"Mr. President, this is apartheid."
That's the message that U.S. President Joe Biden will see on billboards and digital screens as he travels through parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) this week—the opening leg of his first trip to the Middle East since taking office.
Prominent Israeli human rights group B'Tselem—which released an exhaustive report last year detailing how Israel is an anti-democratic "apartheid regime" whose policies impose Jewish supremacy over Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea—put up the banners in the occupied West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah ahead of Biden's Wednesday afternoon arrival in Tel Aviv to protest Washington's unconditional support for such brutal inequality.
Without $3.8 billion in annual military aid from the United States, B'Tselem said in a statement, "Israel would not have been able to politically, geographically, and demographically reengineer the area under its control; to impose military rule over millions of subjects and deny them rights for 55 years; to annex East Jerusalem to its sovereign territory; or to systematically discriminate against its Palestinian citizens."
"When the U.S. stops backing Israel's apartheid—it will end," the group tweeted.
"When the U.S. stops backing Israel's apartheid—it will end."
Soon after landing in Tel Aviv, Biden reiterated Washington's "unshakeable commitment" to Israel.
Jewish Voice for Peace Action has launched a petition addressed to the president calling for "an end to U.S. military funding for Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing, and an end to your administration's shielding of the Israeli government from accountability in the international arena."
Following the publication of B'Tselem's well-documented analysis of Israeli apartheid, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International—two of the world's leading human rights organizations—corroborated its findings in groundbreaking reports of their own, and Palestinian groups have long made the case that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid.
"The human rights community has reached an updated consensus, shared across the board by Palestinian, Israeli, and international organizations, that this reality constitutes apartheid," B'Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad said Wednesday. "One U.S. administration after another has continued to back Israel with international support and immunity, allowing it to violate human rights without demanding accountability."
"The U.S. must acknowledge that the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is governed by an apartheid regime, and change its attitude to Israel accordingly," said El-Ad. "When the attitude changes—so will the regime."
In addition to drawing attention to Israeli apartheid, B'Tselem also unveiled a digital screen demanding justice for slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh—a demand that was echoed by Palestinian journalists.
Palestinian journalists protested President Biden on his trip to Israel for his inaction on the killing of journalist #ShireenAbuAkleh.
Israeli troops shot Shireen in the head when she was wearing a press vest.
Israel has killed at least 50 Palestinian journalists since 2000. pic.twitter.com/MYI8AqGn7D
— AJ+ (@ajplus) July 13, 2022
Abu Akleh, a world-renowned Al Jazeera reporter, was shot dead on May 11 while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank. Although investigations by the United Nations Human Rights Office, B'Tselem, and numerous newspapers have found that Israeli soldiers fired the bullets that killed Abu Akleh, the Biden administration has sought to downplay wrongdoing while refusing to conduct its own criminal probe.
During his roughly 48-hour visit to Israel and the OPT, Biden is scheduled to meet with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Yair Lapid before sitting down with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Friday.
In an opinion piece published Wednesday by +972 Magazine, El-Ad wrote that Biden "will not see the more than 1,000 Palestinians of Masafer Yatta slated for forced transfer by the Israel he is so committed to supporting—the very state whose highest court greenlit the war crime of expelling these communities by using the groundless excuse of turning their land into a military training area."
"The olive trees and the modest fields do not care that the Biden administration refuses to name Israel's policies in this part of the occupied West Bank as a war crime, nor do the residents of Masafer Yatta expect the White House to lift a finger to help them," wrote El-Ad. "But why shouldn't the Biden administration, at the very least, take its thumb off the scales?"
"There is no parity of power between Israel and the Palestinians," El-Ad continued. "These are not two equal sides. Can America, at least, stop tipping the scales in favor of the side that already has everything going its way against those who are trying to make a living out of dust and empty skies?"
During Biden's visit, U.S. Jews held a demonstration outside the White House to demand that Biden halt the violent dispossession of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta.
The next stop on Biden's tour is Saudi Arabia, where he is expected to try to persuade Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to boost global oil supplies to ease the energy crisis triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine without appearing to embrace an autocrat accused of numerous human rights violations, including authorizing the grisly execution of Saudi-American journalist Jamal Khashoggi and bombing Yemen with U.S. weapons.
A coalition of peace groups including CodePink, Hands Off Yemen, and World Beyond War denounced Biden's decision to meet with Israeli and Saudi leaders, writing Wednesday in a joint statement:
We stand firmly against the occupation of Palestine, the blockade and war on Yemen, as well as Saudi Arabia and Israeli occupation forces' blatant attacks on free press. We condemn the Biden administration's ongoing collaboration with two of the most egregious sponsors of state violence in the world. With this visit, this administration has once again demonstrated its commitment to U.S. military and economic dominance over all other objectives.
Paul O'Brien, executive director of Amnesty International USA, argued that "President Biden must seize this opportunity to prioritize the advancement of human rights over short-term interests, and make clear that there can be no double standards when it comes to promoting human rights."
"If the U.S. continues on its current course," he added, "it will only embolden abusive governments to further silence dissenting voices, oppress minorities, and ruthlessly crush the rights of millions of people in the region."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Kenny Stancil.