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Black Voices Provide Balance to the Mideast Debate
2 May 2002
As I watch and read the news, I rarely see an African-American point of view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I hear one member of Congress after another offering unequivocal support for the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But some members of the Congressional Black Caucus have a different view. They provide balance to the current debate on U.S. Mideast policy.
African Americans bring a unique perspective. Some members of the black community feel a sense of kinship with the Jewish community. The biblical struggle of the Jews resonates with religious African Americans. And members of an older generation remember the cooperation between blacks and Jews during the civil-rights movement.
Other segments of the black community identify with the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Palestinians, not unlike African Americans, are the underdog. They are the "blacks" of the Mideast, living under poor, segregated and oppressive conditions.
And it does not escape the memory of some that Israel was a close ally of South Africa under apartheid, a major supplier of arms to the white minority regime.
"Many of us here in the United States have long been concerned about reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that reveal a pattern of excessive, and often indiscriminate, use of lethal force by Israeli security forces in situations where Palestinian demonstrators were unarmed or posed no threat of death or serious injury to the security forces or to others," Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., recently declared. "As long as the occupation continues, bloodshed will continue and increase." Recently, McKinney attended a rally in Washington, D.C., calling for an end to the Israeli occupation.
Other members of the Congressional Black Caucus are also speaking out. "The Palestinians have a right to have a state, and the Israelis have a right to safety and security; neither of these goals can be achieved with a military solution," says Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the veteran civil-rights activist and former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, advocates a more active U.S. role in brokering a political solution. A colleague of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis says King "knew that both peoples were subject to laws passed with the particular intent of oppressing them simply because they were Jewish or black. He knew that both peoples have been subjected to oppression and genocide on a level unprecedented in history."
At the protest in Washington on April 20, McKinney said: "We, as the world's most powerful nation, have a responsibility to act in defense of the weak and to protect them from harm. We failed in Rwanda, we failed in Srebrenica, we failed in East Timor, and now as we speak, we failed in Jenin."
As the world waits to see how many Palestinians were killed in the West Bank town of Jenin, some lawmakers on the Hill are proposing a resolution to show their solidarity with Israel. Congress should listen to the courageous voices of the Black Caucus before it rubberstamps Sharon's brutality.
David A. Love