Fueling Israeli-Palestinian division to rally support

Fueling Israeli-Palestinian division to rally support

Fueling Israeli-Palestinian division to rally support
Former US VP Mike Pence outside Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, March 9, 2022. (Twitter Photo)
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Former US Vice President Mike Pence, who many speculate may run for president in 2024, decided to go to Hebron last week in an attempt to strengthen his credentials. However, instead of building ties with moderate Israelis and Palestinians who support peace based on compromise and non-violence, he threw gasoline on the already raging Israel-Palestine fire.
Pence, an evangelical Christian, was received by leaders of Hebron’s extremist settler group, who thanked him for what any fair observer would describe as throwing his Christian brothers and sisters under Israel’s apartheid bus.
The settlers of Hebron are among the most extreme and violent in Israel’s growing settler movement. They enjoy the backing of the Israeli military and government. The fanatics live in a well-fortified and supplied settlement built in the heart of Hebron’s 200,000-strong Palestinian community. The settlement divides Hebron in half, forcing residents to travel for more than an hour to get from one side to the other.
The rights of Palestinians who live in Hebron are being suppressed by Israel; many believe to force them to leave. They won’t, of course, but they suffer great oppression and brutality at the hands of the occupying Israeli military. I know this because I have been there, while serving as the national president of the Palestinian American Congress in 1995. I met with Palestinian community leaders and all they want are their rights to live in peace on their lands.
I also met the Hebron settler fanatics and the Israeli soldiers, who harassed and bullied me despite my American passport. I pushed my way through the soldiers to visit the Ibrahimi Mosque, which is holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews. Only Jews are given unrestricted access to the site, however. Muslims and the few Christians who visit — with the exception of Pence, of course — face extensive restrictions.
On Feb. 25, 1994, a year before my visit, an extremist settler also from Chicago, Baruch Goldstein, walked into the mosque wearing an Israel Defense Forces uniform and murdered 29 Muslims and seriously wounded 120 others before members of the congregation subdued and killed him. However, during Pence’s visit, the former US vice president did not reference that massacre. Instead, he spoke with the people who empowered Goldstein, leaders of the settler movement including far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel. The latter was in 2019 barred from running in Knesset elections for incitement to racism. He was also the “right-hand man” of the late extremist terrorist Meir Kahane.
Pence visited the Ibrahimi Mosque in part to reinforce his opposition to UNESCO. The Trump administration withdrew from the UN agency, one of the most important scientific and archeological organizations in the world, because it adopted a resolution recognizing the importance of the mosque to Muslims, which Israel opposes. While there, Pence posed for photographs with extremists who support the settler movement, which has been accused of encouraging anti-Palestinian violence and of immortalizing terrorists like Goldstein.

If the former vice president really cared about Israel and peace, he would go back to Hebron and meet with the Palestinian community.

Ray Hanania

The real tragedy in all this is not that a high-profile American politician has no qualms about meeting and greeting extremists who believe in violence, but rather that violence is being used as a political weapon to rally support. Pence appears to want to reinforce his evangelical credentials to appeal to the far right wing of America’s Republican Party ahead of a potential run for president.
Even worse is that this kind of activity does not get much coverage in the mainstream US news media and largely goes unnoticed and unjudged by the American public. The issue of Pence standing with settler extremists will get buried in the avalanche of US political polarization. The left and right do not care about what Pence does, they only care about whether he supports Donald Trump or has “gone soft” on his former boss.
What Pence is doing is reinforcing the extremists and thereby fueling divisions in Israel, suppressing the support for peace. You cannot bring about peace between Palestinians and Israelis by shoring up extremism on one side and not addressing legitimate grievances on the other. If Pence really cared about Israel and peace, he would go back to Hebron and meet with the Palestinian community. His failure to do so only strengthens the argument that he is not much of a leader at all.

  • Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania
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