Transitional Silence
C/O Getty Images…Hamas fires rockets on Israel.
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By Ray LeMoine
Barack Obama has remained silent about the war Israel launched Saturday over Gaza, which has killed 370 in five days. On CBS Face the Nation Sunday, the president-elect’s senior advisor David Axelrod was asked about Israel’s assault on Gaza. “The fact is that there is only one president at a time,” Axelrod said on a feed via Chicago. “The Bush administration has to speak for America now. And it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to opine on these matters.”

Axelrod should have an opinion about Gaza. Considering America gives Israel billions in annual military aid, the latest conflict demands a reaction from all concerned, moral Americans. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself. But should it have the eternal right to offend the entire Arab world (again) with a mission that has no clear goals and involves heavy aerial bombardment of one the densest packed and poorest places on earth?

Today, Israel rejected a 48-hour cease-fire that would have opened a humanitarian aid corridor to Gaza, where basic supplies are running out. If Bush doesn’t want to act, Obama should speak up and distance himself from the tacit support Axelrod gave Sunday.

Gaza is unlike most conflict zones. With its borders and ports closed, Gazans do not have the option to flee the war-zone to refugee camps (it could be argued Gaza is one big refugee camp). The border closings have put Gaza on the brink of humanitarian collapse. It is not time to stress our “special relationship” with a state that violates basic human rights. An air war over Gaza, where civilians have nowhere to flee, is terrorism.

State sponsored terrorism is the oft forgotten cause of non-state terrorism. All of the most notorious Islamic terrorist organizations (Hamas, Hezzbollah, the Taliban, Al Qeada, Lashkar) use a warped Koranic interpretation to advance a political agenda. Yet too often we look at the religious aspects of the war on terror. What makes Muslims want to kill Westerners is not a love of death, it’s Western support for the killing of Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. Certainly Hamas, who are dedicated to the destruction of Israel and have been firing Qassams rockets into southern Israel by the dozens, must be confronted in some capacity. But the lessons of Lebanon apply to Gaza. In 2006 Israel tried to destroy Hezzbollah with air strikes and a ground invasion. That war left Hezzbollah stronger than before. Why should anyone assume a different outcome in Gaza?

Axelrod’s and Obama’s silence is contradictory. Why was it ok for Obama/Axelrod to criticize Bush all campaign but now just three weeks from legitimate power they shut up? This whole “one president at a time” thing might work domestically. Bailouts are one thing. No one is going to die when a bank or automaker goes under. But the war over Gaza has cost 400 lives in just five days. It demands swift reaction from all moral parties, even those not yet in power. A British government official, Douglas Alexander, had no trouble speaking out: “The human cost of this conflict is unacceptable and the humanitarian situation is getting worse by the hour.”

Axelrod seems to want to pretend that the campaign is still on, that he can sit on TV when Gaza burns and spin a non-policy. “He [Obama] will promote the cause of peace, and work closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians on that — toward that objective,” Axelrod vaguely offered Sunday, lacking any details on how to attain that “peace” “objective” in the middle of war. Unlike during the campaign, Axelrod did not criticize Bush. Instead he offered support for Bush, even though White House policy (“Israel has a right to defend itself”) has failed for 8 years running.

“This is the world Obama will inherit,” pundits are saying. Unfortunately it’s also the world he lives in, and silence/agreeing with Bush isn’t the way to peace. In the middle of this American power vacuum, Obama should publicly pressure Olmert and Bush to resolve the conflict. Obama should push for cease-fire ASAP. He should ask Israel not to invade and re-occupy Gaza. He should call for immediate regional talks that include Syria and Iran. He should ask Bush to dispatch Rice to the region. He should call for Gaza’s borders to open, to allow aid workers and journalists inside. And he should speak up now, because a Third Intifada and renewed Israeli occupation of Gaza would be blamed on both Israel and America. Further pissing off the world’s Muslims is not in the interest of a nation bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan.