The time for the world to act in Palestine’s favour is now
Displaced, colonised, marginalised, terrorised, tortured, victimised, killed; these are just some of the many forms of dispossession and ethnic cleansing the Palestinian people have had to endure at the hands of the Zionists and Israelis since the turn of the 20th century.
To be specific, things started getting edgy for Palestinians as the mighty Ottoman Empire neared its end, and the British and the French found themselves in an advantageous position from where they could easily exploit the rich resources of the vast Middle Eastern hinterland.
Making good of this opportunity, British diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and his French counterpart François Georges-Picot got down to work to redefine the Middle Eastern landscape: tearing apart the map with their inconsiderate and reckless judgement, which they did with complete disregard for the ethno-political sensitives of the people inhabiting the region. The Sykes-Picot Agreement resulted in the decades-old bloodbath that the region is still reeling from.
In the face of growing animosity between the Arabs and the Jews, in 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181, also known as the Partition Plan, aimed at creating Arab and Jewish states. The State of Israel was created on May 14, 1948, leading to the end of the British Mandate of Palestine and sowing the seeds of the first Arab-Israel War. By the time the nine-month-long war ended on March 10, 1949, with Israel emerging as the victor, the Palestinians helplessly endured the Nakba or "Catastrophe."
Around 750,000 Palestinians were displaced during the Nakba, with about 500 Palestinian villages being depopulated. Over a span of a few months, the native Palestinians became outcasts in their own lands. Those who fled the war, lost their right to return home, most of them turning into poor refugees in neighbouring countries, with a new nightmare unfurling in their lives.
The result of the first Arab-Israel War was the division of the territory into three chunks: the biggest was Israel, followed by the smaller Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. This was only the beginning of a new era of subjugation, persecution and dispossession of the Palestinians at the hands of Israel.
Over the years, the displacement of the Palestinians continued as Israel became more aggressive and more vicious in its apartheid-like misadventures. To this day, Israel keeps encroaching on Palestinian territories, and expanding unlawful Israeli settlement inside what is supposed to be Palestinian lands. The result: the Palestinians are being uprooted from their own homes and lands by a bunch of outsiders, albeit powerful. The recent major conflict between Israel and Palestine in May this year was the outcome of one such attempt by Israel. They tried to oust several Palestinian families from their own homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. When the Palestinians resisted the forced eviction, Israel not only used law enforcement agencies to coerce the Palestinian victims into subjugation, but also encouraged hard-line Jewish settlers to attack the protesting Palestinians.
With regard to Israel's aggression in Sheikh Jarrah, Rupert Colville, a rights office spokesman for the United Nations, stated, "We wish to emphasise that East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in which international humanitarian law applies . . . The occupying power . . . cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory."
Colville further suggested that Israel's attempt at forced eviction of the Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah "may amount to war crimes."
However, while the United Nations and rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, had been vocal in condemning Israeli actions, Israel's major ally the United States, along with many European countries, had been prosaic in their response to this incident, to say the least. When the conflict between Israel and Palestine escalated, with Israeli forces attacking worshippers in Al Aqsa mosque, and Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip in retaliation of Hamas' homespun rocket attacks, Germany even suggested that Israel has a right to defend itself.
But one might be pardoned for asking: if the aggressor has the right to defend itself, why is the same right not afforded to the victim? Are Palestinians not human beings? Do they not qualify to demand their basic human rights: right to life and liberty, right to dignity? Or are human rights exclusive to the West and its cronies, including Israel?
In a fair world, Israel would not have the patronage and tools to carry out the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. They would not have the licence to kill Palestinians, including children; Israel would not have the support to carry on its colonisation of Palestine. But then, perhaps the world is not a fair place.
While every year, on November 29, we observe the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, we have done very little to actually support, promote and facilitate the cause of the Palestinians. Other than issuing a few templated statements, the day makes no difference for the rest of the world. As a result, Israel keeps gaining ground, while the Palestinians keep suffering—their spaces shrinking every day.
What the Palestinians need right now are not hollow words, but action from the global community. The world can stop Israel in its tracks by imposing the same stringent sanctions that they have imposed on Iran for lesser ambitions. Why does the US create maximum pressure campaign on Iran for trying to enrich uranium, but does not apply the same on Israel for killing innocent civilians, for imposing an apartheid regime? And why does the global community not speak up against these inconsistencies and injustices?
Rather than contemplating these questions, many countries around the world are now normalising ties with Israel, betraying the cause of the Palestinian people. And Israel is taking advantage of these situations to carry on with its nefarious activities in the Middle East, especially against Palestinians and its supporters. This must stop.
The world community must now reflect on where they are going wrong with their Middle East policy; on what they could do to effectively support the cause of the Palestinians; or even what their priorities are, because many of their actions do not complement their words.
The Palestinians are caught alone, in the middle of nowhere, and their time is running out. But so is ours to show meaningful solidarity with them. Let this display of solidarity not be a cosmetic one-day-a-year show-off. Let this day be an occasion for us to play a thoughtful and effective role in the Palestinians' quest for their right to self-determination, for their basic human rights.
Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star.
Her Twitter handle is @tasneem_tayeb