'It's really sad where people are willing to take innocent life . . . As a matter of fact, it's pathetic," President Bush said in a recent press conference. He went on to state, "Israel has a right to defend herself. Every nation must defend herself against terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent life. It's a necessary part of the 21st century."
Here's the $64,000 question: Do Palestinians have a right to defend themselves against the killing of their innocents? Do the Lebanese?
The Palestinian population is exceptionally vulnerable. Seventy-nine percent of Gaza households live under the poverty line, 40 percent suffer from unemployment and almost half the population in the Gaza Strip is made up of children. Under these onerous circumstances, Gazans struggle to liberate themselves from the clutches of one of the world's most sophisticated military machines.
In much of the Western media, the Palestinians are written off as a gang of unruly terrorists. However, the numbers give a different account. Since September 2000, six of every seven children killed in this decades-long conflict have been Palestinian.
Terrorism constitutes acts of violence against civilians in furtherance of political objectives. Terrorism is a Palestinian suicide-bomber attacking a bus or a pizza parlor in Tel Aviv. Terrorism is also an Israeli warplane deliberately targeting the civilian infrastructure in Gaza and Lebanon. We lose all credibility when we rightfully condemn acts of terror carried out by individuals or groups, but offer support to a state that also targets the innocent.
Israel has waged a massive military campaign against Lebanon's civilian population. So far, almost 200 civilians have been killed.
In just one incident, 15 children were massacred as their parents attempted to flee a village in a convoy.
Israel's army chief Brig. Gen. Dan Halutz warned that "nothing is safe" in Lebanon. In his own words, the Israeli spokesman was admitting to his country's readiness to break all rules of engagement. Everything in Lebanon, including town centers, schools, hospitals and other civil centers would be fair game for Israel's warplanes -- nothing is safe.
As if to confirm that statement, an Israeli bomb killed seven Canadian citizens, including a woman and her four children, in Lebanon on Sunday.
In a parallel campaign, Israel has launched widespread attacks on the Gaza Strip, bombing its main power-generating station and jeopardizing the lives, health and safety of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Electricity is out 12 to 18 hours a day in Gaza, and hospitals are taking only emergency cases. A spokeswoman for the U.N.'s World Food Program said some 85 percent of Gazans are dependent on food handouts, and many families are eating only one meal a day.
World leaders have spoken out against Israel's sweeping aggression, calling it "disproportionate" and "excessive."
Israel has shown a tendency to abuse its military might, subjecting civilians to collective punishments time and again. Countries that fail to exercise appropriate self-restraint should be restrained by the world community.
Israel's right to defend itself does not give it the right to launch terror attacks against major civilian centers -- not with our tax money.
Since its formation in 1949, the state of Israel has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $130 billion. What merits this exorbitant spending on a foreign country that has one of the world's highest per-capita incomes?
The often-parroted argument is that Israel is a crucial ally in the war on terror.
The truth is that for all the billions Israel has sapped from American taxpayers, it has given us nothing back but the resentment the victims of Israel's military transgressions feel toward those who bankroll their oppressor.
Israel is a strategic liability in the war on terror. Extremists use our uncritical financial and political support for Israel's brutal policies as an excuse to attack us.
Surely, there are better ways to spend our hard-earned money.
We are losing the domestic wars on drugs and poverty. Our inner cities are awash with crime and gang rivalries. Our public schools are embarrassingly substandard when compared with those of other developed nations. Our Social Security system threatens to fail future generations of retirees as the number of senior citizens is expected to increase by 110 percent in the next 50 years.
We fail to move forward on these crucial fronts, citing lack of sufficient funds. Would it not be better if we invested our tax dollars in our own communities instead of funding Israel's counterproductive military escapades?
Ahmed M. Rehab is executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago), the nation's largest Muslim civil-liberties group. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org