikki Hodgson. Please pass along a sincere thank you to the dedicated people on your team who are sacrificing and contributing in ways most of us will never know. Thank you!

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