Mel Lehman’s Personal Safety

Middle East Peace Blogger Mel Lehman at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, January 2017

My personal level of safety here in New York City where I live is about to get a little bit more dangerous. I don’t mean to be alarmist, especially to persons who might be reading this Middle East Peace Blog here in New York. But in this “post-truth era” we need to speak the truth. I’m convinced that President-elect Donald Trump’s extremist rhetoric about Muslims and his policies against Palestinians have slightly raised the possibility of another terrorist attack. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about September 11, 2001, but at the back of my mind there’s the unsettling awareness that another attack could happen again — especially here in New York, which is a center of political support for Israel.

The incoming Trump Administration — to the delight of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Jewish and Christian fundamentalists — has signaled its support for building even more settlements on the West Bank. “Settlement building,” of course, is a euphemism for the theft of land and the destruction of homes of the indigenous Palestinian population whose ancestors have been there since before the time of David and Goliath and Sampson and Delilah. This reckless and illegal decision to support settlement building and Mr. Trump’s announced intention to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem both contradict the bipartisan policy consensus of the United States for half a century and will inflame anger around the Arab and Muslim world.

No, a thousand times — a million times — no. Nothing justifies terrorism. But if we are to ever to end it, we must first understand the context out of which it arises, and Israeli settlement building is a major one of several contributing factors. Why does the building of settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem provoke such rage? It’s not just about lost real estate; it’s also about lost respect. Lost real estate: as settlers continue to build on the West Bank, Palestinian land continues to be taken and homes are being demolished. Young Palestinians who speak out against Israel’s policies are thrown in Israeli prisons and beaten up. How would you feel if your land was taken from you and your home destroyed and your son beaten?

And besides being about loss of land, Palestinian outrage about settlement building is about loss of respect. Have you ever been personally insulted? If you have, try to remember the sting of that moment and then try to grasp the fact that over a billion Arabs and Muslims feel something like that because of American foreign and military policy in the Middle East. Settlement building and the theft of Palestinian land is an insult to the Palestinian people because it means that they are being treated as second class citizens. It is one of the reasons that the people of the Middle East, who identify closely with the plight of Palestinian people, are so angry with us because the settlements being supported by U.S. — your — tax dollars.

From the Middle East point of view, settlement building is just the latest chapter of a long history of disrespect and insults which goes back for hundreds of years. It was our European ancestors who created mayhem and bloodletting during the Crusades. We need to let go of our romanticized version of the Crusaders and realize that our marauding European ancestors had more than a little in common with the Middle East terrorists of today. Our Western ancestors returned to the Middle East hundreds of years later with military force and imposed colonization, something which still angers Middle Easterners today. One of the first things ISIS did to announce its evil presence was to bulldoze the colonial British and French-imposed border between Iraq and Syria.

In recent decades — coinciding we should note, with the time when terrorists acts began against us — the U.S. got involved in the Middle East mayhem, helping to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Iran in 1953, invading Afghanistan and Iraq where we tortured people and sexually abused Iraqis in our illegal prisons. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and waterboarding have been used as recruiting tools for ISIS. The list goes on but our space is short: our foolish support for Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the 1980’s, our assistance in the overthrow of the government of Libya. The Islamic and Arab world sees our support for the Israeli take-over of the West Bank as an extension of the West’s overall policy of hundreds of years of intrusive violent activity of the Middle East and they are very angry. What I’m afraid of is that Mr. Trump’s policies increase the possibility that a few crazies will act out that anger and attempt another terrorist attack on my home in New York City.

The U.S has done so many things wrong in the Middle East that we should be sure to note when we occasionally do something right. That was the recent refusal by the Obama Administration to veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Unfortunately, that brief fleeting moment of clarity and sanity and justice is about to be eclipsed by the arrival of Donald Trump, perhaps the most narcissistic and selfish U.S. President ever. Tragically, he has met his soul-mates in the radical Israeli settlers with their utter contempt for their Palestinian neighbors and their lack of concern about how their actions are increasing the threat of another terrorist attack against me here in New York City.

Are their any Christian or Jewish fundamentalists who would like to talk about this impending train wreck? My email address is contact@CommonHumanity.org

Mel Lehman

Mel Lehman is the director of of Common Humanity. He has worked in international humanitarian issues for several decades, inducing two decades at the National Council of Churches. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and has published a number of articles about his experience.
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