Levine-Drizin: Palestine protests demonstrate need for new progressive foreign policy

Gabe Levine-Drizin, Columnist

For the second straight week, thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip marched toward the border fence with Israel to protest on “Land Day,” a day that has been commemorated since 1976 when Arab leaders initially declared a day of protests in response to the Israeli expropriation of Arab land in northern Israel. In response to the demonstrations in 1976, Israeli security forces killed six unarmed participants, transforming the day into an annual protest in which Arab citizens rail against institutional discriminatory government and link their plight to the “1948 Arabs” of the West Bank and Gaza.

This year, the impending move of the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem and the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel emboldened the protesters. The upwards of 30,000 protesting for their right to return to their original home marched to the Israeli border fence along the Gaza Strip to stay in tent encampments and participate in peaceful protest.

During the first iteration of the protest on March 30 of this year, some young men approached the border fence and hurled stones, burned tires and even threw improvised Molotov cocktails. One thing, however, is clear: These men, without firearms, posed no real threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers stationed along the other side of the barrier. Nevertheless, the soldiers had been given leeway to use lethal force in the run-up to the protests.

The ensuing massacre and subsequent lack of international outcry should come as no surprise: of the over 1,400 injuries inflicted upon the protesters, Israeli snipers killed 16 and injured another 773 due to live fire. On April 6, a week later, protest organizers and Hamas called for renewed demonstrations which left another 1,350 wounded, 400 of them injured and seven more dying due to live Israeli fire. Prominent among the dead — and indicative of the random nature of the sniper fire — was Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja, who died after being shot in the stomach even though he was reportedly wearing a press jacket.

Criticism of Israeli policy, I must admit, often takes up an inordinate share of discussion on both the domestic and global stage. Discussions of Israeli policies are often intensely emotional too: critiques of Israel are often nefariously denounced as anti-Semitic. The debate surrounding Israel’s policies aside, however, I am curious as to why the killing of these protesters has been largely met with a deafening silence on the part of U.S. leaders — particularly those who have in the past shown a propensity to trumpet liberal interventionism.

As Mehdi Hasan writing for the Intercept pondered, “Where is the moral outrage from former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, the famously pro-intervention, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a ‘A Problem From Hell’ which lamented US inaction in Rwanda?” The silence of these beloved “liberal interventionists” like Madeleine Albright or even Barack Obama seemed to hammer home that humanitarian intervention is reserved only for the privileged, perhaps only for the whiter and wealthier. The Palestinian people, the “enemy” of our staunchest ally, seem never to qualify.

The lack of outcry on the part of American officials plagues the left just as much as it does the right. Their tepid response, epitomized by Bernie Sanders’ tacit denunciation of an Israeli overreaction, is indicative of a larger failure of the far-left: creating a coherent foreign policy that challenges the Democratic Party’s current framework, which continues to be shaped by those who have committed recent blunders.

The liberal interventionism of hawkish voices like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden has recently mixed with the old-style neo-conservatism of newcomer “resistance” Republicans like George W. Bush and David Frum to prevent a true reckoning with the devastating legacy of a foreign policy driven by visions of empire. What is needed, then, is a coherent foreign policy vision from the ascendant social democratic wing that can push the Democratic Party establishment to the left, just as Sanders’ calls for “Medicare for All” created a quasi-litmus test to which up-and-coming Democrats like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have been forced to respond.

The creation of a foreign policy that veers away from imperial ambitions and links the struggles of oppressed people around the world could do so while still recognizing the idea of a supposed “American exceptionalism.” As both the adherents to the “Make America Great Again” trope and the defenders of an America that is “already great” have demonstrated, a prominent role for the U.S. in global affairs seems virtually impossible to eradicate. So, if we must continue to adhere to the idea of an America that will play the role of a global policeman, perhaps we could begin by telling one of our staunchest allies that it cannot snipe its subjugated neighbors.

Gabe Levine-Drizin is a Weinberg senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.