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Activists urge Obama to rethink role in Mideast

A handful of pro-Palestinian activists protested outside President-elect Barack Obama's vacation home on Tuesday and urged a new approach to the Middle East.
Image: Demonstrators outside of President-Elect Barack Obama's Hawaii vacation home
Demonstrators walk along Kailuana Place, towards the residence where President-Elect Barack Obama is staying in Kailua, Hawaii, on Tuesday.Kent Nishimura / Pool via EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

KAILUA, Hawaii — A handful of pro-Palestinian activists protested outside President-elect Barack Obama's vacation home on Tuesday and urged a new approach to the Middle East.

Eight activists marched with signs to the edge of the property's security perimeter, telling reporters that they want the incoming administration to take a fresh look at the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territories, especially given the current fighting in the Gaza Strip. They also said Obama needs to take a more active role in the conflict, even though he doesn't take office until Jan. 20.

"We feel there's a great need for change. We need to stop giving Israel a blank check to do what it's doing," said Margaret Brown, a 66-year-old Honolulu resident who held a handmade sign that read "Yes we can change U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine."

"We just gave them a blank check to oppress the Palestinians, and this is the result," she said.

Israel continued its air attacks on Gaza on Tuesday and warned that a ground invasion could follow if rocket launches didn't stop. The United States has called for the militant group Hamas to stop launching rockets into Israel.

"Gazans need food, medicine, not war," read one sign carried by an activist to the Obama vacation retreat. "Free Palestine," read another. A third: "No U.S. support for Israel."

'Political suicide'
Brown said politicians need to speak what they believe, not what is expedient.

"It's political suicide to challenge Israel in this country," she said.

Obama has declined to inject himself publicly into the situation, although during the campaign he spoke in strong support of Israel's right to defend itself from Palestinian attacks. His aides say he has been in touch with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and has received regular national security briefings.

"What you don't say says a lot about your priorities," said Pete Shimazaki Doktor, a Honolulu resident who served as a medic during the first Gulf War and now teaches at a public school.

Doktor said he studied history after leaving the Army and came to believe the U.S. policy was misguided. He said Obama's top advisers give him pause.

"His Cabinet has been a message of continuity. There's no change there," said 40-year-old Doktor, who didn't support Obama but liked candidates Reps. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Ron Paul, R-Texas.

He said he had concerns about future U.S. military engagement in that region.

"I realized that as a soldier," said Doktor, wearing a Vets for Peace T-shirt, "I had been used."

Obama and his family are near the end of a 12-day vacation in his native Hawaii. He has maintained no public schedule, has sought to keep low-key and had his aides guard his privacy. Since arriving on the island of Oahu on Dec. 20, Obama has limited his travel mostly to trips to the gym, golf course and dinner with friends.

Obama, wife Michelle and their two young daughters are scheduled to return to Chicago on Thursday.