OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — In an unprecedented and welcome move, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with four grassroots Palestinian activists in Ramallah yesterday. The four activists were Hadeel Qazzaz from Gaza, Aref Husseini from Jerusalem, Dalal Irikat, the daughter of the late Saeb Iriqat, and Issa Amro from Hebron. I met Issa in Hebron immediately after his meeting with Blinken, and there was a great deal of coverage about the groundbreaking detente.
As I was sitting with Issa and listening to him describe the meeting, the following recollection came to mind. In the 1970s, ’80s, and ‘90s, my father, a former IDF general and a Zionist through and through, often traveled and spoke in the U.S. His main objective was to convince US policymakers to stop giving Israel arms and money to force it to comply with international law and act in accordance with UN resolutions regarding the rights of the Palestinian people – a strange stance from a former Israeli general perhaps, but it’s true.
My father was never able to meet any significant US policymakers because no one wanted to hear what he had to say. There was not a single significant figure who wanted to hear an Israeli general talk about Palestinian rights. The best he ever got was a meeting in Jerusalem with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor during the Carter administration. That meeting took place in a small coffee shop in Jerusalem on the condition that the meeting remain a secret.
The point being, it has taken a long time, too long in fact, and Palestinians have had to pay too high a price, but the United States has come a long way. Of the four activists, I know only Issa Amro, and the fact that he was present means that the Palestinian voice was present. Issa is as thorough and intelligent a person as one may ever meet and he came to the meeting prepared.
He made the case for the United States to recognize Israel as an Apartheid regime. He called on the U.S. government to open discussions with all Palestinian political groups, including Hamas, and he challenged the Biden administration to provide a presidential waiver that would allow contact with Hamas, just like the presidential waiver that allows American officials to conduct talks with the Fateh party in Ramallah. Both parties are still considered by the United States to be terrorist organizations.
Criticism from all sides
Issa has been heavily criticized by many for his meeting with Blinken, but as they say, “when they’re coming after you, you know you’re doing something right.” The U.S. may be the evil empire, and yes, it supplies Israel with the very weapons that kill Palestinians. At the same time, without a change in US foreign policy, there is no reason to expect a change in Palestine.
After decades of occupation, it’s good that @SecBlinken & @HadyAmr meet w/Palestinian civil society. I was happy to welcome them. I hope they meet w/youth in #SheikhJarrah & next time come to Hebron & see the daily reality of apartheid. The US shouldn’t fund human rights abuses. pic.twitter.com/l5BI39qQlr
— Issa Amro عيسى عمرو 🇵🇸 (@Issaamro) May 25, 2021
Everyone from Breitbart to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) office in Ramallah found Issa was deserving of criticism. The former stated that “Amro’s history as a radical activist in 2017, reporting that he has called for a third “intifada,” has posted messages sympathetic to Palestinian terrorism, and has shared antisemitic rhetoric on social media.”
Issa is dedicated to resisting the Zionist occupation of Palestine and is equally dedicated to non-violence and to educating young generations of Palestinians who know how to utilize civil disobedience and other forms of non-violent resistance. There was never a single instance where Issa Amro resorted to, called for, or expressed support for violence. Not even during this round of violence when many if not most Palestinians actually supported the rockets being fired from Gaza.
The BDS representative in Ramallah wrote in Arabic that Issa “is an example of a Palestinian supporter of Zionism.” This too is a ridiculous claim, and surely they know it. Issa has called for the end of the apartheid regime from the river to the sea and has never worked with, collaborated with, or has shown anything but disdain and resistance to the Zionist occupation of Palestine. Both accusations are ridiculous.
Issa has paid and continues to pay a heavy price for his dedication to the cause. He has been arrested and beaten by the Israeli authorities, he has been beaten and threatened by the armed racist Settlers that surround him in Hebron, and he has been harassed, persecuted, and prosecuted by the Palestinian Authority which is unhappy with his effective work as an activist. The small organization that he operates in Hebron, Youth against Settlements, or YAS, is arguably one of the most effective grassroots organizations in Palestine.
There is widespread, justified anger at the United States for its support of Israel. Even as Israel conducts massacre after massacre in Gaza, U.S. administrations perpetuate the lie that Israel is acting in self defense. The United States supports Israel’s widespread ethnic cleansing and says nothing when it sends armed Israeli settlers and the military to desecrate the hallowed grounds of the Al-Aqsa compound.
So it is not surprising that there are people who are mad and critical of the fact that serious activists dignified Blinken with a meeting. However, for the first time, an American Secretary of State has given time and attention to the Palestinian voice. It was not a photo-op, it was a serious meeting with various Palestinian voices who are actively resisting on the ground. That is an opportunity that no one can afford to pass on.
When to be right, and when to be smart
American complicity with the crimes of Zionism in Palestine and beyond is deserving of condemnation. U.S. representatives at home and abroad should be called out and shamed for their support for Israel and for their embrace of a Zionist foreign policy in the region. Still, as the saying goes, one needs to know not only when to be right but also when to be smart. And as much disdain as one may hold for the United States and its foreign policy, the fact remains that those who seek justice in Palestine will need the support of the ruling empire, and that happens to be the United States.
Feature photo | Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting with civil society leaders, May 25, 2021, in West Bank city of Ramallah. Alex Brandon | AP
Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books are”The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”