when history trumps the present

We all know those pithy little phrases like “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But I’m starting to think that it’s all just hot air. Especially when it obscures the present that is re-enacting other histories. I mean how is it possible that Senator Barack Obama went to Ramallah without passing by, at the very least, Qalandia checkpoint and the Apartheid Wall and military installation? But somehow history of other places, of other times takes center stage beyond the death and destruction in Palestine. For some reason Obama found it more compelling to speak about walls of the past in Germany than walls of the present in Palestine:

That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.

The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.

Here you can see him speaking about it:

What was most disturbing, if predictable, was Obama’s obligatory pilgrimage to the Zionist state’s Nazi holocaust museum. In a fantastic article critiquing this visit and its meaning to Americans Mike Whitney writes:

Obama touched down in Jerusalem on Tuesday and was rushed off to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial to pay his respects to the many victims of Nazi extermination camps. Donning a white yarmulke, Obama performed the traditional ritual; rekindled the flame, offered a prayer, and laid a wreath on the marble tomb. All politics; all de rigeur.

“At a time of great peril and promise, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man’s potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise from tragedy and remake our world. Let our children come here, and know this history, so they can add their voices to proclaim ‘never again’. And may we remember those who perished, not only as victims but also as individuals who hoped and loved and dreamed like us, and who have become symbols of the human spirit.”

No mention of the holocaust going on next door in Gaza. No mention of the settlements. No mention of UN resolution 242.

These events are always loaded with the kind of phoniness that politicians love. Bush even wept he was so caught up in his own fake sincerity. But it’s all politics and no one in Israel is really fooled by the performance. If Obama has such deep feelings about genocide he doesn’t have to go eight thousand miles to prove it. He could just hop a short flight to Wounded Knee in South Dakota where the 7th Cavalry massacred over 300 Lakota Sioux men, women and children in cold blood. Then he could propose something really original, like declaring that he’ll make December 29 (the anniversary of Wounded Knee) a national holiday; a fitting tribute to the over 10 million American Indians who were slaughtered by the invading northern Europeans. But Obama won’t support a national holiday for America’s native people any more than he’ll support a memorial to the victims of slavery. After all, that might alienate the pudgy, middle-aged white guys he’s trying to win over for the November balloting.

When the creation of a National Slave Memorial was proposed some years ago for the Washington Mall, the idea was scorned in the right wings journals as “an appalling idiocy” that “would inflame both blacks and whites”. The article goes on:

“Expediency-minded politicians of both parties may think of a slavery memorial as a cheap way to ‘throw a bone’ to the black community, A slave memorial is guaranteed to become a magnet for every race hustler from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton down to any local demagogue who can scare up a crowd to go stand in front of the slave memorial and spew venom at American society on TV….What a memorial would do is perpetuate the fraud that slavery was something peculiar to the United States, when in fact it was one of the oldest and most widespread of all human institutions, existing for thousands of years on every inhabited continent, involving people of every race and color as both slaves and slave owners.”

There you have it; “compassionate conservativism” in a nutshell, bigotry and all. So, now a memorial to the victims of slavery is nothing more than “throwing a bone’ to the black community”?

America’s history of genocide and slavery, which continues until today through the prison industrial complex, abuse of migrant farmworkers and immigrant labor, for instance, doesn’t even warrant lip service from politicians like Obama. As usual “never forget” applies only to Jews. As Ali Abunimah writes, if Obama actually spent time in the West Bank really seeing and understanding the situation he would have gone to a refugee camp for starters:

But Obama missed the opportunity to visit Palestinian refugee camps, schools and even shopping malls to witness first-hand the devastation caused by the Israeli army and settlers, or to see how Palestinians cope under what many call “apartheid”. This year alone, almost 500 Palestinians, including over 70 children, have been killed by the Israeli army – exceeding the total for 2007 and dwarfing the two-dozen Israelis killed in conflict-related violence.

Or perhaps he would have gone to Gaza where unprecedented poverty levels are suffocating families through a process of slow genocide:

Regarding the interrelation between the socio-economic situation in Gaza and the level of insecurity and human rights violations, Gunness told IPS that the right to a decent standard of living has to be protected.

“We, as UNRWA, believe in the highest level of human development, and see that as an important aspect of our work and of the work of all the U.N. family here,” Gunness added.

“We have to make sure that there are decent standards of living among the certain part of the population we serve, and these latest figures of poverty show that this is not been properly addressed,” said Gunness. “The most important priorities for the U.N. right now are to get… Gaza open for both humanitarian goods and for import and export because we need to serve the refugee population.”

“Israel’s closure policy constitutes unlawful collective punishment, in violation of international law,” said Whitson. “At the same time, there’s no evidence that the policy has served to prevent rocket attacks by armed groups into Israel. Egypt shares in the blame for the suffering of the Gazans, given its refusal to open the Rafah border.”

Instead, here, too Obama chose to only see one side of the story: that of the colonist, the oppressor the “never again” victims-cum-victimizers. If Obama even perused the recent Israeli press this week perhaps he would have seen this story reminiscent of America’s racist past and present: 2 Arabs narrowly escape lynching in Jerusalem.

I suppose it is too much to ask that Obama join Snoop Dog in the boycott of apartheid policies of the state of Israel.

For a U.S. presidential candidate that understands all of this history in order to radically alter the course of the future in a way that is completely dependent on justice listen to this interview with Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente on Flashpoints last week.


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