Thursday, April 23, 2009

An Open Letter to President Barak Obama

April, 6, 2009

Dear President Obama,

In approaching the task of addressing you directly about a personal issue, I feel daunted by the abyss that separates the two of us in status and power. I am a retired public health physician, attempting to maintain a hold on his sanity and physical health by puttering around his garden in a Palestinian village in Galilee. You are the president of the nation most of humanity envies and desires to join, burdened with the task of saving the world from economic and political chaos and now from nuclear war.

Yet I find enough shared experiences between us to embolden me to speak to you as an equal in humanity if in no other regard. Like you, I am a product of Hawaii, where I attended university at the time your late parents did, and of Harvard, where we both received our professional training. I subsequently returned to my village and worked among my people to treat their illnesses and improve their wellbeing physically, mentally and socially with varying degrees of success and frustration. Unlike you, I came up fast against the glass ceiling set very low for Palestinian citizens of Israel like me. I have written a book of memoirs (see last below) that documents my professional struggle over three and a half decades. It would be a great honor for me if you were to read it as part of your education on the issues of my community and of our potential as a bridge for peace in the Middle East.

Now to the subject of my message, Mr. President: The newly-elected prime minister of Israel, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, and his foreign minister, Mr. Avigdor Lieberman, plan evict me from my home and to take away my garden. These two persons and their fellow ministers were democratically elected to their positions and will use ‘democratic’ means at their disposal to legitimize my disenfranchisement as have previous Israeli governments done in the past. The difference is that the current leaders are explicit and aggressive about disadvantaging me based on my ethnicity. They have devised a way to blame me for my victimhood. They intend to ask me to sign an oath of allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state, a state that defines itself as exclusive of me and my people.

Democracy, Mr. President, may be the best political system, but, alas, it is no guarantee of justice and equality when it is abused to give unrestricted power to an exclusivist majority. My community, citizens of Israel since its establishment, makes up a fifth of the country’s population but owns a constantly shrinking share of the land that currently stands at 3% of the total. Our towns and villages receive 3-5% of municipal budgetary allocations. Our infants and children die at over twice the level of our Jewish co-citizens -- and the relative ratio is rising of late. Our two communities continue to live in racially segregated residential areas often separated by walls and barbwire. Mr. President, I am not writing of the West Bank or Gaza but of neighborhoods in ‘mixed cities’ within the Green line.

You are the lead protector and promoter of true democracy in the world. As such, I call on you, Mr. President, to stand up to such corrupting practices presented to the world under the guise of sound democratic principles.

And as a fellow human being, I ask you, Mr. President, to put yourself momentarily in my position and consider how I should react to the racially-based transfer designs of these politicians. Here, in the person of Avigdor Lieberman, is another presumably equal co-citizen of Israel who calls openly for my disqualification from our shared citizenship because I want to be equal to him under the laws of our common country. He insists on having me step down from our presumed common stand of equality and kowtow openly to his privileged status as the son of a certain race and religion. Would you do that, Mr. President, were it to be demanded from you by a fellow American citizen, be he Anglo-Saxon, Hispanic or Asian immigrant, or even a Native American?

As an alternative, Mr. Lieberman wants me transferred out of the country though I have lived on land I inherited legally from forefathers who almost surely have better claim to descent from the ancient Hebrews than his. And mind you, Mr. President, my residence in the home he wants me evicted from predates the establishment of the state he wants to appropriate as his, and his alone, while he is a recent immigrant from Moldova. Would you, Mr. President, take a loyalty oath confirming your second-class status?

Mr. Lieberman’s best-case scenario for tolerating my existence in his vicinity is to have the homes of the likes of me re-zoned into one of the Bantustans he envisions, to be created and run by remote control from behind an ethnic separation wall. Would you succumb gracefully, without protest, to such a scheme, Mr. President?

You have to understand, sir, that I speak here of life-and-death issues for me and my family. Mr. Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister, attained his impressive status through an openly racist election campaign that featured mass rallies at which calls of “Death to Arabs” were standard. Would you trust such a man with your future in the international arena, Mr. President? I surely hope not: but the majority of Israeli citizens seem to have done exactly that.

That is where I sense danger, sir; in the assigning of my fellow countrymen of responsibility for our common future to fascist and untrustworthy representatives. Past injustices, and those were many and massive against my people, were never so clearly foretold as the ones the current Israeli government threatens to perpetrate against me, my family, my village and my people. It is with this clearly articulated plan of my transfer in mind that I call on you to use the undeniable prestige of your office to stop such plans from being implemented. I ask you, sir, to reassure me that you will never permit such schemes to be on any agenda discussed in the presence of representatives of the United States of America. I need that in order to be able to sleep, Mr. President.

With my best wishes for a peaceful and happy Easter for you and your family and for all of humanity, I remain,


Hatim Kanaaneh , MD , MPH
Author of 'A Doctor in Galilee : the Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel ', Pluto Press, 2008
Active Blog:

PS: Because of the limitation on postings n the White House website this letter was abridged by about 20%. HK


Young Activist said...

