Je suis Palestinian
Governments in the Western world were galvanised by the "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie") slogan after the shooting at the office of the ill-famous sleazy French magazine in Paris in 2015 by Muslim extremists, which ended in twelve of its staff members being killed. The attack was a consequential reaction to a cartoon of Islam's Holy Prophet (PBUH) that the magazine published. It was blasphemous in its content and offensive to the Muslims. The Charlie Hebdo incident has been recalled to expose the duplicitous position of these governments when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. The fact that there has been only muted reaction at best from the governments of the countries that claim to be the self-appointed keepers of moral values and ethics, and upholders of human rights all over the globe, to what has been termed as a genocide in Gaza, betrays their two-faced double-speak.
But not so with the common people. Capitals around the world witnessed protest marches and rallies in support of the Palestinians. And many Jews outside Israel announced that they did not survive a Holocaust to perpetrate another—against the Palestinians.
Where is the support from those that were so voluble in their support for the twelve Charlie Hebdo staffers? What holds them back to act in support of the Palestinians who have been steamrolled for the great part of half a century? Do not the deaths of more than two hundred Palestinians, half of them children and women, deserve to be acknowledged by world leaders, particularly those whose sensitivity for human rights comes alive at selected moments? Prosecutors of the International Criminal Court fear that crimes under the Rome Statute—that is, crimes against humanity—may have been committed in West Bank including East Jerusalem as well as in and around Gaza. So is it enough to restrict international reaction to condemnation only? Isn't it time for those who value justice, peace and fair play to pronounce loudly, "Je suis Palestinian", or I am a Palestinian?
But even that did not come from some prominent Western governments.
Regrettably, several Western countries have blamed the Palestinian reaction, not the cause of the reaction. In a shoddy display of irony wrapped in crudity, betraying a warped mentality, the UK, the villain of the piece and the cause of Palestinian misfortune, condemned rocket fire into Israel, but not the subsequent attacks on Gaza, which has been pulverised by Israeli bombardments, disregarding all norms of war and causing destruction and annihilation of civilian infrastructure.
And France banned a pro-Palestinian protest in Paris this weekend against the recent escalation of Israeli air raids in the besieged Palestinian territory of Gaza and crackdowns in the occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank.
The US, as usual, is blowing hot and cold. While it says it wants a ceasefire, it nevertheless blocked a statement by the United Nations Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and stressing the need to protect children and other civilians—for the third time in a week. The statement would have called for a de-escalation of violence, and expressed concern over the loss of civilian lives. Not only did the US block it, it has also sanctioned a quarter of a billion dollars of fresh arms sale to Israel at a time when the occupying country has spiked the level of violence in Gaza.
But why blame the West only? Nothing has been louder than the virtual silence of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which has done nothing more than a mere call for probe into allegations of war crimes committed by Israel "to bring an end to the impunity." The Muslim world in general, and the Arab world in particular, bear the calumny of silence on Palestine, as they do over the brutalities suffered by the hapless people of Yemen. Prominent Arab countries known for their closeness to the US have deliberately remained silent on the Palestinian issue.
Such an escalation was not totally unforeseen. The current spate of violence was fomented at the start of the month of Ramzan, when the movement of Muslims, particularly the worshippers, was restricted. Things came to a head when the worshippers were prevented from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the last Friday of the month. There was, of course, a political compulsion, continuation of Netanyahu's political relevance. The situation was provoked by Netanyahu's policies and recent actions which were stage-managed to give him a new lease of political life. Gayil Talshir, a professor at Hebrew University, says, "The riot came just in time to prevent the change of government in Israel." Indeed.
It may sound clichéd but the problem requires a permanent solution, not patchworks to temporarily cover the wound. And the crux of the problem is Israel. It has ridden roughshod over international sentiments, disregarded international laws, violated every single UN resolution on Gaza, West bank, and other occupied territories, all because of the support it has received from the US and some Western capitals.
Not only must peace be brokered, it must be brokered soon. And given the direct support the US has given to Israel, it has forfeited the right to be part of any negotiation. Trump's policy had given an unbridled sense of impunity that Israel was already exploiting. There is no palpable change in the new administration's Israel policy, and predictably so.
Concrete international actions must follow condemnation. I believe there is merit in Turkey's call for an international force to protect the Palestinians, through a mechanism that would "include physical protection through forming an international protection force with military and financial contributions of willing countries."
The situation bears close resemblance to East Timor, where the UN mechanism was invested rapidly in two phases. Israel's claim to Gaza and West Bank is as weak as Indonesia's to East Timor. The only difference is, the Palestinians are Muslims, and their lives count for little in Western estimate. Justice and fair play are the preconditions for peace, and there is neither of those in the occupied territories. The Israeli government is following a racist and apartheid policy in the occupied territories, reducing the Arabs and Palestinians to less than human beings.
A permanent solution can only be found when all illegal occupations are restored to the original status. Till then, the proposed international force should form a cordon sanitaire for safeguarding the Arabs and Palestinians in the occupied territories.
A placard held aloft by a lady in one of the cities in Europe showed where our mouth should be, in our hearts. On the placard was a very poignant message: "One doesn't have to be a Muslim to support Gaza, one has to be a human being." It is time for those that dictate the current world order and call the shots to rise to that level in both words and actions.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (Retd), is a former Associate Editor of The Daily Star.