The sight of an Israeli soldier kicking a Palestinian Muslim while he is in the midst of his afternoon prayer, right in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem, was yet another graphic demonstration of the disdain with which Israel treats Palestinians in their own homeland and the cruel manner in which this manifests itself in open view. Over the last couple of weeks, Israeli brutality against the Palestinians has reached new heights, this time with the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and the forced transfer of civilian population into territories illegally occupied by Israel. This was followed up by unprovoked attacks by the Israeli Defence Forces on innocent devotees at the Holy Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
We have also been witnessing relentless missile attacks on civilians in the Gaza strip, resulting in the deaths of close to 200 Palestinians so far, including many women and children, and wounding hundreds more. The death toll continues to mount with each heightened Israeli attack. Israel's Zionist government of course justifies its brutality as "self defence", a reference to the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. Not surprisingly, the Biden administration's reaction to all this effectively echoes the position of the Jewish state. Pro-Israeli members of the US Congress do the same, as they have done for decades.
Uri Avnery, the late anti-Zionist Israeli professor once famously said, "Israel is a small America and America is a large Israel". Seeing what is happening in the power corridors of Washington DC, it would be hard for any sensible mind to disagree with him. Similar views have been expressed by Dr Norman Finkelstein, an American Jew with a doctorate from Princeton University. What makes Dr Finkelstein's livid criticism of the Zionist policies of Israel and of the atrocities on the Palestinians more potent is that both his parents were imprisoned by the Nazis in concentration camps. That experience has only hardened his resolve on the need for speaking out openly against both Israeli policies against the Palestinians, and Washington's sustained defence of it.
Many find it convenient to blame the Muslim world's inability to speak out openly against Israel and act accordingly. They forget that in 1948, 1967 and 1973, it was countries like Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Jordan and even Bangladeshis that had laid down their lives for the rightful cause of the Palestinian people to have a state of their own. But over time, hardliner Israeli leaders have continued to distort history and alter geography through illegal occupation of Palestinian land and increasing Israeli settlements on them, knowing full well that Washington's veto power in the UN Security Council will protect them. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, indicted and facing a corruption case in Israel and unable to form a government, is the latest incarnation of this toxic mindset. The powerful Zionist lobby ensures that sympathisers in the outside world will stand by them, no matter what.
This time though, the voices of opposition to Israeli actions and US policies on the long running Palestinian-Israeli conflict has reached relatively higher sound decibels. There are more sympathetic voices inside the US Congress and among the common people as well. This has caused deep concerns within the Democratic Party itself. The open display of the Palestinian flag by two members of the English FA Cup-winning Leicester City football club at London's hallowed Wembley Stadium on Saturday is part of a rising chorus. One hopes such peaceful acts of protests will gather momentum and policymakers in the countries who speak so loudly of human rights and justice everywhere but maintain silence when it comes to Israel, will finally wake up, take notice and deny Israel its culture of impunity. One hopes the telephone talk between President Abbas and President Biden will bring some respite, even if a short lived one. However, Netanyahu's response to that does not give much reason for optimism.
While many vested quarters would want to push any discourse on this conflict into the background, for the people of Bangladesh, it has a special place. The support and solidarity of Bangladesh and its people for their Palestinian brothers and sisters in their struggle for justice and statehood is steeped in history. From its very birth in 1971 as an independent state, Bangladesh has all along stood steadfastly with the just cause of the Palestinians and has not for once wavered in its stance, which is founded on the universal principles of democracy, human rights, human liberty, history and justice—the same values on which the glorious Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971 was based.
Bangladesh staunchly supported the Palestinians' against Israel during the Yom Kippur war in 1973 and dispatched a medical team and relief supplies for Palestinians even when the country itself was recovering from the ravages of the Liberation War of 1971. Bangladesh recognised Palestine as a state very early on and maintains warm and friendly relations with it. In 1978, Bangladesh was elected by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as the Vice President of the Al-Quds Committee. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's latest strongly worded letter to President Mahmoud Abbas of assurances of continued support for the people of Palestine in the backdrop of the latest situation, and her unveiled criticism of Israeli actions, is yet another clear manifestation of our policies. It represents the will of the people.
Highly regarded Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi once said, "We are the only people on Earth asked to guarantee the security of our occupier… while Israel is the only country that calls for defence from its victims".
Sadly, nothing can be closer to the truth than that.
Shamsher M Chowdhury, BB is a former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh.