“I love Americans, but I do not like your government,” is something I was repeatedly told in the Middle East. My conversation mate would often continue with a sort of apologetic detailing of why this was the case and an attempt to get me to explain why the United States government acts as it does in the region. (Conversely, in the United States, I am often asked if I ever felt threatened while living in the Middle East – demonstrating a serious lack of cultural understanding by both sides.) In this way, Americans in the Middle East often are put in the odd situation of trying to explain governmental policies that they (or, at least, I) do not agree with. Rationalizing unwise US policies to Arabs by explaining domestic politics can always be frustrating and highlights the extent to which the US government is complicating an already confusing region.
While I was often upset with the decisions made by my government, I always had the feeling that my fortune of being issued an American passport gave me protection. If I were to be arrested, hurt or in danger, the embassy would come to my aid. Moving across borders was facilitated by the word ‘American.’ In other words, in most cases I felt as though my government was on my side – despite our differences.
Yet with the upcoming Aid Flotilla heading to break the Israeli siege of Gaza, Americans have stopped feeling the love. An American ship, The Audacity of Hope, is scheduled to take part in the peaceful Flotilla, but its passengers are not feeling no love from the US government. Among other issues:
- The US State Department warned travelers not to take part in the Flotilla as there is a real danger of a violent Israeli response – though there was no action to be taken by the government to avoid such a response
- Secretary of State Clinton warned that Israel could potentially imprison Americans, calling the provocateurs while mistaking international and Palestinian waters as Israeli territory
- The White House has released a notice saying that those Americans participating in the Flotilla could potentially be breaking American law and could be arrested upon returning to the US (if they were not already arrested in Israel)
- Neither the State Department or the White House responded to the threat that Israel would detain journalists covering the Flotilla and bar them from Israel and Palestine for a decade
- A letter from Congress to the White House expressing concern for the safety of the American passengers of the Flotilla – and in no way criticizing Israel – was signed by only six Congress members
I am not taking part in the Flotilla, though I do support their efforts to break the naval siege of Gaza. I believe that Israel has a right to protect itself, but I do not understand how medical equipment and food threatens the country. I agree with many that the Flotilla carries a political message as well, but a message that must be sent. What upsets me is that the American government apparently has no issue in refusing to protect American citizens when they are in no way breaking the law (the naval blockade of Gaza is legally dubious at best).
I have always felt fortunate to be an American citizen while traveling because I knew that the simple fact that I was born in the United States meant that my government would look after me. The White House and the State Department have apparently chosen Israel over the rights and safety of American citizens.
On a related note, the United States has said that a vote on Palestinian independence at the UN would severely jeopardize the American funding for the United Nations. The United States provides nearly a quarter of the $2.5 billion annual budget of the UN – apparently the Israeli occupation is more important to the United States than both American citizens and international law.
Photo from the ludicrous Weasel Zippers – who advocates sinking the American ship and killing all those on board. Don’t we just love peace?