Despite Global Indifference, Palestine Matters
Syed Badrul Ahsan
The writer is a journalist and political analyst.
Tor Wennesland, the UN Peace Coordinator for the Middle East, has expressed his disgust at the Hamas missile raids into Israel. For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it known that the missile attacks, which have left, as of the writing of this piece, as many as 400 Israelis dead and more than 2,000 wounded, are a declaration of war and that his country intends to win it. Israeli forces have gone for fierce retaliation in Gaza, from where the missiles came, leaving 313 Palestinians dead and over two thousand of others injured.
Wennesland has all the right in the world to feel horrified by the nature of the Hamas attacks. But in his conversation with a television anchor on Saturday morning, he seemed not to be expressing a similar sort of anguish over the manner in which Israeli forces and armed Jewish settlers in occupied Arab territory have gone around perpetrating violence on Palestinians. This year alone 250 Palestinians, among them 40 children, have died in Israeli attacks. And Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007, has turned into a ghetto with Palestinians unable to exercise the freedoms that people around the world enjoy.
No one appreciates violence. Be it Hamas, be it Israel, the point is that violence in the pursuit of political goals is not the means to peace. Beyond such platitudes, however, there is the issue of a cause, the Palestinian cause, which in recent years has appeared to have been pushed under the diplomatic rug in capitals around the world. The rapprochement which has been defining Israel’s ties with its Arab neighbours —- and the process goes back to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 and the subsequent Camp David agreement on a normalisation of Cairo-Tel Aviv ties —- in recent times has clearly come at the expense of the Palestinians.
The frustration felt by Palestinians is thus understandable. In recent years, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have signed peace deals with Israel, though neither of them has ever gone to war with the Jewish state. Only weeks ago, the Saudis welcomed an Israeli minister to Riyadh for the very first time. One is not sure if the talks between the two sides covered the Palestine issue. Probably the issue did come up, but of greater importance was the need for the two countries to come closer together in a bilateral manner. One is not surprised that in the recent past, scanty have been the responses from Arab governments on the systematic manner in which Palestinians have been treated by Israel.
Over these last few months the spectacle of hard line Israelis forcing their way into the Al-Aqsa mosque, even as Muslims were in prayer, has been a clear provocation. And yet the response from Israel’s friends in the West has been muted. The murder of the reputed Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh has not stirred the conscience of western human rights defenders, who are otherwise forever alert to the sufferings of people in countries administered by what they refer to as authoritarian governments. The Israeli army has made it clear that Abu-Akleh’s murder will not be investigated by it. And the International Criminal Court remains silent on the issue.
The Hamas attacks on Ashkelon and Tel Aviv on Saturday morning, given the world’s growing disinterest in Palestine, were a reminder to the world that Palestine remains an issue, that nothing in the Middle East will go right if the wrongs perpetrated by Israel are not checked and are not rolled back. Israel’s far-right government, which includes ministers keen on an obliteration of Palestinians, will only be creating trouble for itself if is persists in believing that air power will silence Gaza and the rest of Palestine. With Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, and Islamic Jihad expressing solidarity with Hamas, conditions can only go from bad to worse.
All of this has had the cause of a Palestinian state resurface in these times. It defies common sense and morality that Palestine was flushed out of history through the creation of the state of Israel in May 1948. It is an outrage that Palestinians, today scattered across a number of countries in the Middle East, remain refugees and have little hope of an independent homeland for themselves.
It is a tragedy that the grandchildren of Palestinians of an earlier generation speak of villages, of homes filled with olive trees, of memories now lost under the weight of the state of Israel. Their agony has not ceased. As the political analyst Marwan Bishara points out in clear and assertive language, the slow violence exercised by Israel in the occupied territories in the past many decades has left young Palestinians with little choice other than carrying on the struggle in their own ways.
But Hamas firing missiles into Israel and Israel destroying Palestinian homes in Gaza are not the road to a political solution. Netanyahu in his recent address before the United Nations General Assembly spoke of a new Middle East. He was clearly elated at the fact that his country was getting into the good books of Arab nations, convinced that peace as Tel Aviv saw it would be the result. Not once in his remarks did Netanyahu refer to the Palestinians, as if ignoring them would pave the path to the creation of the new Middle East he had in mind.
Hamas has now reminded Netanyahu and the wider world that Palestine matters, that there will be no new Middle East as long as the issues related to the old Middle East, dating from May 1948, fester and remain unresolved. It will be interesting to see how the Saudis and the other new friends of Israel in the region respond to the crisis as it exploded on Saturday.
For the West, it will simply not do to condemn the violence unleashed by Hamas. It will be turning itself away from current realities if it does not come down hard on the state violence perpetrated by Israel on Palestinians for years, if it does not demand that Tel Aviv pull back from the settlements it has illegally established in occupied Arab land for its people. It must demand that Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territory be brought to an end.
The Palestinians are a lonely people, abandoned by nations they had thought were their friends and fellow travellers on the road to justice. But they are a proud people. They need reassurance that justice will come to them. If that does not happen, the world can only fear that the arc of violence will stretch increasingly longer, that the Middle East will remain a tinderbox in these fraught times and beyond.
Courtesy: Daily Sun