Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate

Dear President Obama,

I found your book, ‘Dreams from my Father,’ a moving and inspiring story of your own struggle to find identity and purpose in life. You found it for sure, and today carry the hopes and dreams of so many people in our world. We pray for you and your family. We wish you all good health and happiness. You carry so much responsibility. We hope you will change the policies of the USA (both domestic and foreign) to people-centred policies, based on the values and ethics that you try to live out in your life.

Reading your book, I was inspired by your involvement (during sophomore year at the university) in the South African anti-apartheid divestment campaign. In your own words, ‘I found myself drawn into a larger role – contacting representatives of the African National Congress to speak on campus, drafting strategy, I noticed that people had begun to listen to my opinions,’ encouraged me to share with you the following opinions and experiences of many of the people I met during my most recent visit to Palestine/Israel.  

Earlier this month I attended the 4th Bil’in International Conference on Popular Nonviolent Resistance near Ramallah, in the Israeli occupied territory of Palestine. Here, all that the Palestinian people are asking you, President Obama, is to listen to their opinions and use your position to help end the racist apartheid policies of Israel, which continue to cause so much pain and suffering to them.

Each week, for the past four years, the villagers (after prayers in the mosque) walk to the wall that has annexed much of their land, and cuts them off from their farms and olive groves, and their ability to make a living for their families. As you know, under international law the apartheid wall is illegal, but Israel continues to ignore international laws (and some 62 UN resolutions), annexing more land from the Palestinians, all the while demolishing Palestinian homes, building illegal settlements both in East Jerusalem, and in the West Bank, and laying siege to the Gaza strip (l.5 million people), thus breaking the Geneva Conventions and committing crimes against humanity.

To visit Palestine is to walk with a people whose lives are being made unbearable by Israeli policies of ethnic cleansing. Each year, when I visit, I ask myself: ‘How can the Palestinians bear so much suffering and still have hope?’  Psychologist and philosopher Karl Jung says, ‘Go into your grief for there your soul will grow’.

Being privileged to walk alongside the Palestinian people, one sees so much soul.  Many are materially poor, having been made refugees and often pauperised by the Israeli occupation and siege, but their dignity, courage, and persistent resistance to injustice is awesome to witness. It reminds me of the magnificence of the human spirit, and I feel humbled to be welcomed as a friend by the people of Bil’in, Ramallah, Gaza, and Palestine. I wish that you, President Obama, would go and walk with them as you walked in spirit with the people of South Africa in their great and inspirational anti-apartheid movement.  

Israeli activists and internationals walk every week in peaceful protest against the apartheid wall. It takes great courage to come from Israel to the occupied territories to oppose their government’s policies. I pay tribute to the Israeli peace activists who continue to do so, often at the cost of punishment by the Israeli government. Yet they come, and here is the hope that not all Israelis support their government’s racist and apartheid policies of siege, occupation and militarization of both Israel and Palestinian villages and towns.

I also pay tribute to the internationals who put their lives daily on the line to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. Last month in the village of Nilin, a young man from your own country of America, Tristan Anderson, was targeted by Israeli soldiers and hit in the head with a gas canister. He is currently in intensive care, and we all hope he will recover.

At the Bil’in Conference an Israeli asked me, ‘how can we touch the hearts of the Israeli people so they can change their government’s policies?’ I believe there is so much fear of ethnic annihilation among the Israelis, but this fear can be dissolved by the politics of the heart. Israel should not be afraid of the Palestinians or of the Arab world. They are not the enemy, and this can be borne witness to by the Israelis who come to stay in this village and who are taken care of, with such love, by the Bil’in villagers.

The Israeli people must make friends with the Palestinians and indeed the whole Arab world, and take seriously the peace agreement offered by the Arab countries. There will never be a military or armed struggle solution to the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict, as it is a political problem with a political solution. What is lacking is a real political will from the Israeli government to enter seriously into all-inclusive unconditional talks.

During the peaceful protest against the wall Israeli soldiers assaulted us with teargas and rubber bullets.  Many were overcome with teargas while others were seriously hurt by steel tipped rubber bullets. On 17th April 2009, at this wall, one of the protesters, Bassem Abu-Rahma, was hit in the chest with a teargas metal container and killed.  He was a young man from the village, much loved by all, and his death caused great pain and anger particularly amongst his peer group. I marvelled at the skill of the village’s leaders and the Muslim women who kept reminding the young men that they must keep their protest peaceful, but the atmosphere felt like a pressure cooker with the lid about to blow.

How much longer must this injustice to the Palestinian people be allowed to continue unchallenged by your administration? If you do not insist upon Israel upholding its international responsibilities immediately, this anger will grow and the daily humiliation of Palestine by Israeli injustice and soldiers will push more people towards retaliatory violence. As the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote, ‘too long a sacrifice makes a stone of the heart’.

I appeal to you, President Obama, to change the US policies and stop supporting through military aid, etc., the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and to move immediately to help lift the siege of Gaza and say to Israel ‘enough is enough’.   

In the meantime I support the Bil’in committee’s strategy of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel in an attempt to get their freedom and rights. You, as a supporter and activist for the BDS campaign against apartheid in South Africa, know it succeeded. Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Tutu often reminds us of that. Such a strategy can work for Palestine too. Some South African anti-apartheid leaders when visiting Israel have said it is much worse than the days of apartheid in their country.   

I believe, President Obama, that you can do so much more than those of us who support the BDS campaign. You can bring the experience of your own struggle for peace and freedom to help solve this problem.  

Love and hope give us all the courage and the belief that peace and freedom is possible.

God bless you and your family.

Mairead Maguire
Nobel Peace Laureate
24th April 2009


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 Apr 2009.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, is included. Thank you.

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