Unfortunately I don't think those in the U.S government care at all for anything but power. They will support human rights, but only when it is in their interest to do so. It is the people of America and sadly not the leaders of America that need to be appealed to.

Your work is an inspiration to all who value human rights. I plan to read your book as soon as I can order a copy on Amazon.

eileen fleming said...

Dear Dr,

We met briefly in Nov. 2008 during Sabeel's NAKBA Conference.

I didn't get a chance to tell you I am a former nurse now full time writer/activist and I write letters to my government all the time.

I will copy out yours and add a few comments in solidarity and FAX it to the White House.

I encourage everyone send one too:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Fax: (202) 456-2461

Eileen Fleming, Founder of and a Feature Correspondent for and

Author of "Keep Hope Alive" and "Memoirs of a Nice Irish American 'Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory"

I produced "30 Minutes With Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu" because corporate media has been MIA all during a Freedom of Speech Trial in Israel.

Bob K said...

Dear Dr. Kanaaneh,
As a fellow physician my heart breaks after reading your story. I have heard of this kind of discrimination from my minister who has visited your country and I can only say that I am so sad and embarrassed. Sad that you and the Palestinian people suffer so much and embarrassed to be an American whose government seems incapable of making the right choice, the humanitarian choice, because of the manipulation of power by monied lobbyists. The joke of democracy in your country is matched in many ways by the joke of democracy in my country.

I will share your story and do all that I can to encourage President Obama and my government to look clearly at the brutality of the Israeli govenment.

California Physician

Elrig Ciles said...

Dear Dr Hatim,
I bought a copy of your book and now a message from Tikkun brought me to your blog.
I have copied your letter and linked to your blog in my own -- I hope you don't mind. []
It was also nice to see the nice comments by Barghouthi.

Ariel said...

seems you dont like free debate and expression, but only those who promote your book and ideology!

clf said...

When did it become so popular to focus on subjective examples of the always ugly experience of war...or more accurately jihad? Fools are led by such emotions in spite of the realities that fuel the ongoing war that the current and past leadership within Islam choses to wage against all non-muslims...especially in Israel. The tough time this "good" doctor is having is due to the fact that he and others like him are NOT in leadership...rather those who celebrate the suicide bombing of buses, hospitals and coffee shops are calling the shots, and this doctor is an exception to the character of Hamas and Hezbollah that demands the walls and harshness required by peaceful people as an alternative to the annihilation of jihadists who have been publicly obsessed with the annihilation of Israel for centuries--most recently and unanimously in 1967 when the "good" doctor's leadership encouraged his family to vacate the country so the extermination of Israel could be accomplished.

Israel's worst mistake was letting the jihadists return at all and then expecting their attacking mortal enemies to become civilized and peaceful. The doctor is NOT "in"...however, the sick death-cult of jihad IS (in control). The only thing more shocking is the foolishness of the West to support those who are publicly obsessed with the extermination of non-muslims simply because they are more desperate (due to bad choices/values) the point of disarming the defense forces of Rwanda and Sudan so that "poor" Muslims could undertake their jihad (genocide) with clubs and machetes. Then we hear: "oops, too bad...we didn't mean for THAT to happen...what's for lunch?"

Where is the accountability for these sensitive yet unwise reprobates that lack a grasp of the big picture and try to bring civility to uncivilized leaders driven by a violent ideology unilaterally? Their efforts only cause MORE death and destruction--not for the aggressors twisted by misspent religious zeal (jihad) but the peaceful Israelis and their allies being desperately attacked...their principal offense being that they/we are not desperate and irrational enough to resort to suicide attacks and genocidal rage which incurs the sympathy of similarly irrational people with twisted values around the world--separating the sheep from the goats for judgment.

Elrig Ciles said...

I've been in Israel, I've been in Gaza, I've been all around the West Bank and Galilee.

clf sounds like the most obtuse of the backward islamists - just the jersey color changes.

distort the truth and paint it black and white - it will help you sleep.
"Peaceful Israel"? You mean "conquering" no doubt.

See - I don't need to excuse the shameful criminal suicide bombs to condemn the daily onslaught on Palestinians by Israel. Even the wall cannot be considered for "protection" when it is also an instrument of conquest.

I can't take you to Gaza, but care for a visit to Hebron? Care to visit Nasar Farm? You'll be well treated and it's 20 minutes from Jerusalem. Stop ranting and meet some people - then let's talk about it. (for contact info, see:

Sorry if I sound angry - I am just so weary of this naive rhetoric of death. But you probably believe in the propaganda you're repeating with your eyes closed. And to be repulsed by fundamentalist jihadist islam (that part of it) is understandable. Just like contempt for xenophobic zionism (that part of it) tends to get under people's skin.

The problem is that you don't stand for Israel or the Jews against Islamic Jihad. You stand WITH Islamic Jihad against peace, civilization, respect of others, and shalom.
You are a jihadist at heart. But you can change. Let Hashem guide you, if common sense can't.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. If we had more people with the thinking your providing on your blog then peace would be possible.

Elrig Ciles

I´ve always wanted to see the Westbank and so many other places. Maybe you can guide me instead!