Palestinians sour at Barack Obama’s perceived failure to honour their historical struggle have invoked the US civil rights movement and South Africa’s apartheid in a bid to win his sympathy.
At a news conference earlier this week, Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghuti said it was clear that the US president would not be visiting the grave of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat when he came to Ramallah on Thursday.
The grave, which is located inside president Mahmud Abbas’s Muqataa compound where Obama’s helicopter landed on Thursday morning, is frequently on the itinerary of visiting dignitaries.
“I feel very sorry because that means unequal treatment for Palestinians. Regardless of whether (Obama) agrees or disagrees with president Arafat, he is a symbol of the Palestinian people and he was their president,” Barghuti said.
“It’s another negative gesture, especially given that Obama will visit the grave of Yitzhak Rabin,” Barghuti said referring to the Israeli prime minister who signed 1993 Oslo peace accords with Arafat then was shot dead by a Jewish extremist in 1995.
So far, Obama has already toured Israel Museum and seen the Dead Sea Scrolls, and on Friday morning he will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and the grave of Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism.
Barghuti also took aim at the visit to the Israel Museum, saying it contained “stolen materials” from the Palestinian territories, pointing to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Obama had also turned down a request to meet the families of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
“Several families of prisoners asked the US consulate to organise a meeting with President Obama, but he refused, apparently for reasons of protocol,” Palestinian prisoner affairs minister Issa Qaraqaa told AFP.
In an op-ed published in Haaretz newspaper, negotiator Nabil Shaath lamented the fact Obama’s visit would only last “a few hours” including a stop in Ramallah and a brief visit to Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity on Friday.
The trip “would have been a great opportunity for President Obama to visit more of Palestine and see the current reality 20 years after the beginning of the peace process,” he added.
“He would also see segregated roads, just one example of one of the worst combinations possible: Apartheid under a belligerent occupation” — a reference to West Bank roads reserved for Jewish settlers and off-limits to Palestinians.
Invoking the US civil rights movement of the 1960s, he said: “Racial segregation, including that enforced on public transportation, was a dark period in US history. This is happening today in Palestine.”
During a demonstration on Wednesday in the southern West Bank city of Hebron calling for Israel to open a key road to Palestinian access, dozens of people donned Obama masks and carried photos of Martin Luther King, with one holding up a banner reading: “Stop Apartheid”.
The Palestinian media have even railed over the political dimension of the food Obama will eat on his trip, pointing out that regional dishes he will eat such as tehina and hummus are often claimed as being exclusively Israeli.
“They’re serving him hummus, our traditional meal!” railed Ashraf al-Najjar, a 30-year-old demonstrator in Ramallah. “Israel has stolen everything from us, even our food.”