Abraham Lincoln and the Palestinians
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Abraham Lincoln and the Constitution
I had already commented in the past how the beautiful principles stated in the US Constitution seem to be inconsequential in the modern American government, especially when it comes to the relations between that country and Israel. “Well, the Constitution is too old, they forgot it,” I told myself. What about more recent texts? For example, one belonging to a leader of stature, widely respected and loved? Abraham Lincoln, for example. Having dealt extensively with slavery and government, he may have said a few wise things; especially since he is considered by many as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents. Curious about the issue, I began a search of relevant texts. It didn’t take long.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858
In 1858, the campaign for an Illinois seat in the United States Senate featured the Lincoln-Douglas debates, a contest on slavery. Speaking against slavery, Lincoln warned that the "Slave Power" was threatening the republican values, while Stephen A. Douglas emphasized the supremacy of democracy, as defined in his Freeport Doctrine.
Douglas claimed that citizens should be free to choose whether to allow slavery or not and could overrule judicial rulings. In that awkward peculiarity of the American system, the Republican candidates won more popular votes n the following elections, but the Democrats won more seats, and the legislature reelected Douglas. However, Lincoln's speeches transformed him into a national political star. New York leaders invited him to give a speech at Cooper Union in February 1860 to an elite audience. He stunned his audience with a brilliant political speech and Lincoln began emerging as the leader of the Republican Party. But I’m running ahead. In the seventh debate with Douglas, Lincoln said a few words that became famous.
The Seventh Lincoln-Douglas Debate
During the seventh debate, in Alton, Illinois, October 15, 1858, Lincoln said the following:
“That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles – right and wrong- throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, ‘You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”
From the many texts of Lincoln on slavery, I chose this one since it relates to the issue the words “tyrannical principle.” It defines slavery – or in the wider sense a multiple levels citizenship system - as evil. It defines it as a method used for certain people to profit at the expense of others.
It is not only that such a statement makes a lot of sense coming from a republican like Lincoln, it also provides a clue regarding how he would judge the Palestinians situation in the modern State of Israel.
Who Built the State of Israel?
For anyone living in Palestine or in Israel the following sentences would seem obvious. Yet, few outside the area west of the River Jordan realize that most of Israel was built by Palestinians. Some of them with “Blue ID’s” – meaning they live within the limits of the State of Israel as defined by that state - and others with “Green Ids,” i.e. Palestinian from the territories Israel occupied in 1967.
Since the state’s early days, Israeli Arabs were pushed into the building industry, whereas other industries and occupations were denied to them. The Jewish enlightened citizens did not want to build the land they dreamt about.The result was that most of modern Israel was constructed by Palestinians. As a way to cope with this disturbing fact, a new term was coined by the Jewish population: “Avoda Arabit,” namely “Arabic Work,” as a synonym for bad work. Yet, despite the racist term, all of them cherished the houses built by Palestinians. Apparently, Arabic Work is not so bad. When an apartment in a city like Tel Aviv can cost well over a million dollar, that means Arabic Work is excellent.
What do the Builders Earn?
Another undisputed fact is that most Palestinians earn the lowest legal salary or even less (several tricks exist for bypassing the Israeli law defining the minimal wages). Many of them work in constant fear of being sent back to their homes or being arbitrarily denied the right to work.
Lincoln and the Palestinians
This brings us back to Lincoln words:
“It is the same spirit that says, ‘You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”
No doubt Lincoln would identify the situation in the State of Israel as morally wrong. Again, that is in the same spirit stated by the USA Constitution. Again that is in opposition to the modern situation in which the American people contribute more than six billion dollars per year – in several ways – to a country violating all the principles stated by the American Constitution.
Does America need a new leader of Lincoln’s stature to get things right?
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